Arctic Adventures: Polar’s Puzzles – Perplexing but Pricey
Arctic Adventures: Polar’s Puzzles is a mostly accurate title. It’s set in the Arctic and it stars a polar bear named Polar who does puzzles. But adventures is more than a bit of a stretch, it’s just puzzles, which are hardly adventurous. Basically, the game can be summed up as taking the old arcade game Pengo and turning it into a brain teasing game where you must guide your critter (in this case a bear) to the exit of the level which has been ingeniously blocked.
There are much worse concepts. For those that never played Pengo, basically you moved a little cartoon animal around a rectangular grid. Some of the spaces on the grid were empty, some were full of ice blocks you could push, some were full of stone you couldn’t move. When you pushed the ice block, it would keep moving until it hit something. Then if you moved it when it was up against something, it would break.
Pengo was a relatively simple game, as befitting an arcade title. But for a puzzle game, they made this basic gameplay much more complex, adding more types of blocks. Dynoblocks, which keep going like ice blocks and explode if they are moved too far. But if you just move them one space, they don’t explode. And you can set them to blow up on a timer. In either case, they can be used to destroy cracked stone blocks and blow yourself up, if you aren’t careful.
There are also snow blocks, which can’t be moved but can be destroyed, and metal blocks, which move one space at a time when you push them. And some levels add blocks (oil drums, apparently) that move. You need to watch out for these or you will get squished (even though in real life I don’t think a 1000 lb bear would be bothered too much by small drum).
Along with these new types of blocks, are new types of squares to move them onto. Taking a page from countless annoying puzzles from RPGs over the years, there are two types of switches. One that is flipped when you pass it, the other when you put something heavy on it (generally one of those one square at a time movable blocks). There are also broken bridge squares, you push an ice block onto them to move over them.
So there are more than enough elements involved for puzzles. Once you’ve managed to actually finish a puzzle, you are scored by the number of moves you made and the time it took. You can play again, trying to beat your score/time, or back out of the menu (rather awkwardly) and play another level.
There is also some awkwardness in restarting a level. You have to go to the menu, then pick restart, then it asks if you want to restart. While it’s not that much work, it could have been streamlined, as it’s something you will be doing a lot of (or at least I did).
There are fifty puzzles in the game, broken up into groups of 5. You solve 3 in a group, and the next group is unlocked. So if you can’t solve one puzzle (or simply don’t want to, some are long and involved), you can move on without getting stuck.
Graphically it’s very nice looking, if a bit smallish on the PSP screen (the bear looks more like a Yeti, but then again, a polar bear walking upright probably does in real life as well). The playing field is rendered in 3D (polygons that is), but you can’t zoom in or rotate the board or anything. It’s fairly cute, which is the nature of polar bears (at least when they aren’t killing other critters), but not disgustingly so.
It’s entertaining enough and you do get 50 puzzles, which is a decent amount. On the other hand, many games offer several different modes of play for a similar price. Numba, in particular, has a puzzle mode just as extensive as this, plus the regular mode and is much cheaper.
Indeed, this basically just is the “Puzzle Mode” (with new puzzles) from the game Polar Panic by the same developer (the story mode of which is actually a Pengo clone) that was published for the PS3 and XBLA for only double the price of this. Considering that puzzle mode was not really half of that (the story mode is fairly extensive and there was a third mode), they should have sweetened the deal of this with more puzzles.
Especially as I felt the difficulty of the game ramped up too quickly. You start off with a few small easy puzzles, but after a handful of those, you start facing complicated ones on big maps. More puzzles overall would have given a more gradual buildup in difficulty, it really seems to assume some familiarity with its parent game, Polar Panic.