Leave it to the puzzle genre to humble a seasoned gamer. Having played hundreds of videogames over the last twenty-plus years, I'd like to think I could, at the very least, not completely suck at whatever comes my way. Having only been vaguely aware Atlus' Droplitz before I actually played it, I hastily assumed it was going to be clone of Pipe Dream with, at most, one or two spins on the classic formula. Forty seconds later, a close approximation of my inner monologue went something like, "okay, three things, not bad, wait why are the drops splitting, how come the thing just locked WHY DID THE PIPES DISAPPEAR LIKE IN TETRIS AAGGGHHRRZZZ?!" A brief wave of unconsciousness followed, and when I came to I was greeted by a screen indicating failure. Yes, Droplitz looked simple, but, like any puzzle game worth its falling blocks, it hides it’s depth under a thin veil of complexity.
…Like It’s Hot
As could be expected, reading the help files at the options screen allowed a more competent understanding of the mechanics. Colored balls, the titular Droplitz, fall out multiple spickets at the top of the screen, and it's your task to manipulate the pipes in the middle to guide the droplitz to the receptacle at the bottom. Pipe blocks come in straight, V, X, and peace sign-shaped arrangements and can be rotated any direction you desire. Special blocks that mimic collectors also appear sporadically. You're bound to a timer, which seems to go hand in hand with the finite amount of droplitz spilling out of the top. The challenge arrives in maintaining the composure necessary to not panic as you try to arrange the blocks in a path that avoids dead ends and guides multiple droplitz to the end target.
A few kinks (har har) help break the PipeDream look and feel. If the droplitz come at an X pipe, they'll alternate down each side and split their route. If that's not maddening enough, you'll be pleased to know that creating a successful path of pipe-blocks locks as it empties the droplitz dispenser at the top, at which point all the blocks in the path disappear. What remains drops down, and new, random blocks drop into the empty spaces. It's an interesting way of refreshing the map, as it guarantees a fresh potential catastrophe just as soon as you start to get comfortable.
Racking up a high score is goes hand in hand with game progression. Regular droplitz and bonus droplitz (obtained when you lock a path) add to your score, but every connected path from top to bottom adds one to the score multiplier. While it would seem the multiplier could only top out at three, chain reactions, caused by the random pieces magically falling into place, can boost the multiplier even further down the rabbit hole.
Doing well in the game is an important hook for self satisfaction, but it's also required to unlock a majority of the content. The base game receives a constant upgrade of themes and music, but the other three modes require higher scores to be unlocked. Zendurance is like the original mode, only it trades an increase in speed for a consistent output of droplitz and larger real estate. PowerUp features random blue droplitz that grant, yes, powerups (such as bombs to blowup those pesky V pieces or slowing the droplitz speed. Another mode, Infection, required too high of a score for my relatively shallow skill level to grasp - but the series of tubes known as the "Internet" relayed that it's somewhat close to PowerUp, but featured "infected" pipe blocks that rotate slower than usual.
Taking Droplitz in and actually figuring out the intricacies of the gameplay proved to be a rewarding experience. Every game has a learning curve, but my relationship with Droplitz', specifically the progression from curiosity, to comprehension, to effortlessly syncing my mind with the mechanics, was a wonderfully enjoyable path. Knowing what you have to do and being able to effortlessly accomplish it by feeling instead of thinking is what puzzle games are all about, and Droplitz was a wild success in that regard.
Mind the Litz, Thanks
The second mode, Zendurance, isn't just an aimless pun; it's a parallel to the state of mind a good puzzle game can evoke. The relaxed, ambient soundtrack and bold but almost monochromatic color arrangement effortlessly broadcast a deliberately soothing atmosphere. Even when my imminent doom was readily apparent, the audio/visual experience was there to compliment and return the calculated intensity back down to manageable levels. I mean, I was still too impatient and panicky of a player to achieve anything but a modest amount of success, but I had to recognize the tools are still there for those who want to invest more of their time with Droplitz.