There’s nothing like the unannounced release of a game. As PSP owners, our curiosity is piqued, and in the case of Ultimate Block Party, that curiosity is magnified because of the limited number of releases on the PSP, and the especially limited number of puzzle titles on the platform. Deep inside, we know an unannounced release is usually like a flaming bag of poo on your doorstep, but that’s not the case with Ultimate Block Party.
Ultimate Block Party, also known as Kollon in Japan where it was popular in the arcades, can be best described as a vicious version of Tetris Attack combined with the style of Puyo Puyo. Boiling it down to its basics, Block Party requires you to rotate square-shaped groups of blocks which rise from the bottom of your playing field. When four individual blocks of the same color touch each other, they begin to pop. While they’re popping, you can connect more of the same color to them, or set up chains elsewhere on your game board. Once the game board reaches the top, the game is over.
Simple right? Sure, for the first couple of levels, where you’re popping away, eliminating blocks from your playing field and dumping them onto your opponent’s. However, you soon realize that each color has its own “Special Effect” which impacts several different aspects of the game.
These effects are where the viciousness I previously mentioned comes into play. It wasn’t bad enough that popping a bunch red blocks makes the recipient’s play square grow, forcing you or your opponent to rotate upwards of 5x5 size blocks, but combine this with randomly grouping individual blocks that you just had ready for a pop, or the ever ridiculous “green block – I just reversed your controls on you” move and suddenly the door has opened for a lot more strategy. Each color of block has a different effect. With proper timing and selection, popping several groupings can be devastating.
On top of this, you’ll receive magic blocks that you can use on your own side when you create chains. These blocks will create rows or columns of like colors, group colors, and some even eliminate every block of a specific color on the board. You can actually chain these blocks together to create some insane chains and pop combos. The balance between special effects and these blocks force you to make some interesting decisions during the course of a match, and it’s a nice change of pace.
Ultimate Block Party provides you with a very nice tutorial, which, after giving you some direction, gives you a chance to try out your new skills. There’s also a single-player mode, which gets boring pretty quick, but is handy for practicing chain and combo strategies. The benefit with the latter is that it enables you to jump into multi-mode, which features an Arcade Mode and Story Mode, and not get your butt kicked.
You’ll get to select one of several characters -- all of which are amusing to me for various reasons despite having no real purpose -- and then go at it, throwing blocks and effects at each other, back and forth. After each full game, you’ll get a rating based on your performance. There are high score tables, but they seem pretty impossible to break into. A 50 pop just doesn’t seem feasible to me, but it’s a small gripe. Without a human opponent, the game seems best suited for those nice short burst moments on the bus or train. You won’t be seeing any two-hour marathon games here.
The presentation has a really sharp, bright, “Japanese” feel to it, which fits the game and the PSP very well. Each of the characters, which definitely fall into the category of strange, has its own background, even though it probably wasn’t necessary. I do have to ask: what’s with the President dancing without any pants on? In many respects, the presentation style is “anti-Lumines” but still looks attractive and fun. The music is there and it’s nothing stellar, it has some riffs that you’ll either love or mute.
Ultimate Block Party adds an Ad-Hoc wireless feature that was non-existent when it was originally released in Japan and should be applauded. Sadly, the lack of infrastructure support leads me to believe that I may never find a human opponent to play against unless you can find some love with the various tunneling options out there on the Internet.
For some reason, this game reminds me of Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, another great puzzle game from Japan, which really slipped under the radar in the US, not just once, but in two generations. Both games present multiple ways to attack your opponent, which opens up a variety of styles and strategies outside of “eliminate stuff fast.”
It’s too bad that for whatever reason the publisher went out and delivered this product without telling anyone. I’ve got a nice shiny nickel that says this game will likely go for a mint on EBay in 10 years because it’ll be one of those cult hidden gems that the average gamer will pass on. At $25-$30, it’s a “must have” for any puzzle fan, and a solid pickup for any PSP owner.