I'm a bit of an addict when it comes to puzzle games and have a nasty habit of simply buying whatever titles within the genre crop up on the download services. So it was that I picked up Yosumin Live! on XBLA with very little knowledge of what the game actually was. Seeing that it was created by Square-Enix really piqued my curiousity and led me to wonder what the popular developer would come up with in a puzzler.
It's certainly different from just about every puzzle game I have ever played. But does "different" equate to "good?" Read on for my review of this very unique title.
Yosumin Live! (XBLA)
Yosumin Live! claims to be a puzzle game and, at first glance, looks like one. Calling it a member of that genre stretches things a bit because there is only the vaguest sense of strategy or skill involved in playing it. The only abilities the player needs to be successful are a keen eye and quick fingers.
Yosumin's playfield consists of a square of colored tiles measuring nine on each side. The objective is to find rectangles on the board in which the corners share the same color tile. Controlling a cursor, you can click on a tile and then drag across to the opposite corner or, alternately, just tap on opposing corners. Once the rectangle is defined, all tiles within change their color to match the corners before being removed from the board, are replaced with a random assortment of new tiles and points are awarded based on the size and shape of the rectangle.
And that's the gameplay, in essence. There's no motion to the board, which does not matter anyway because the creation of rectangles is not the point of gameplay. Finding rectangles, requiring complete player interaction, is the only important thing. It's incredibly simple to play.
Endless Yosumin, the game's basic mode, requires the player to clear tiles meeting certain criteria. This begins as having to remove a number of tiles matching specific colors. As the levels progress, Players may be asked to create rectangles of specific sizes or even make some which comprise the entire playfield. Working against the player is a bar which drains during play and is replenished by finding rectangles.
There is one additional bit of help that the game's mechanics provides. If you can manage to make rectangles of the same color four times consecutively, all tiles of that color will be cleared and replaced with different tiles, making it far easier to form new rectangles. In addition, defining squares count double for this purpose, adding a nice layer of depth. Of course, you may not want all of a color to disappear if it is one of the ones you need to meet your objective for a level, adding something else to consider.
The further you progress, the more complicated it becomes. More colors are added, limiting the possibilities for finding rectangles. Wildcards that can substitute for any color and winged tiles which can be swapped with any other on the board arrive on the scene to help out while oversized tiles appear, taking up multiple squares, and can be tricky to work around. Randomizer tiles will shuffle the whole board if removed, something the game will just decide to shuffle things for no good reason.
It winds up being alternately fun and frustrating. The sheer randomness of it all, with very limited opportunities to apply forethought, can be very troubling at times. Staring at eighty-one images and desperately looking for a configuration which works can drive you up the wall. Once you have cleared twenty or more stages, though, the challenge of more difficult goals really put the pressure on and the game begins to shine.
The second mode in Yosumin Live!, Battle Yosumin, pits you against the computer in a competitive mode. Sharing the same playfield, you compete to spot rectangles faster. Each player has their own time bar and when either competitor finds a rectangle, it shaves time off its opponent's bar. The larger the rectangle, the more time is removed. It's fast-paced and a bit intense.
Unfortunately, it's also often rather unfair. From the halfway point of this mode on, the CPU is defining a rectangle in the very instant the board is visible, putting the player at a massive disadvantage. Often, this first rectangle can be huge and redraw most of the board, which makes it all that much longer before the player can even make their first move.
Battle Yosumin also features special attacks. By clearing rectangles and building up a meter, powers that can give you a little more time, slow your opponent's cursor and randomize the board become available. There are eight in all and they can be activated once the special meter reaches fifty percent. Like the time bar, the special meter drains slowly if you can not keep up the pace of finding rectangles.
These powers would be a novel addition if not for two frustrating factors. First, matches in Battle Yosumin are often over so quickly that a good half of the special abilities you can choose from are utterly useless, while most of the helpful ones are equally handy for your opponent. Worse, if you really get on a roll and fill the meter completely, your power is activated automatically which can be disorienting and frustrating.
Yosumin Live! also features multiplayer for two players, both online and local. This plays exactly like the Battle Yosumin mode, only with a real, live player instead of the CPU. From a fairness standpoint, it's a superior proposition since you will not get the impression that the game is simply making cheap moves. But the game is such a passive form of entertainment that it also doesn't really feel all that competitive against another person.
Honestly, that's the predominant aspect of Yosumin Live!: it's passivity. It's a very casual puzzle-like game that can slowly sneak up on you with a hidden complexity. It will not be fun for all players and even fans of the puzzle genre may be left scratching their heads. Given a chance, it may win you over with its cheerful visual style, sound effects and surprising depth. Giving it that opportunity, however, is probably going to be more effort than most players deem worthwhile.
Score: 6 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)
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