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12th April 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
Divergent Shift in setting a good example for other developers to follow? Why yes, yes it does.
Penguin Patrol is a very cutesy, yet polished puzzle game where you are responsible for gathering a bunch of penguins trapped in a field of icy platforms and bringing them to the goal. Simplicity dominates here, with the D-Pad being your only method of controlling the on-screen hero and the L Button being used to go back a step. Each puzzle starts off by listing the number of penguins available as well as the minimum clear condition you need to reach to unlock the exit platform. This means, then, that you can still clear most levels without having to map out a plan to ensure no one gets left behind. However, there are three different objectives that can be met by the manner in which you decide to clear the puzzle at hand.
Throughout much of the game's puzzles, you'll have to contend with single-step pressure platforms that break apart as you move from one to the other. These present slight strategic elements that you've no doubt experienced in other puzzle games by preventing you from going back the way you came. However, what makes Penguin Patrol slightly more unique is the manner in which the game slowly builds upon this basic mechanic and adds to it in ways that tap into other puzzle games of a similar nature.
From these breakable ice platforms, you'll later have to deal with a conveyor belt-type approach that comes in the form of the slippery platforms. Once you make contact with these, you will be taken along a path by force, unable to move again until you hit a wall or arrive at one of the normal blocks. These mechanics continue developing as you are later introduced to yet another familiar, object-push approach. This is represented by the large, teal-coloured Fatty Penguins that enter the mix around Stage 30. Again, Penguin Patrol's most interesting aspect is its use of common elements seen in other puzzle games that would normally be the base of a single game, but have been gathered together into a single mixture. The gradual improvements on the formula don't just end there, however.
Before you even encounter the Fatty Penguins, you'll be introduced to penguins that run away as you get close to them and, sticking to a predictable pattern of movement, can be cornered if you plan accordingly. Additionally, Bratty Penguins won't even budge until you first collect the toy they're calling for, whether that be a set of toy blocks or a cute little Nintendo DS unit call. All in all, I have to say everything comes together well, with each individual layer making Penguin Patrol more and more engaging as you go along.
In line with the above, the game features some pretty clever layouts that often have multiple ways of arriving at a solution. While it would be easy to see why this could go the other way, the absence of a standard hint system doesn't in fact lead to frustration. This is often cited as a criticism in puzzle games that pick up too quickly as they essentially alienate certain types of players. In the case of Penguin Patrol, however, players are given subtle clues that help them arrive at the best possible solution -- or, the one that will award them with all three Stars at the end. Your first clue often comes in the form of ice platforms that can be stepped on twice, indicated by a patch of snow lying over top of it. As well, when you clear away a bunch of platforms and leave behind a surplus of icy water, a brief animation will show that particular area covered in a sheet of ice with the words "Nice!" appearing on-screen, thus indicating you completed a portion of the stage successfully. They're little touches, of course, but they do make a difference in the context of tricky puzzles over frustrating ones.
If you find yourself getting fed up with trying to collect every last penguin, you can adjust your strategy and meet the basic requirements and come back later when you have more patience to spare. In fact, later levels make it pretty easy to completely bypass the special penguins or push them into the water and still make it out A-OK just by gathering all the other penguins. Unfortunately, even with the clues mentioned above and the often forgiving clear conditions, the linear structure can still bring out a degree of frustration when the game suddenly doesn't like that you're coasting by with little trouble. I found Level 40 really disrupted the amount of fun I was experiencing up to this point as it took me many many tries before I was able to get it right. When you do manage to do more than just scrape by, though, it's actually quite satisfying to earn three Stars on a level you spent a couple minutes trying to figure out the solution to.
As touched on earlier, Penguin Patrol is just as charming as a baby penguin struggling to walk on ice. Between its loveable production values, as seen in the fluid animations; comical approaches, like when your character is running across slippery platforms; as well as its fun, albeit slightly repetitive, music, there is a lot to like. While the stage names are often flat, there are a few interesting ones on occasion like "Uncharted" and "Left for Dead", and these add a bit to the level of personality exhibited in this game.
You can sink a fair amount of time into the experience, with two hours being the approximate minimum. After completing the 59 initial stages on a one-by-one basis, you'll gain access to the bonus levels which feature multiple exits. There are a little under 20 of these in total, so there isn't a major extension of gameplay. What does make you want to go back, though, is the prospect of earning all three Stars on every level. While I didn't personally feel that attached to the game to go to these lengths, I could still see others actually following through on this -- at least partly -- and actually seeing if they could figure out the best possible solution purely out of desiring that feeling of accomplishment.
As often is the case with other puzzle games with cute production values, Penguin Patrol is deceptively challenging with some clever approaches to it. The game fits right in with the rest of the puzzle games on the service, yet it manages to hold its own and surpass other titles that may have only one of the different mechanics present here. Adding to the list of positives is the fact that it's listed at a reasonable price, thus making it even easier to recommend.
23/30 - Very Good
Gameplay 8/10 - Combines familiar puzzle mechanics into one game, clever solutions, gradually expands, subtle clues help counter the lack of a hint system
Presentation 8/10 - Quite a bit of personality seen in the polish, animations that are both fun and smooth, music is a tad repetitive, a charming experience
Enjoyment 3/5 - Frustration is surprisingly rare, satisfying to clear levels while meeting all objectives, new elements make it more engaging over time
Extra Content 4/5 - A number of stages to clear, will last a couple hours, only $2, only some will see worth in aiming for Stars on every level
Equivalent to a score of 77% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System