Art of Balance TOUCH!
3DS Download | Shin'en | 1 Player | Out Now | $6.99 / £6.30
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27th June 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
Art of Balance TOUCH! sticks to the same physics-based puzzle mechanics seen in the original, where players are directed to stack a series of blocks on top of a stone platform and have it remain relatively intact for a few seconds. I say "relatively" because the game does not expect absolute perfection from you. As the countdown timer reaches zero, the tower could be as wobbly as a penguin on ice, but so long as nothing touches the water in the basin below, the basin itself, or the table the basin rests on, you'll still be given the go-ahead to move on to the next level. Art of Balance TOUCH! starts off with a very appealing prospect of longevity in its provision of eight worlds in comparison to the original which had half that amount. Stepping into each world, praises once again go to the non-linearity of the way everything is organized as it allows you to freely jump around from world to world (once unlocked) without being confined to a set systematic approach if that's not the way you want to go about making progress. Before diving into any specific stage, you'll notice two new showings: a timer and retry counter that measure how you've done on a level. Seeing these stats may not be as big of an ego crusher as what was done in Super Meat Boy, but it's a nice reminder that the game, when it wants to be, can be difficult and patience-testing in a good way.
One of the main differences with this eShop follow-up lies with the control execution. In the original, you were placing shapes by pointing at the screen, but here you use the stylus to control selected shape in the game space seen on the 3D Screen. It is to be admitted that using this as your method of control may not be as intuitive as what existed in the WiiWare version, but it is something that grows on you. Furthermore, the easygoing approach towards dexterity ties into the portability of it all being on a handheld device, so it does work in that sense. One other thing to keep in mind is that because you're working with a smaller field, you now need to rely a little more on the camera than before as stacks get higher and higher. I always enjoyed the automatic zoom-in feature that would click in whenever the game recognized you were holding a shape in place for a few seconds, so naturally I appreciated it here too. However, there were times where I wanted to take manual control, instinctively wanting to use the Circle Pad to do just that; and that's something I never felt in the WiiWare version.
In terms of the actual gameplay, they most certainly didn't lose sight of the similar element of freedom I was just referencing in the sense that you can develop your own strategy and figure out different approaches to arrive at the solution to a puzzle, and that's a very positive thing to see. It ultimately means players will feel more inclined to take unique approaches to the challenges that beset them even though the repository of shapes is always pre-determined and the order in which they can be used is sometimes restricted. This approach allows strategy to come to the fore where, over time, players will learn tricks as new elements are added in subsequent worlds they visit. A great example of this has to do with the breakable blocks that will shatter if it makes contact with another one beside or on top of it. Instead of leaving these to the very end, the player will learn the importance of getting these out of the way earlier on. Where this becomes a challenge is when you have to deal with the circular ones, as these often don't have comfortable places where they will fit unless you get a bit creative with how you arrange your shapes. In these situations, you just might have to save these till the end, and because they can slowly roll to one side even when they are placed dead-on, you learn the importance of precision and how this can be used to essentially stall for time until the third green light says you pass the test.
It's always gratifying when you can narrowly stack upwards of six blocks skillfully, not to mention the sigh of relief that comes from getting a pass of moving on to the next level when your stack of blocks is a hair away from touching the water below. A measure of tension is created when you've tried many, many times to get it right on a specific puzzle and because of a new strategy you've been forced into, you're suddenly on the brink of finally earning those points. Adding even greater tension are the orange challenge stages which present height and speed tests; the latter of which are even faster this time around. These are always enjoyable, even when you find yourself wanting to take a break from them after a series of unsuccessful attempts. But that's just the beauty of the game; you have the ability to do that and not feel forced to clear it just to advance. Although, you may feel a little guilty later on, but by then you'll be more determined to get it right on your own terms.
