Imagine there is a world where you can play Mario and Tetris at the same time, on a single game system. Now imagine that Indiana Jones was there, and that he brought along his giant steampunk robot, and you were all drinking tea. The crazy scene you’ve arrived at is more or less the starting premise for EA’s Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure for the DS.
Henry Hatsworth is an aging gentleman adventurer from Tealand, who goes out into uncharted continents in search of a golden suit which, legend has it, is so dapper that it will bestow upon the wearer magical powers and allow him (or her, though it is a gentleman’s suit) to rule the world. Hatsworth doesn’t believe the legends but searches out the first artifact, a golden bowler hat, for the sake of a good adventure. After he finds it, however, he realizes that the hat was part of a magical balance keeping a magical puzzle world from leaking through dimensions and causing trouble in the real world. When Hatsworth puts on the hat, the balance of reality shifts, the puzzle world starts to impose on the real world and Hatsworth must quest around the world to locate the remaining pieces of the suit and restore order to the world. This is, of course, one of the most ridiculous premises for a game since “plumber rescues princess from dinosaur,” but the game approaches the matter with a fantastic sense of humor, and the story is established quickly and simply and then makes way for the hyper-active yet very high quality gameplay.
Mar. 17, 2009
The operative gimmick of the game is that there are essentially two games operating on both DS screens at once. As you progress through the platformer on the upper screen, a scrolling screen of colored tiles rolls up the lower screen. Pressing the X button allows you to switch between screens more or less at will, though you have a limited amount of time to operate in the puzzle world. The puzzle screen functions a lot like a Puzzle Quest game, in that you have to match three tiles of the same color in a row, which makes them disappear and gives you energy or power-ups. In fact, the only way to access items dropped in the adventure world, like the bowler hats that represent extra lives, is by successfully lining them up with other tiles in the puzzle world. There is no penalty for allowing a regular or power-up tile to scroll up past the top of the screen, but once that happens the item will be gone forever.
Enemies that you kill in the adventure world also occupy tiles in the puzzle world (with adorable little confused faces) and if you don’t take care to delete them or shift tiles to keep them in the puzzle screen, they come back into the puzzle world as floating tiles that zip around the screen, trying to hit you. Essentially, unless you want to face a second round of much harder-to-kill enemies, you have to kill each enemy twice. Some enemies also turn in to power up tiles like health or energy, so some good comes of this too. Ostensibly, if you are really, really good at the adventure mode, you don’t have to take care of every enemy tile, and can power through the levels while ignoring the puzzle screen, but the game is pretty well balanced, and throws enough enemies and power-ups your way that ‚ playing in the puzzle world becomes necessary yet dynamic.
The puzzle world affects the adventure world too. There is an energy bar that Hatsworth uses for ammunition and health that is replenished by getting tile matches in the puzzle world, and power-ups will occasionally appear in the puzzle screen of their own accord, so if you’re being swarmed by enemies in adventure mode, jumping into the puzzle world for a little bit can offer a handy way out.
Unquestionably the most awesome aspect of the game is “Tea Time.” When the puzzle world’s energy bar is full, you have the option of activating Tea Time by pressing the lower screen. Time will stop, and Hatsworth will drink tea with Sherlock Holmes or his buddies from the adventuring club, cry “Good Show!” and leap into a giant indestructible steam-powered robot, who can fire its fists like missiles into enemies or fire huge lasers, obliterating anything standing in front of it. I firmly believe that every game I play from now until I die should have this feature.
Even when you’re not rocking our in a giant robot suit, the adventure mode makes for an excellent game on its own terms. Hatsworth runs around in his tweed suit hitting enemies with his cane and blunderbuss, or with a machete if the power bar is above a certain level. The worlds you can explore are clever by any platforming standard, and the enemies are diverse enough to not be repetitive, ranging from tiny purple blobs to axe-wielding beasts the size of bears, and challenging enough without being frustrating. There are occasionally simple puzzles to be solved within the adventure mode, and several levels offer multiple ways to get to the end of the level, including alternate ends that unlock bonus levels. Additionally, gaining new pieces of the golden suit will unlock new abilities and add new dimensions to the platforming segment of the game: for example, the golden pantaloons give the wearer the ability to stick to walls, a feature which the game forces you to make full use of.
The only parts of the game that fall short are the mini-boss segments of many of the levels, where there is no platforming and just straight up sword-swinging combat against several waves of enemies. While the reasoning behind this is understandable-that many enemies forces you to engage both the adventure and puzzle modes at a pretty frantic pace, whereas a single Mario-type enemy would gloss over the puzzle aspect entirely-it can be kind of overwhelming. At times, even jumping into the indestructible robot isn’t enough to make it through the onslaught.
Bottom line, Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure is a probably about as good as DS gaming can get. The gameplay is fast-paced and engaging, and the two very different aspects of gameplay are very well balanced and compliment each other perfectly. The story is ridiculous but presented with an endearing tongue-in-cheek humor that is actually a subtle satire on late 19th Century Victorian notions of civilization, technology and colonization-yes, this game would make a 19th Century Literature class worthwhile. And, of course, it is worth saying one last time: tea drinking lets you rock a giant steampunk robot. At $29.99 from Game Stop, it’s worth every cent.