Thank you Gamersgate.com for a review copy of Vizati!
Vizati is a work of indie development love. Clearly the small team put a lot of sweat and tears into making a solid puzzle game with beautiful water color backgrounds and music to match. Unfortunately, a few key variables were left out of the equation, keeping Vizati from joining the mainstream's more popular puzzling addictions.
Vizati employs the match-three-colors mechanic of its PopCap competition, but adds a twist. Vizati asks you to manipulate a magical 2D "cube" to group the coloured stones within in the least amount of moves by either rotating, flipping or shaking the puzzle. You can do this using your mouse or fingers if you're using a touch screen, but I found the mouse controls imprecise and stuck mostly to the keyboard when playing.
Sometimes a quick shake will initiate a chain reaction; other times turning the cube upside down will suddenly make a complex puzzle relatively simple. Even the final levels can be solved in less than five actions, but that doesn't mean Vizati is easy. The difficulty quickly ratchets up about halfway through, creating more than a few headaches. Yet, the simplicity of the mechanics keeps casual puzzlers (like myself) from giving up.
The puzzles are complimented by an ethereal art style that plays out like a moving water color painting as you progress through the game's 50 stages. The minimalist music and sounds also create an atmosphere reminiscent of 2008's platformer/puzzler Braid or even the award-winning Limbo.
Unfortunately, it's Vizati's attempt at a narrative that ultimately undermines the experience and remains a constant reminder of its indie roots.
Story Mode opens as Peter and Julie stumble upon the Vizati cube while out for a walk. But the cube is neither drawn to scale to the world, nor do the characters ever interact with the object. Unlike the impressionistic backgrounds, character models are bland and poorly animated. Dialogue is stilted and silly, and the plot to discover the origins of the Vizati is incoherent. Many levels go by with no advance in the story and when it does advance it's littered with bad jokes and unlikeable characters.
At one point, what appears to be a witch-doctor tries to interact with the cube and it never becomes clear what the Vizati stone is or where it came from, though some sort of magic or spiritual origin is implied.
However, for me it eventually came down to the game's lack of pace that kept it from becoming a Bejeweled-like addiction. The difficulty seems to plateau throughout the first and second act, and a lack of time constraints give the game a more plodding, albeit methodical, rhythm.
The game's arcade mode finally unlocks after completing the 50 stages and after the disappointing story, I was hoping this would be Vizati's saving grace. While playing arcade does introduce a countdown that adds more stones every 30 seconds, it does away with the move constrictions, effectively turning your patient tweaking of the cube into spamming the shake button. By adding more stones to penalize the player for taking too long, the game actually becomes easier rather than harder.
And in a market flooded with free flash games and $2.99 iphone games, it's hard to stand out in the pack. Finally finishing that stubborn stage is always a satisfying feeling, and the beautiful backgrounds and music are easy on the eyes and ears. But in the end, a dull story, plodding pace and uncertain spiritual origins might keep the Vizati cube from getting too comfortable on your desktop or smartphone.