Developer: Mitchell Corporation | Publisher: Nintendo | Release Date: 2005 | Genre: Puzzle | Website: N/A | Purchase: Amazon
Puzzle games have been synonymous with handhelds ever since the early days of Tetris on the Gameboy. Many other games have followed in its hallowed footsteps, but few have come close to its success. Polarium is another contender for the throne and as a launch title for new hardware, it has a slight edge over the competition. It even looks a bit like Tetris, with its near monochrome visuals, but it is the gameplay that really matters.
As the name suggests, Polarium is a game of polar opposites in this case, black and white. You have a board filled with black and white tiles that is surrounded by a border of gray ones. You can “flip” tiles by drawing a line over them with your stylus. Everything the line touches will reverse, so black tiles become white and vice versa. The gray tiles will stay the same, so their purpose is to give you a bit of breathing space. Depending on the mode you select, there are a few different ways in which to play.
Challenge mode is the closest thing to Tetris, with blocks falling from the top of the screen and you having to clear them away before the stack gets too high. Lines are cleared by turning all the tiles the same color. It does not matter if it is black or white. The controls feel a bit stiff and you cannot draw lines diagonally, so this mode becomes repetitive very quickly. It is just a matter of drawing the lines fast enough. There is a slight delay when the lines disappear, which can screw up your timing. Its fun to play for a while, but the novelty soon wears off. Next up is the puzzle mode, which is slightly more interesting. Here you have 100 puzzles, served up in batches of ten that have to be overcome. The aim is to clear the entire board in one move, which is easier said than done. It starts off very simply, but getting through all the puzzles will challenge even the masters. You can even create your own puzzles and share it via wireless link or passwords in order to stump your friends. Then you have a versus mode, which is playable against human opponents even if you have just one copy of the game. You also have a tutorial and practice mode to get you up to speed.
While there are plenty of modes, the game just lacks that special factor to keep players hooked. I found myself growing tired of it very quickly and the spares visuals, not to mention repetitive soundtrack, did not help much either. Games like Zoo Keeper are a bit more addictive in my opinion, and have a whole lot more color to boot. It is certainly not a bad game and the puzzle mode will appeal to those who prefer a more cerebral challenge, but I have seen and played better.
*Review originally published in 2005.