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Heron: Steam Machine - WiiWare Review

Game Info
Heron: Steam Machine

WiiWare | Triangle Studios | 1-4 Players (co-operative play) | Out Now | 500 Nintendo Points
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote (pointer); Wii Remote (sideways)
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6th February 2010; By KnucklesSonic8

When you first take a look at this game, thoughts of the classic PC game Pipe Mania will likely come to mind. At its roots, Heron: Steam Machine borrows elements from pipe puzzle games of old whilst addings its own spin on the formula. Because of how recognizable this gameplay style is, the game almost has a nostalgic appeal that should grab those who have played these kinds of games in the past. Much like Magnetis, it may be small content-wise, but that's no reason to brush it off like yesterday's newspaper.

    Before arriving at the menu selection screen, you're first introduced to an opening cinematic that gives players a bit of a back story. In a rubber duckie-producing factory, the boiler room technician, is faced with a bit of a dillema. Thanks to a new evil boss, Ron now has to work twice as hard at what could already be seen as a job built for more than a one person. Being the humble guy that he is, he doesn't waste any time asking for your help so the factory can stay in one piece!

Heron: Steam Machine features two gameplay modes where players can take part in the game's action, along with a high-score ranking mode. In the single-player mode, you'll be tasked with keeping the factory in working condition for as long as possible. The machine itself is comprised of a series of pipes that can be twisted and rotated to connect with other adjacent pipes. At the far end of either side of the machine, you'll spot pairs of coloured pipes which each represent a different aspect of the crazy machine. You'll need to use the pipes in the main grid to get from one end of the machine to the other as quickly as possible. Unlike other puzzle games of a similar vein, players need to work with whatever pipes are on the grid, rather than actually placing pipes. Moreoever, the gameplay mechanics have a unique feel to them and it goes a long way in helping Heron: Steam Machine stand out more.

    The game can be played using the Wii Remote's pointer so simply by holding the controller on its side. When using the pointer, you aim your cursor at the pipe you'd like to adjust and press A to select it. Once selected, you can twist your Wii Remote ever so slightly to change its orientation and press A to finalize the changes. When playing with button controls, the D-Pad is used to scroll through the pipes on the grid while the 1 and 2 Buttons are used to rotate them clockwise or counter-clockwise. Be sure to try out both control schemes to see whichever one works best for you.

There are multiple gauges players need to focus their attention on, located at the four corners of the machine. Each gauge represents a different aspect of the factory that's used to keep production lines going and you need to make sure that they never reach their maximum capacity. Green represents steam, yellow represents electricity, the blue gauge keeps track of water levels, and red is used for the machine's oil. As mentioned, to lower energy levels, you need to create trails of connecting pipes leading from one end of the grid to the other. 

    As you get higher in levels, you'll find multiple pairs of coloured pipes at the sides of the grid, enabling you to target more than one gauge at once. In addition, from time to time, special pipes will appear on the grid to mix up the action a bit more. Some will have cartoon icons on them (such as a drop of water or oil) which can be used to kill two birds with one stone, as it were. For example, although you may be focusing on lowering the red gauge, connecting your trail with a pipe that has a symbol on it will allow you to decrease the levels of other gauges at the same time. In addition to these specific pipes, there are also ones that feature score multipliers. When these are used along a trail, the score you receive once it's connected can increase by 2 times, or even 6 times. Bomb pipes occasionally appear on the grid as well, which will destroy all of the pipes currently in play and lower all of the gauges at once. This is especially useful for those tense moments when a gauge is about to burst. Thanks to this feature, the game is even less of a frustrating experience.

When under pressure, the idea of creating trails of pipes is easier said than done. Because you're trying to keep an eye on all of the energy levels, the player will quickly relate to how Ron feels in having to take care of the factory all on his own. Although the game can resemble that of a stressful work situation, the speed at which the gauges fill up is of a good pace so the game never becomes too frenzied for the player. Moreover, the game has visual and audio cues to help you in your multi-tasking abilities. As the water gauge reaches the halfway point, for example, the glass will begin to crack and water will spill out onto the floor. Visual cues such as these indicate to the player what they should concentrate their efforts towards and they're a great help. As players verge on meltdown point (i.e., a gauge reaches its three-quarter mark), the game's music will change accordingly and have a more "stressed out" feel to it, inciting the player to move even faster! All of these elements do much to enhance gameplay and had these not been included, Heron: Steam Machine could've easily been too much to handle.

    If you're up for a more co-operative style of gameplay, the game also features 2 to 4-person multiplayer. In essence, depending on the number of people playing, the pipe grid is split up into equivalent sections, forcing you to work together. It almost resembles that of ColorZ in working together to perform multiple tasks at once and overall, the multiplayer aspect works very well. Unlike ColorZ, however, Heron: Steam Machine is enjoyable whether you play alone or with a friend. The single-player experience lends itself to addicting gameplay where players feel motivated to aim for high-scores and reach higher levels. It's something you can always come back to weeks later thanks to the pick-up-and-play feel that oversees the entire 'operation'.

The animated style of the game's visuals are pretty neat as a whole and they give the game a warm atmosphere. The game has a sense of polish that's thoroughly evident throughout. For example, when the machine breaks down, the gauges will break, and 
ducks will fall from the sky
. The game takes advantage of official Wii materials, namely, the cursor and the screen used to enter your name. Even just the little touches here and there add to the game's refined look and feel.

    Beyond the game's limited content, I dare say that Heron: Steam Machine has almost no flaws to speak of. The teamwork-building 
multiplayer, and the challenging single-player mode make the game a worthwhile look for such a modest price. It may not stick with everyone, but most will find reason to return to this even for just a few minutes at a time. 

24/30 - Very Good

Gameplay 8/10 - Differs from traditional pipe puzzle games ever so slightly, mechanics of monitoring and repairing the gauges works well
Presentation 8/10 - Audio and visual indicators help the player keep track of their progress, great level of polish despite the simplicity
Enjoyment 4/5 - Doesn't take long for the pace to pick up, mechanics are solid, level of challenge and excitement is balanced
Extra Content 4/5 - Much replay value derived from improving one's scores, great in short bursts, good co-op, reasonable asking price

Equivalent to a score of 80% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)

Heron: Steam Machine
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