Art Style: Light Trax (WiiWare)
It’s pretty hard to go wrong with the Art Style series on WiiWare. Though the DSiWare games seem a little more uneven (I’ve only got four of them), the WiiWare titles have all been pretty solid with an appealing minimalist sensibility, bright colours, sharp lines and good sounds. Light Trax is a great addition to the collection and, like Rotohex, it’s based upon a game that was released in Japan for the Gameboy Advance as part of the Bit Generations series.
Light Trax is essentially a race between coloured lines on a track containing obstacles like patches which slow your line down, barriers which stop it temporarily and arrows which will push it in various directions. Your line is one of seven moving at a constant rate of speed through the track, so most of the control is simply pressing the d-pad to change lanes (no two lines can occupy the same space), though you also have a metre that fills over time to give you a temporary speed boost. You can also pick up extra boosts by hitting icons that will come in handy when you need a last-minute charge across the finish.
There’s a couple of game modes, but mainly you’ll be playing Campaign which sees you completing a series of courses across different “GPs.” If you place high enough you’ll unlock a Freeway mode in which you’re constantly driving in order to gain speed and earn enough points to unlock the next GP. This is a bit more relaxing, since there’s no winning the race (though you still jockey for position with the other lines) and you can soak in the sounds and the trippy visuals that flavour the experience.
The ambient techno soundtrack is excellent and the special effects are pretty impressive despite the simple visuals, with the tracks taking turns in three-dimensions accompanied by a smooth but active camera. Of all the Art Style games released thus far this one feels the most like a full retail game to me in terms of polish and content and at a mere 600 points it’s a steal.
Magical Drop III (Virtual Console Neo Geo)
I’m not a big fan of the recent Neo Geo output on the Japanese Virtual Console, but it’s presently one of the only systems actively supported by 3rd parties and the fact that D4 Enterprise is releasing a lot of Data East titles that appeared on the platform gives me hope that some of the games seen in the still North American-exclusive Data East Arcade Classics will appear on the Japanese VCA (Burger Time is all I ask, please!).
Magical Drop III is one such game and being the Neo Geo version (and in Japanese) it feels a bit different from the one in the collection, but the gameplay is the same and that’s what counts. This is considered the best in a series which combines elements of Puzzle Bobble and Puyo Puyo. Like the latter there’s an Adventure Mode which has a story element to it; like the former you’re trying to eliminate objects of like colours by grouping them together.
Rather than firing gems at the other gems above, you pull them down towards you before firing them back up at others of like colours to smash them. It’s an interesting mechanic and adds more challenge than a game of Puzzle Bobble as you need to sometimes collect gems from multiple locations to build a chain or have enough to clear a group. Unlike either of the aforementioned puzzle games there’s no simple match three formula: you need to collect and launch at least four gems to clear a group; moving one or two won’t cut it.
In Adventure Mode you’re moving on a virtual game board towards a goal and having versus battles with other characters encountered along the way between trying to earn as many points as possible on single-player boards with a fixed time limit. You can also play the versus mode on its own, which functions much like a 2-player game of Puzzle Bobble or Puyo Puyo with a split screen presentation and both players trying to keep their own sides clear whilst creating chains to add more gems to their opponent’s screen until they’re overwhelmed. There’s also a puzzle mode which I found less engaging because of its endless nature – rather than having levels to progress through like Puzzle Bobble or Puyo Puyo, but it’s still a nice option.
It’s rare to see a game “inspired” by Puzzle Bobble which isn’t just a shameless rip-off, but instead does something new, so Magical Drop III is certainly one to add to your Virtual Console collection if you have a yen for arcade puzzlers like me.