Shin’en have crafted a finely balanced library on the Wii U. To offset the speed and destruction of FAST Racing Neo, Art of Balance is a game about being as slow as possible. I held off buying this game for a long time for that reason, it just looked boring. A bunch of shapes on a plain background. I finally downloaded the game and assembled my own opinion of it.
The pot plant looks on with displeasure and judgement. I bet you couldn’t do any better, you stupid plant. That was the only place I could drop the last triangle, okay. The bowl of fruit dared me to put the last triangle on the left, just so it would look neater for a second before sliding off. “Do it”, the banana chants. I held strong, until the leaves on the table radiated with forgiveness. They all flew out of home in an imperfect pattern, and that’s just what you have to do sometimes. I can play this game my own way, and that’s a beautiful thing.
Right away this game proves itself with professional Shin’en optimisation. 30 seconds after clicking the Art of Balance icon on the Wii U menu, you can be in a puzzle. At this point you already know the menus are classy, graphics are sharp and the music is very chill. It’s really complex but friendly lounge music. Reminds me of those comfy days playing Monkey Billards on the GameCube. I recommend getting the Art of Balance demo if you are unsure how this game can look and sound so good, it’s what drove me to buy the game a few minutes later.
Art of Balance is played by dragging shapes on top of each other with either the GamePad or Wii Remote, with the option to rotate them with L and R. The general goal is to put every object on without the structure collapsing. It’s easy to have a bad experience with games like this in real life, with blocks flying everywhere making a big noise, but in a videogame it’s much more encouraging and organised. If you mess up you can just try again in seconds and it’s no big deal. What an age we live in, this is truly a game made more accessible with technology.
It wouldn’t be an authentic block puzzle game without that feeling of frustration, however. The game is very sensitive to precision, and rightfully so since it’s the core game mechanic. As you go through the worlds the difficulty ramps up and demands a steady head and creative mind. Blocks start to have interesting gimmicks like timers and weight limits, and the shapes get crazier. Placing a shape slightly off-center can result in an entire tower collapsing. The physics are very eager to present themselves at the smallest opportunity and you can not get away with too much.
There’s no feeling quite like the horror of placing a shape down in the wrong place, only to watch the tower slowly tilt towards destruction. You just have to sit there, completely helpless. You can touch the screen and move the cursor, but nothing will happen. After placing the final block, you have 3 seconds to let the tower “hold” and that’s when you win the level. When you know your structure is faulty, the tension is incredible. DON’T. MOVE. PLEASE. ONE MORE SECOND.
YES! Totally legit.
This is the forgiving side of the physics spectrum. You can get away with crappy placement if you have a solid enough foundation. Like a poorly made burger that still tastes good.
Do you think that’s gonna fit? It really depends how perfectly you place it down. I’ve dug myself a hole here by leaving the circle too late, it should have been between the two bone shapes. To spoil the outcome, it fell into the water because when I came back from the Miiverse screenshot folder, I forgot to hold my stylus over the screen. The things we sacrifice for journalism *wipes sweat*. I did manage to pull it off the previous time though, so it’s possible. There is just enough room there. This is just a nice example of how you can weasel yourself out of a bad situation with a bit of skill. I always feel so proud of my imperfect structures and they are possible with the game’s realistic physics.
Putting blocks down too fast becomes more of an actual game mechanic in Endless Mode, which keeps a score with time bonuses for each stage you clear. It basically cycles through random Arcade Stages until you mess up three times. It’s a nice relaxing way to keep playing without navigating any menus and I found it quite chill, depending on the levels you get. There’s a lot of luck involved in stage rotation, and I noticed this mode was EASIER when I hadn’t unlocked later worlds. It just seemed to only pick ones I’d unlocked, and I haven’t been able to beat my early score from the second time I played it, now that it shuffles so many into the mix. This could be a coincidence. To make the tough levels easier to swallow, you get more points from them. A 6x multiplier for a World 6 stage, for example.
Art of Balance is a deceptively exciting game with impressive production values, great physics, easy controls and 200 levels. There’s also a 3DS version but I don’t know if it’s the same, I wouldn’t make any assumptions because physics calculations could be different on other hardware. Regardless, I think it’s a great game to have on the Wii U menu due to how accessible it is. It has multiplayer for up to 5 players, but even watching one player nervously drop shapes is entertaining. This could easily pass off as a Nintendo-developed game which is the best compliment I can give to an Indie developer. Very polished, engaging videogame, and a great use of the Wii U. Shine on, Shin’en. Shiny shaped Shin’en. Shin’AAAAAUUUHHH!!
Now where do I… how does… what if… god damn it.