Where have all the flowers gone? Well it seems they have gone into this one player puzzle game by XXL and friends and it's a cute looking affair of the Columns variety. The basic premise of this game is to stack coloured flowers falling from the top of a rectangular playfield, attempting to stack them in such a way that four or more of the same colour are touching, whereupon they are obliterated from the screen and you are awarded a score depending on how many flowers were removed. If you let the screen get full and don't allow any space for the next flowers to appear then its game over. It's pretty simple stuff although there are a few twists along the way, but let's begin with an assessment of the basic presentation of the product. It's a single load file which advises us of its relaxed cartoony style upon loading with a very pretty title screen. It's a quite nice first impression that at least we should be hoping for some good graphics in the game proper. Unfortunately, on the downside however, that is all we receive as a front-end for the game and I personally feel that some players might have benefited from some sort of small instruction sequence.
We begin the game with the empty playfield and the objects, comprising of a pair of linked randomly coloured flowers, start raining down from the top one at a time. The game is split into levels, five in total, with each level having a target number of flowers you must remove. Controlling the placement of the flower pair with the joystick; left and right will move the pair across the playfield horizontally, up rotates them right once 90 degrees and makes the shape vertical, down rotates them back to their horizontal state and fire swaps the order of the two flowers. I found the controls a touch confusing at first but I did get used to this method eventually; basically you have two states for the shapes, horizontal and vertical, rather than free rotation which would have been a little bit more logical as you wouldn't have to flip the order of the two flowers with the fire button. Positioning the flowers is a case of logical thinking and some luck as with all games of this ilk, trying to balance the possibility of stacking more than four flowers of the same colour to get a better score against the chances of no more of that colour appearing for a while when you need them because you don't want the flower stacks to get too high. You can see the next flower permutation that will spawn onto the screen in a small box below the playfield so this gives you a chance to plan ahead one move. I did feel that the placement of the box was questionable, it seems a petty thing to say but I found that the distance one had to move their eyes from the box back to the top of the playfield somewhat negated its usefulness and I would have far preferred the box to be at the top of the screen and to the side of the playfield rather than underneath it. When you have removed the prerequisite of flowers from the screen you are awarded bonuses for all the clear space and then proceed to the next level.
STOPPING TO SMELL THE FLOWERS
Stacking flowers is one thing, but that's not all we have to stack. In later levels flowers are occasionally replaced by still closed flowers which only blossom when a nearby set of flowers are removed. This means you can chain together bigger sets of flowers and this can be advantageous to your score if used wisely. Also there are two other things that can appear in place of flowers. A small character called Mr Green can show up and he will remove all instances of the colour of flower he lands on, and another character called Dr. Red simply annoys you by getting in the way since he can only be removed by Mr. Green. All of these things make the whole stacking procedure less monotonous and add a nice variety to the gameplay.
The graphics are indeed pretty nice in-game and the flowery theme is well pixelled. The curvy foliage around the playing area is very sweet as are the flowers themselves and there is a lot of colour going on here. The actual playfield graphics are well defined and clear and, although there isn't a lot of animation, we do get a little when a flower is blossoming. It's very charming in general visually giving the game a lot of character. Sound wise things are quite decent too; the game music fits very well with the overall style and proves to be quite catchy after a while. There are no spot effects during play but it has to be said that none are really needed. However due to my issue with the area that displays the next shape, a small audio cue to alert of the spawning of that shape in the playfield, and subsequent need to focus attention on positioning it might have been nice. Although again, that's a very petty and quite personal gripe.
Viewing the thing as a whole we have a game that, while not being mindblowingly original, in my opinion supplies the gaming goods. It's a touch on the difficult side perhaps, but it has to be noted that there has subsequently been a release of an easier version. It's a competent take on the Columns genre with far above average visuals and pretty good sound and, aside from a few minor quibbles, this is a pretty solid product; professional looking and quite fun to play. This I have to say surprised me as I have never really been a fan of Columns style games. Good stuff.