For those seeking a puzzling fix at the DSi Store's launch, there were only two selections for PAL gamers: two games in the Art Style series. At first glance, Art Style: AQUITE looks like an underwater version of any number of block-based puzzle games, but that doesn't stop it from having its own unique spin on their 'match-three' style gameplay. With surprisingly addictive gameplay, is AQUITE the definitive title to spend your points on?
Art Style: AQUITE's gameplay revolves around a narrow line (or 'pipe') of multi-coloured blocks that runs down the centre of the screen. They're all jumbled up, and your task is to re-arrange them to form lines of three of the same colour or more, which will then clear those blocks and allow more blocks to enter the pipe. Your progress in the game is indicated by a diver at the right-hand side of the screen, who swims further down as you clear blocks. Once he reaches the bottom, you've completed the level.
So how does one go about re-arranging these blocks? Well, you're given a little 'container' which hovers on one side of the pipe and can hold two blocks at a time (more if you're playing a different mode). You move this container up and down on one side of the pipe using the D-Pad (the touch screen is not used for this game), before choosing where you want to move your blocks. Your blocks then enter the pipe, in turn pushing out blocks that were on the other side, which your container then moves to collect. Essentially, you're constantly flipping from one side of the pipe to the other as you shift blocks around. It's a hard concept to get your head around initially, but once you do you'll be impressed with the number of chains and combos you can pull off, especially in later levels.
As you progress, the number of colours increase, making matches even harder to attain. There are also crossed blocks which cannot be matched, which you'll have to work around, but the most dangerous blocks are the occasionally appearing shining 'item' blocks. The appearance of these means that the screen is about to be covered in a cloud of darkness, starting at the top and making its way down to the bottom. Once that cloud reaches the bottom, it's game over. The game's manual indicates that it's not the blocks themselves that cause this 'pressure line' to appear, rather the player taking too long to complete a level, but we blame the item blocks. The only way to make it disappear is to keep matching blocks, or alternatively find three item blocks and match them up. Of course, either of these tactics can be very hard as the screens get progressively darker.
The only real problem with the game is that it is pretty obtuse. If you hadn't spent time studying the manual before you leapt into the game, you might have a tough time understanding just what you're meant to be doing in the game, or how you're meant to progress. In fact, when we said before that the concept is hard to get your head around, it gets really hard once you start trying the game's other modes. You can switch from using a vertical two-block container to a horizontal one, or a four-block. If you can figure out and master these modes, more power to you. It might just scare some people off who don't want to re-learn what they have learned about block puzzle games.
There are a decent selection of game modes in the game although perhaps nothing too exciting. The main mode of the game is 'Interval Dive', which lets you play through ten levels with each of the game's three container shapes, as you try to clear each one with a faster time. 'Endless Dive', as the name suggests, lets you play for as long as you can, after choosing a container shape, progressively getting harder as you play longer. Finally there is 'Aquarium', which really does nothing more than let you view stylised fish swimming around on your top screen. It's a little bare-bones, and perhaps could have done with a dedicated 'puzzle' mode that presented you with unique challenges to overcome with your block shifting tactics, or maybe even multiplayer.
As you can tell from the screenshots, AQUITE has quite a minimalistic art style. One criticism that could be lobbed at it is that it does seem like it's a cheaply-made downloadable game, but the calming colour-palette and stylised backgrounds do grow on you after a while. The sound design in the game is also worthy of a mention, as every button press results in a musical note that's slightly reminscent of old 8-bit games, but also fits in well with the aquatic setting. They can get a little wearing, but it's cool that your gameplay sort of creates its own soundtrack, Lumines style.
Hopefully, Art Style: AQUITE is a sign of things to come on DSiWare. It's a little offbeat, but offers a unique presentation as well as unique and addictive gameplay. Weighing in at 500 points, it's one of the more expensive purchases on the DSi Store at the moment, but it's definitely a game you'll find yourself coming back to again and again. A lack of modes and the weird nature of the gameplay may turn off some, but if you're after something different to wile away time on a bus or a train, AQUITE may just fit the bill.