Saturday, 3 September 2016

Landmaker (Playstation)

Landmaker's a Taito arcade puzzle game from the mid-90s, when Taito were putting out a load of them, presumably due to the success of the Puzzle Bobble series. In it, you play as one of eight gods, each representing a different kind of biome (forest, mountains, desert, icefield, and so on) that wants control over a continent. Control is gained by beating all the other gods in a kind of civilisation-building contest. (All these story details are pretty much entirely conjecture on my part based on what appears to happen in the game. There's not a lot of documentation on the matter, you know?)

These contests involved shooting coloured diamond-shaped blocks up a diagonal grid, and when blocks of the same colour touch each other, they become houses, and if they form squares, they form larger, and more extravagant buildings the bigger the square is. Forming big, fancy buildings garners a lot of points, and erasing them (by shooting another same-coloured block at one of the formation's downward-pointing corners) garners more points, and lowers the upper limit of the opponent's grid. Obviously, if a block falls off of the bottom of your grid, it's game over.

I really like this game, like all the best versus-style puzzle games, it's fast and satisfying, with a good match involving things constantly moving and changing state all over the screen, and there are opportunities for clever players in a bind to turn things around. The presentation seems a little lower-budget than Taito's other games of the period, with the characters lacking individual voices, and other little omissions, though there is one small touch that I really like: each character has a different architectural style applied to the buildings that they grow.

The home port also adds a single=player puzzle mode, which doesn't feature the arcade game's setting or any of its characters, and replaces the detailed building sprites for slightly plain polygon structures. The premise for this mode is that you're tasked with founding cities in various locations around the world, and the better the job you do, the higher the city's population grows, and the more it develops. More cities get unlocked as the world's total population grows.

Though it uses the same basic mechanics as the arcade game, puzzle mode is set out pretty differently: each stage starts with a specific amount of remaining space and atarting layout of blocks, and you're tasked with creating a building of a minimum size before getting a game over. You get points for every building you make along the way, and massive bonuses are available for making buildings bigger than your quota.  It's a pleasant enough way to pass some time and watch a big number gradually get bigger, but it's not a patch of the fast-paced action of the arcade game.

As will be obvious by now, I really like the Landmaker arcade game, and this port is arcade-perfect (except for the loading times), plus it comes with a mildly amusing extra game on the side. It's available dirt cheap, and I recommend you get ahold of a copy.

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