(DS Review) WireWay

Developer: Now Production
Publisher: Konami
Genre: Puzzle / Platformer
Players: 1-4
ESRB: Everyone
Reviewer: Marcus Way

Overall: 6 = Fair

I don’t recall how many levels into WireWay I was when the realization hit me that it was a love story, but I do recall being quite surprised. As an assistant to a lost, love-struck alien named Wiley, you will do everything in your power to help him find and woo his crush while nudging him back towards home. How do you help him romance the lady of his dreams? By flicking him around between wires and bumper balls, of course.

Wiley might not be the brightest bulb of the bunch, but he is incredibly resilient. You will fling him around 48 levels, from one wire to another, tweaking the tension just so to ensure that he can grab onto a wire or bounce off a bumper ball rather than fall onto a spike or into one of the roaming blaster-wielding thugs. The wires offer a surprisingly unique way to insert thoughtful, skill-based puzzles inside largely desolate areas. Wires are of different lengths, set at different angles, and can be pulled in different spots to direct Wiley. There are also red and blue bumper balls placed throughout levels, ricocheting him up or down. Aside from a handful of bad guys and traps, the game primarily consists of gathering Elan, stars, for power and making it back to his awaiting ship as quickly as possible. Once back aboard, a grade is given based on a number of criteria, including the percentage of the map discovered and the number of stars gathered. Puzzle pieces can also be found, with completed scenes unlocking new costumes and sound bites. Finding the optimal path to the exit while gathering as many Elans and puzzle pieces as quickly as possible does offer some fast, satisfying moments, but there are some problems.

As colorful and wacky as it all is, it doesn’t take long to realize that WireWay has some serious problems. One of which is how the levels are separated between the two screens; instead of being a seamless transition, with the top of the bottom screen leading directly to the bottom of the top, portions of the level are actually lost in the middle. By being unable to see all of a level, you will miss any number of helpful items while slamming into harmful objects. The screen can be moved up, down, left and right with the directional pad and buttons, which works nicely with the dotted trajectory line, but taking advantage of these handy features can be fairly difficult due the controls becoming cumbersome when trying to pull back and view up at the same time. You might see the key spot to hit while panning up, but you will be unable to pull the wire down far enough to get sufficient tension to reach it without going back to the default view and reorienting yourself.

Another problem is that the game frequently fails to detect whenever a wire or Wiley is being selected. Wires can be pulled regardless of whether Wiley is on them or not, which comes in handy in cases when he needs to be ‘caught’ while sliding, but the game often either didn’t register the stylus in time or at all. Wiley can also be poked whenever he runs on the ground, which causes him to jump onto the nearest wire, but again, several times I found myself pounding away on him and nothing happening. The latter is especially frustrating whenever you’re trying to get him out of the way of projectiles, because he cannot be controlled otherwise while on the ground: he simply he runs around freaked out, even (inexplicably) away from wires and into danger.

The levels and boss fights are also of an uneven quality. While some are really good, especially a handful of particularly clever levels, others are painfully monotonous. Some of the longer levels can be a chore as you have to flick around for a while just to find your way, or when you have to restart because the charged boost ten Elans afford is required in a spot and you don’t have enough left to reach the exit. Other levels show a keen sense of design, with bumper balls and wires placed just so that you can get a really great time just by careful planning and a steady hand. Some areas are reminiscent of earlier Sonic titles, with momentum taking over as you bounce from one screen to another like a pinball.

In addition to the Quest Mode, there are two other quite entertaining modes: Strategery and Flickr. Strategery allows you to place a set number of wires and bumper balls, and then rates your performance by how many of each was used to reach the exit and how long it took. Flickr sets a maximum amount of flicks available to use, with additional points for coming in under the amount. Each mode has 16 levels, which isn’t too bad. There is also single-cart multiplayer that allows for up to four players to race each other in one of two levels. The control and camera problems are present in both modes as well, which, as with the Quest, brings a most interesting platform-puzzler down a few pegs.

It’s a real shame that WireWay can be so frustrating, because it has a lot going for it. Wiley is a charming character, and the off-kilter sense of humor, with its quips about the Internet not lying and buying stuff off an interstellar eBay, works well during the story scenes. The premise itself is the real selling point, because it’s great – when it works. As clever as the design is, it unfortunately has to support spotty controls, a poor camera system, and uneven level design.

(This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.)

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