I don’t play a whole lot of puzzle games, but Yuan Works’s Wind and Water: Puzzle Battles caught my eye last week with its fun mechanics, great presentation, and cute Story Mode. The game was originally released in 2007 for the Korean GP2X handheld and was re-released for the Dreamcast a year later (both of these were commercial releases). Its creators recently made the game free to download on Windows.
W&W:PB is a color-matching game, but there are a number of mechanics and features that bring it above and beyond most casual match X’s. One of these features is skill level, which comes in three flavors and is either selected before a versus match or pre-selected for a single-player stage. The skill levels affect the timing of combos and chains during play. For example, on Beginner Skill the player is automatically given a big chunk of time to perform combos after a 5+ match has been made. On Expert Skill, those matches will freeze the play field for a moment and open up opportunities for either Panel De Pon/Tetris Attack-style chains or super cancels for extra combo time. Expert Skill demands better reflexes and pattern recognition, but allows for bigger scores.
To play effectively, you also have to understand full combos, Wind and Void clears, and the “press” that pushes the play field upward until you lose. Fortunately, the extensive Story Mode walks you through each of these ideas, presenting you with various challenges to help you come to grips with the game’s mechanics. The story itself is cute and self-aware, with the two creators (who are brothers) featured as secondary characters trying to finish making the game while you play through it. Completing every stage in this mode is a tough challenge, but if you get stuck there’s a variety of other fun things to try, like unlocking hidden shortcuts on the overworld map, collecting behind-the-scenes development slides, or playing the arcade modes (including a head-to-head Versus Mode against another player or the CPU).
In a crowded genre that’s sometimes resented as a casual mainstay (well, I know I have!), Wind and Water: Puzzle Battles distinguishes itself by pairing indie charm with a high-level of polish and numerous modes and options. Yuan Works seems very close to its fans, too – according to their website, over 500 custom avatars have been created for players for use in the game, and are now being sold for donations to help support new features, like mouse controls and netplay. Definitely worth checking out!