Review by SneakTheSnake

"Not a bad puzzler, and a great value."

Gaming can be full of surprises. Whether it's the introduction of a new genre, to a surprising and innovative game mechanic - the possibilities are endless. Who knew that rolling things up into a giant ball could make for a fun and novel game experience? Whoever thought that a Brooklyn plumber would rise the gaming ranks to be the most recognizable character since Mickey Mouse? And who would guess that a game found for a whopping 1.99 new at Gamestop could have so much gameplay packed onto its small disc? Granted, the graphics and sound aren't anything to write home about, but this is the definitive version of Pipe Mania if there ever was one. With plenty of options, hundreds of levels, stylish cutscenes and multiplayer to boot, it's a very robust package, especially for its generous asking price.

It even turns out there's a story in Pipe Mania - a negligible one, yes, but one nonetheless, told by some cutscenes which are both nicely animated and competently acted. There's an evil force out there bent on, well, taking out all the pipes. Or something like that. The gameplay in Pipe Mania is spread out over several worlds, each with both a unique aesthetic presentation and gameplay mechanic. The goal is always the same: direct the liquid or object at-hand to the exit, usually in the most elaborate way possible. But there are many ways to go about it.

The most common levels pit you against the pipes. A column of pipes will appear along the side of your screen, and these will be your instruments in getting your thing - usually a constantly-flowing liquid - from Point A to Point B. Like Tetris, the order of the pieces is randomized, and players must keep themselves on point, ready to have a path no matter what pipe comes next. It's helpful, then, that players will get to see pipes coming several tiles in advance, and the game rewards players who think ahead. The liquid (called "Flooze" in the game) can spill out if players aren't careful.

In fact, the gameplay is classic; one probably wouldn't need me to explain the concept behind Pipe Mania, as it's a gaming archetype that's existed quite literally for decades. It's not an entirely fresh concept, but it's brought to life quite well here. The graphics and sound are charming enough to mask the aged formula. Enough different obstacles and gameplay types are here in this package to make things worthwhile. For example, it's not always a liquid that needs to be directed from one place to the next; it's sometimes a train, or multiple trains. It's not just a sprite swap; tracks can be made and altered, and some stationary track pieces must be switched, rerouting trains. It may be a matter of bringing trains into the station in a certain order.

To top it off, each stage has a specific score to beat. The more pipes the liquid goes through / tracks the train chugs along on, and the quicker the thing gets to the exit (one can manually accelerate the flow of things at the press of a button), the more points the player gets. Players can also pass through special bonus beacons which reward more points or, in the case of boss encounters, hinders the enemy somewhat. Points are deducted for superfluous pieces, so it's a balance between trying to plan ahead and keeping things up-close for when the liquid or train is about to move (there's about a thirty- to forty five-second grace period in every stage to start placing down track before things start up). High scores grant players stars, and these can be used to unlock more difficult levels.

Just like the original, there's a certain sense of urgency in Pipe Mania. Players are almost always scrambling to get the liquid to go to a manageable spot, trying to use the best of the time they've got to lay out the perfect path. It depends, though, on how you play; if you're the quick-to-the-point type, it's possible to get the desired object to the exit in twenty pipes or less. For the more elaborate players, it's always possible to make the path loop around and intersect at certain points. It takes some finesse and there's certainly a learning curve involved, but it can be especially rewarding in Pipe Mania to make an elaborate path and have everything "click" right before navigating the Flooze to the exit, netting players a large score in the end.

If anything, I'd say the game has a limited scope. Pipe Mania is just about all that's here on this disc, and players looking for a more robust puzzling experience won't be satisfied with what's presented here. However, the interface and aesthetic is quite nice, and players who are looking for more for their two bucks would be hard-pressed to find a Playstation 2 game with more value - an iPhone application, yes, but not for PS2. If you're willing to forgive the game's ridiculous load times, Pipe Mania presents gameplay in an approachable and endearing way.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 01/24/11

Game Release: Pipe Mania (US, 09/26/08)

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