Presentation is just as engaging as it was in the original and the usage of 3D does contribute to this, giving shapes dimension and adding depth to the visual space in front of you. The original soundtrack already featured smooth tunes that would sink you deeper into the experience, but to sweeten the deal even further, Shin'en actually composed some new ones that add even greater vibes to the package as a reflection of the delight that comes forth playing this game. I did miss the presence of the female voiceover, who now only chimes in when a new world have been unlocked. But that's a small thing. More notable, however, is the condition of the water seen in every stage. While the visual appearance is usually pleasing, it takes on a jelly-like appearance as blocks start to fall in. So that was a bit disappointing. Additionally, I encountered a glitch with the music where after quitting one of the challenge levels early on, the puzzles I involved myself in afterwards had no music playing. Again, nothing big but it's these minor things that prevent the game from achieving perfection in this area.
Continuing on the subject of technical things, there were times where the physics weren't always consistent each new round that I tried of the same puzzle. These cases were usually in World F, interestingly enough. In one instance, even though I did exactly the same moves and positioning of shapes as my last attempt, one of the shapes was shifting to the right on its own. In another level (same world), I had an L-shaped piece hanging with the short side resting on the stone platform while the long side pushed up against the side of it, and for some reason, the invisible boundary line read that as a shape flying out into orbit and never allowed me to make use of the strategy I had intended to. But in a way that ends up being seen as a praise to the game when you think about it, as I was able to employ a different strategy altogether and still come off victorious.
But wait a second. What's this about flying shapes? Yes, you did hear correctly. You say you wanted even more from the WiiWare release? Well, you'll be pleased to know that it's not just new puzzles that have been added, but completely new mechanics have been introduced that add even more to the existing solid foundation. Again, going back to World F, the puzzles in this world add new gravity-modifying blocks where you will have two stone platforms -- one at the bottom and one at the top -- to jump to and from. The world before that, World E, turns these once-immobile stone platforms into sensitive scales where the necessary balancing skills serve as a natural fit with what the game is all about. There's also a new element of strategy with these puzzles where you can carefully add shapes to lower one scale all the way to the ground and continue to stack blocks on there while also using nearby scales for leverage. In World G, you have the appearance of what I like to call radioactive blocks that shatter upon impact if they collide with blocks of the same type, thus creating multiple strategies you can employ. You can treat them as helpers for the stacking of oddly-shaped blocks or get rid of them altogether and focus on your supply of standard blocks. This, too, is fun to figure out for yourself. And finally, World H brings much of these elements (along with the common ones) together to create even more challenging puzzles. It is thoroughly enjoyable what these new mechanics bring to the table and this is a key reason why I feel so compelled to talk about this game with such positivity.
By means of a relaxing gameplay experience that will challenge and satisfy without putting you to sleep, Art of Balance TOUCH! is still as wonderful as the WiiWare experience, if not more so in some respects. That said, it's not even a matter of one experience being far greater than the other. The WiiWare version has multiplayer capabilities and better controls -- great selling points -- whereas this version has more levels and a new Endurance Mode that makes the game last a bit longer despite the lack of a similar multiplayer variant. The fact that I still find this game so addicting and really satisfying to play is most definitely a testament to how strong this game is. More than that, it produces in players emotions that an ideal puzzle gaming experience should. Even after having spent more than 10 hours with this game (not including time spent with the WiiWare version), I am still very drawn to it and thus feel that both experiences are worth owning for different reasons.
If nothing else, experiencing Art of Balance in this new and accessible format cements that there's more to this than just great design. Art of Balance TOUCH! acknowledges a fact of life -- imperfection -- and caters to it in a way that makes players come away feeling very satisfied. Between the high level of enjoyment to be had here and the positive new gameplay changes that have resulted in an even stronger experience, this game embodies much of what I personally love about puzzle games and know that others at least appreciate, thus leaving no room for anyone to question the idea of picking up this top-notch puzzler.
28/30 - Excellent
Gameplay 9/10 - Refined physics, good controls, returning elements still feel solid while new mechanics strengthen the experience, longed for camera control
Presentation 9/10 - Wonderfully presented, 3D adds dimension, addicting soundtrack returns with even more great tracks, minor technical issues
Enjoyment 5/5 - Still so satisfying to play, skillful and strategic gameplay with allowance for creativity, additions tie nicely with the game's core
Extra Content 5/5 - Double the amount of worlds with new surprises, Endurance Mode adds to the experience, still want to come back after hours of play
Equivalent to a score of 93% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System