Who doesn’t have fond memories of stacking wooden blocks as a child? Creating your own puzzles, seeing how high you could stack without having the lot topple over. Ah, good fun. Lincoln Logs were also a big hit and made us all feel like genius builders. I guess with today’s electronic and online world, that memory is only for those of us old enough to have played a Super Nintendo when it launched. Sigh… Well, thankfully, Art of Balance is taking the wooden block stacking past time and essentially future-proofing it for today’s adults and youth alike.
Once you boot up the game we’re treated to some electronic, fun, jazzy music, and that continues throughout the whole game. Sometimes it’s more upbeat, sometimes it’s a little slower, but all in all, the music is very solid and kept me engaged throughout. It’s kind of relaxing, in a way. Another good thing is that the speaker on the DualShock 4 is used. Sparingly, but only really because there’s not much in the way of sound effects in the game. Of course, there are some, but this isn’t an action game, bombs aren’t blowing up every 2 seconds (or at all), and no one is shouting at the player in the game. In fact, there’s no one in the game besides your disembodied hand cursor, so the only one shouting something will be you. At the TV (or yourself). Often. Whatever we do get in the way of sound effects, DS4 or otherwise, are really pleasant to hear every time.
When it comes to a game that tasks you to stack wooden blocks of various shapes and sizes, mind blowing graphics don’t really stand out as a major focus, whether from a developer, or an audience. While that’s likely true, Art of Balance isn’t a dud, either. The different shapes and colors of the blocks all look really nice and detailed in HD and so do the minimalist backgrounds we encounter each time we load up a new puzzle. Open windows, random hanging decorations, potted plants – all look nice and clean on the screen. It’s almost as if we’re trying to solve these puzzles in a block zen garden. It’s a small touch, but one that I feel works incredibly well with the premise. Even the shadows impress everywhere you look. It may have been easier for developer Shin’en Multimedia GmbH to do with so little on screen, but they could have also done the opposite and phoned it in for the same reason, which they didn’t. I’m glad they didn’t.
The whole hook of the game is to take blocks and stack them in the way of your choosing that allows them to stay on top of the designated areas just above a pot or base of water. Once you have all pieces in place, a timer of about 3 seconds starts and if you have none that hit the water or outer edge of the container, you win the level and move on. Sounds wicked simple, right? Yeah, sure. On paper. In practice? It can be a nightmare sometimes. In a good way, of course.
There’re many different shapes of blocks that need to be set, from plus signs, to arrows, to triangle shapes, just to name a few. We also have a few variations on our shapes that have different effects on the puzzle once placed. One such block is a clear block that has a green patch in the middle. These, once placed, only allow a certain number of blocks to be touching it before they disappear. I’m sure you can imagine what happens next if that were to take place. I’ll let you discover the others for yourself, but they are a fun addition to the game that makes puzzles even more tactical and challenging.
In Art of Balance, we don’t just get your standard Arcade mode, but rather a diverse set of modes to tickle our puzzle bone, but also put our brains in high gear. There’s Tower Tumble, an offline multiplayer mode for up to 4 players that alternates who places a block to see who will collapse the tower first. Infinity mode where you try to build the tallest stack you can with the blocks given. Endurance mode asks you to play all the levels in one go and is about as tough as it sounds. Finally, we have Swift Stacker, both online or off, which is a 1 on 1 battle to see who can finish the puzzles the fastest. Oh, and that Arcade mode? Has 200 levels and 8 different worlds to conquer. Even cooler? Up to 3 others in the same room can drop in and out to help. You’ll put in work.
While I did get in a few online matches in various modes, sadly, the community doesn’t seem too large. I’ve tried at all hours of the day over the time I’ve had with the game since launch, looking to get consistent matches, but it didn’t happen often. Sometimes I’d get connected within a reasonable amount of time, others I had to give up. Sometimes I could find different people to play against, others it was the same player over and over. It’s a bummer, but it doesn’t detract too much from the overall experience. Online play is solid. I never had any issues in any way, so the only downside I see currently is the player base. Hopefully, that’ll change for the better
In the Trophy portion of the experience, we don’t have a Platinum, though we do have 13 (mostly) tough to obtain Trophies offered. Thankfully, the devs were wise enough to not include any online Trophies to unlock, though who knows if that carrot would have increased the player base. I’d wager only a tiny bit, if at all. Hunters may be plentiful, but not as much as we think. There are leaderboards, too, which is always a nice thing to have, especially in a puzzle game. I envy the top leaders.
This is one of my shorter reviews, possibly the shortest, but that’s because there’s not a lot to the game. There’s not much going on, but seriously, don’t let that fool you. This game is pretty deep with its simple mechanics. There’re a ton of levels to play, and a great variety of modes that offer both single and multiplayer fun. I’m sure this kind of game isn’t on many’s radars; not many’s cups of tea. Heck, I know some puzzle game fans who scoff at this kind of puzzle experience. I’m telling you, don’t let anything like that fool you. Art of Balance is very rewarding with time. Plus, it’s fun, and isn’t that the main goal of gaming?
Art of Balance is out now on PlayStation 4 for $8.99. There’s also a demo version on PSN, so there’s no excuse not to give it a shot. A copy of the game was provided by Shin’en Multimedia for the purpose of this review.