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Art of Balance - WiiWare Review

Game Info
Art of Balance

WiiWare | Shin'en | 1-2 Players (local multiplayer/co-operative play) | Out Now | 800 Nintendo Points
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote (pointer)
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26th March 2010; By KnucklesSonic8

With one game already under their belt, Shin'en is back for another go at WiiWare development with Art of Balance, a physics-based puzzle game. Don't let the simple concept fool you: Art of Balance is one of the best puzzle games to appear on the WiiWare service thus far. The game is not only easy to play, but more than that, the entire scope of it is a winning formula that anyone can appreciate. 

    At its core, the premise of the game involves stacking a series of shapes on one or more platforms to try to get them to balance evenly. The panel at the bottom of the screen contains all of the shapes you're required to use for a specific level. Simply aim at the shape you'd like to grab, press and hold the A Button, and you'll be able to control it on the playing field as you move your cursor around. With the shape in your hand, you can either press the B Button or the buttons on the D-Pad to rotate the shape. If you have the shape held long enough, the camera will even zoom in automatically so you can get a more precise placement. Once you're comfortable with the arrangement of your piece, you can release the A Button to put it in place. Once all the shapes have been placed down, green lights will appear gradually at the bottom of the screen, and if your tower remains stable long enough, you'll clear the stage. However, if a shape falls into the water at the bottom of the basin, you'll be forced to start over. 

Art of Balance contains 3 modes for players to choose from. In Arcade Mode, you'll play on your own, going through a series of worlds, trying to clear as many puzzles as possible. Arcade Mode also features a Co-op option where a second player can get in on the fun and help you construct towers. There's also a VS Mode where you can challenge a friend to a series of shape-stacking battles to see who comes out on top. The game even allows for 3 different profiles, enabling multiple people within the same household can track their individual progress. You can even assign your save file with your Mii (or one of the default shape icons) to add an element of personalization. There are four worlds in total, each with more than 20 puzzles of varying difficulties. In total, there are over 120 puzzles for the player to clear. Each normal puzzle you complete will earn one point, challenge puzzles will award you with two points, and the final puzzle at the end of each World will earn you three points. At the start, only the first puzzle in World A is available, so you'll need to accumulate enough points so you can access additional puzzles and new areas.

    At times, you'll need to develop a plan of action beforehand if you hope to maintain a stable stack. If you foresee the end result and know that your stack won't hold, you can always press the Minus Button on the Wii Remote to manually reset the puzzle. This especially comes into play when you encounter Challenge puzzles, and these involve more restrictions and are always more difficult than the normal puzzle selection. For instance, some challenges will have you building a stack of shapes that much reach a designated height, indicated by the gauge on the right-hand side of the screen. Other challenges will have you trying to clear the puzzle with an imposed time limit, or even placing shapes on a large, unsteady platform. The different types of Challenges go a long way in breaking up the gameplay and they provide a nice change of pace from the normal puzzles.

    Moreover, o
nce you reach World B, new gameplay elements will be introduced and these add a sense of strategy to the existing puzzle formula. You'll encounter weight-sensitive shapes which have small coloured icons that tell you how much weight is being applied to it. When the colour of the icon changes to red, that tells you that if one more object even touches it, the shape will shatter. Rather than forcing you to keep these shapes in tact, the game gives you some leeway for you to plan your solutions, since you can still clear the stage even if they break. Over time, you'll transition towards working with more geometric shapes such as circles and semi-circles, along with organic shapes that feature more curvy surfaces. It's because of these shape changes that the game develops into having a stronger puzzle integration later on, requiring more thought processes on the part of the player. This is only a taste of the elements that you'll be exposed to as you complete more and more puzzles, and they do a great job at preventing the game from becoming too repetitive.

    Shin'en deserves tremendous praise for continuing the strong presentation that existed in Fun! Fun! Minigolf. The graphics in this game are absolutely stunning, and the aesthetics are really pleasing as a whole. The game features a mixture of relaxing and uplifting music infused with jazz elements that suit the ambience perfectly. Although each world features its own unique appearance, it's all very unified and well put together. Background elements such as cherry blossoms, bamboo sticks, and smooth rocks are all very calm-inducing and you can tell a lot of thought was put into it. Art of Balance even features selected moments of voice acting such as when you start a level with a new gameplay element, or when you unlock a new challenge stage. Every facet of the game is simply impressive and just like Shin'en's first WiiWare title, the attention to detail really stands out amongst other titles on the service.

    Because you can complete all of the puzzles on your own within a few hours, much of the replay value stems from the Co-op and VS modes. Since there are different ways of solving a puzzle, playing with a friend or a relative is a great way to spend a few minutes together, trying to challenge your brains. The game's low-stress appeal is excellent and the lack of time limits in the normal stages allows players of all ages to work at their own pace. VS Mode allows players to participate in split-screen 'Best of' matches (5, 7 or 9) for some fun multiplayer races. At its best, VS Mode will get you laughing, even trying to sabotage the other player to score a win. Some games can be really tense, and it's really funny when someone wins just as their stack is an inch away from falling into the water. It's an excellent mode and it gives players reason to continue playing even after the solo experience has been exhausted. It might have been nice if the game included a 'Timed Mode' of sorts to give players something to come back to after all the stages had been cleared. But still, Shin'en has done a great job at providing enough bang for your buck and it's unlikely you'll be disappointed after purchasing this game.

    Art of Balance may not have a complicated concept, but truth betold, it doesn't need it. The simplicity of it all is astonishingly-compelling and the visuals really give off a feel of elegance. The game is well-priced, and it's a lot of fun to play with a friend or a relative, either competitively or co-operatively. Beyond the fact that the game could've used a mode where players could aim for fastest times, there's nothing to find fault with here. Thanks to its large measure of appeal, Art of Balance succeeds at transcending ages and skill levels for a universally compelling gameplay experience. Everything about it amounts to one satisfying purchase that will please just about everyone.

29/30 - Excellent

Gameplay 10/10 - Simple yet addicting concept, controls work perfectly, excellent physics system, hard to put down
Presentation 10/10 - Lush environments and backgrounds, strong attention to detail, fabulous music, mellow ambience
Enjoyment 5/5 - Good single-player experience, full of compelling gameplay elements, fun co-op experience, excellent VS mode
Extra Content 4/5 - Over 120 puzzles, will take a few hours to clear them all, Co-op and VS Mode add value, could've used a mode for speed runs

Equivalent to a score of 97% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)

Review by KnucklesSonic8
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Art of Balance