Gravity is a force that we all know. This invisible energy tends to pull things straight down to Earth. There’s a special force known as balance that allows objects and creatures to remain upright. One could say that knowing how to use balance is an art, and such is the case with developer Shin’en’s Art of Balance series. Originally released on the Wii via WiiWare in 2010, Art of Balance makes its way to the 3DS in the form of Touch!, containing the same 100 original puzzles, 100 all new puzzles, touch controls and 3D graphics.
Art of Balance Touch! is a puzzle game where you stack different shaped blocks to form a structure that has to remain upright for at least three seconds after the last piece has been played. The game is divided into eight worlds, and each world has roughly 30 levels each. As you clear levels, you earn rings that will eventually unlock later levels. Some of these levels are called Challenges, which yield more rings, and will have special conditions such as building a stack to a certain height or under a certain time limit. There is also an Endurance mode that pulls randomly selected levels together where the goal is to earn as many points as possible with only three retries.
Your playing field, displayed on the upper screen, is a small dish of water with at least one post protruding from the water. On the touch screen, you’re shown the number of pieces you need to play. There will only be a few visible at first, and more will become available as you use them. These pieces range from simple rectangular blocks to circles to crosses. Each world introduces new blocks with different behaviors. Some blocks will shatter when too many pieces are placed on them, while some blocks of the same color will shatter when they come in contact with each other. One such piece even inverts gravity, adding a new twist to the gameplay. Regardless of the shape or type of block, if any block falls into the water or outside of the dish, it’s game over.
It’s this simple nature of the gameplay that makes this puzzler a very peaceful, almost zen-like, game. You should already be ingrained with the basic instincts of how gravity and balance play on each other, which means that a lot of these puzzles are very simple. That doesn’t mean the entire game is easy, as there are difficulty inconsistencies. Some puzzles require such a delicate touch that the minute wandering of the stylus as it manipulates a piece might cause a block to land slightly off center, just enough to cause your tower to topple. Thankfully, you can use the circle pad for more precise control. There are also rising and lowering scales that tend to have minds of their own, refusing to stabilize when you put a certain piece down. Other peculiar physics oddities arise from time to time to disrupt your tranquil fun.
Art of Balance Touch! does have one major flaw, however, and that’s the camera. For the most part, it’s functional, but there are times where it zooms in too close to a piece you’re about ready to put down; so close that you can’t see where you’re about to put it. Sometimes it won’t follow up the stack fast enough to let you put a counterweight down before your stack begins to crash. A couple of instances won’t even let you place a piece down on the very top unless you change the camera mode altogether. You are afforded no control over the camera yourself, and that makes for a few too many frustrating moments in an otherwise relaxing and peaceful game.
Even though the nature of the gameplay is quite simple and many puzzles are straightforward, the game does not offer any form of hints or tips that might help you figure out the more perplexing challenges. You might discover new ways to force two blocks together or stumble across a method of bridging gaps across two islands, but’s that just it. You stumble across them, making some puzzle solutions feel more like sheer dumb luck versus solving them with actual intellect.
As with most puzzlers, there’s no graphical emphasis applied to Art of Balance Touch!. It’s just a very simple looking game. Stages usually contain nothing more than a few flowers or bamboo planets in the background, giving the game a feeling that it belongs in someone’s rock garden. The use of 3D is subtle and gives the playing field a bit of depth, but you won’t see glass fragments of shattered blocks or splashes of water headed your way. In fact, the one area of this game’s graphics that should have been greatly improved is the water. It doesn’t look transparent enough and ripples more like liquid metal than actual water. It’s not that big of a deal, but it does cut into game’s visual atmosphere a bit.
The game’s just as mellow sound wise as it is visually. Blocks sound like wooden blocks when stacked on top of each other, and glass pieces shatter just like you’d expect. The sound of water splashing as a piece falls in is a jolting reminder of your failure. The music is easy listening, something akin to what you’d hear in a shopping mall or waiting room. The music isn’t varied often, though, so it tends to grow old.
Art of Balance Touch! retails for $6.99 US on the eShop. 200 puzzles for seven bucks seems like a good enough value, but that may depend on just how easy you find the game and just how much you play it. You might enjoy it for a month, picking it up to do a few puzzles every day, or you may be so addicted to it, you’ll complete the game in just a few days. Once you’ve finished every puzzle, however, there is little reason to go back. Even Endurance loses its appeal when you find that those puzzles you solved by blind stinking luck rear their ugly heads to thwart your streaks. If you are in desperate need for a puzzler on your 3DS, though, give Art of Balance Touch! a try.
Simple relaxing gameplay | Twice as many puzzles as the first game
Camera is hard to work with | Inconsistent difficulty | No hints or tips offered | Occasional physics issues
Born and raised in Denver, CO in 1979, I've been playing games since I was old enough to hold a controller. I was weened on Atari, then Nintendo and Sega, and currently own just about every console and handheld made. I'm an avid hip hop fan and I love to read books. Favorite authors include Dean Koontz, Stephen Hunter, and Christopher Moore. I'm also an avid movie watcher and I try to collect as many Blu-Rays as I can.
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