Puzzle mania!

Strategically place a few dozen sticks of dynamite around any game’s digital base, detonate when at a safe distance and, as predicted, only a foundation will remain. The concept: puzzle bricks, puzzle blocks, puzzle drills, puzzle shots — but at their core, all puzzle games are basically the same, right?

Well, there are a few minor differences. And what sets the elite puzzlers apart from the crack-strategy rejects is the pure, undeniable enjoyment factor.

On the top of the heap stands Namco’s recent release, "Mr. Driller." "Once you start drillin’, there’s no chillin’," announces the back cover of this Dreamcast romp. Three modes of gameplay follow the same elementary grid: Arcade (how long?), Time Attack (how fast?) and Survival (how deep?). Simply guide Mr. D downward, demolishing colorful blocks while collecting oxygen bubbles (you wouldn’t want to suffocate, would you?). The farther your dig, the higher the point meter soars.

As of late, Nintendo also made a leap into the puzzle genre, using its phenomenally successful Pokécreatures to hype another N64 cartridge. In "Pokémon Puzzle League," players race against the opposition (being the tick-tock of the clock or a protagonist) to match similar-colored blocks in rows of three or more.

Sound easy? Not quite. "Puzzle League" isn’t the usual Poké-kind conundrum — and might be a dash too quick for kiddies to handle.

Finally, Acclaim’s Japanese import, "Bust-A-Move 4," follows the same abstraction as Nintendo’s color-matching mayhem — but instead of squares, bubbles are used; and rather than flowing upward, the game screen falls vertically.

All three of these puzzlers are incredibly primitive, by both gameplay and graphical standards. But when you yearn for a quick fix of puzzle mania, turn toward any of the products reviewed. "Mr. Driller "is just more enduring, in terms of longevity.

Jon M. Gibson writes about video games for the Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].

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