KooZac for Windows Phone
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KooZac Review: Add it up in this unique puzzle game.

Xbox Windows Phone has absolutely no shortage of puzzle games and physics puzzlers. These types of games are easy to create and easy to port, plus they work well in short play sessions on the go. I don’t blame avid mobile gamers for tiring of puzzlers as a whole, as our platform certainly needs a wider variety of games. Still, puzzle games inarguably have their place on smartphones, so we can’t expect them to stop coming along.

Of course KooZac is a puzzle game, but it’s noteworthy for several reasons. First, it comes Square Enix, the prolific Japanese developer responsible or Final Fantasy and many other mobile RPGs. Square-Enix’s continued support can only be good for Windows Phone. Two: KooZac might look like a standard falling block puzzle game, but it actually plays unlike its brethren thanks to the inclusion of my most bitter enemy: math. Also, Facebook integration!

Arithmeticulous

KooZac

The falling pieces in KooZac come in various colors, but matching colors isn’t the goal at all. Instead, each piece also bears a number (single- or double-digit). The goal is to stack the blocks in such a way that they add up to a target number. By default, only vertical matches count, not horizontal ones.

The target number is displayed at the top-left corner of the screen. Every time a new piece drops, the target number changes, keeping players on their toes. You have to constantly alternate your view between the stack of blocks at the bottom (where matches take place) and the target box at the top. Switching the focus of your view between the top and bottom of the screen almost feels like playing a Nintendo DS game.

KooZac controls as simply as you’d expect from a puzzle game of this type. Swiping left or right moves the active block in that direction, while swiping down drops the block instantly. I find it a little too easy to nudge the block horizontally when trying to drop it straight down, fudging its placement. Still, after some practice I hardly ever mess up any more.

Modes

The game offers three modes to choose from: Puzzle, Endless, and Blitz.

Puzzle

KooZac

While KooZac doesn’t have any sort of story, Puzzle Mode at least provides a good sense of progression and focus. It contains four sets of individual levels, for a total of 60 levels. Another set will apparently be added in a future update.

The twist to Puzzle Mode is that each level starts with a certain configuration of white numbered blocks. To beat the level, players must use all of those blocks in matches. The other matches made don’t affect progression, though they do increase your score.

Puzzle Mode starts out rather easy, with early levels proving to be a cakewalk. It gets much harder by the third set of levels. At that point, the target numbers alternate between small and very large, so you probably won’t be able to make a match every turn. Many players will prefer to use the difficulty easing Boosts to get through the final parts of the game. More on Boosts in a bit…

Endless

Endless Mode does away with the white blocks found in Puzzle Mode. Instead, blocks of various colors constantly rise from the bottom of the screen. Players just need to make matches and keep the stack down in order to survive.

This mode is the single best place to earn coins, the game’s currency. By activating a few choose Boosts, it’s possible to play pretty much indefinitely. I wouldn’t have much use for Endless if not for a couple of grindy Achievements that it’s perfect for.

Blitz

KooZac

PopCap’s Bejeweled Blitz found great success on Facebook and iOS because its 60-second play sessions work great on those formats. Square Enix wisely copped the same concept for KooZac’s Blitz mode. It works like Endless Mode except that the game ends after a minute. When you’re just after a quick puzzle fix, Blitz will fit the bill.

KooZac also happens to be the first Xbox Windows Phone game with Facebook integration. Said integration takes place in Blitz mode. Rather than a Friends Leaderboard like we’ve come to expect from Windows Phone games, Blitz mode is populated by other KooZac players who have linked their accounts to the game. I’m not sure if that includes iOS and Android players, but it seems likely. The advantage for us is it gives the game a global Leaderboard, which Xbox Windows Phone games can’t have otherwise.

Boosts

KooZac

By playing any game mode, players earn coins. These can then be spent on game modifiers called Boosts. Once purchased, a single Boost can be used three times before it needs to be bought again. At the start of every game, players can select up to three Boosts to use during that game.

Boosts include:

  • Slowdown: Slows time and the falling blocks.
  • Points Multiplier: Doubles your score – very handy.
  • Hint: Suggests any possible matches. I like this one because it frees me from the challenge of arithmetic (or looking at the target number).
  • Match Them All: Creates the best combination of numbers from within the stack, making matches easier.
  • Side by Side: Adds blocks together horizontally. This should be a default mechanic instead of optional, because it really makes the gameplay more enjoyable and less rigid.

Presentation

Square Enix is known for a certain visual style and excess in most of its games. However, they just publish KooZac; they didn’t develop it. The game certainly possesses a professional appearance, but its visuals are pretty standard stuff for a puzzler. A little wacky Japanese panache wouldn’t have hurt. The music also sounds generic, though it never becomes offensive.

Achievements

KooZac’s Achievements aren’t quite as easy as Collapse, but they should be within any player’s abilities. Several involve breaking and dropping certain numbers of blocks and will unlock naturally through play.

The two most difficult Achievements are for earning 100,000 coins and spending 10,000 coins. As you can probably guess, those goals require a ton of grinding. That’s where players will put Endless Mode through its paces, playing long games without spending too much on Boosts. Check out the guide at TrueAchievements for more details.

Overall Impression

KooZac might just be my favorite falling block game in the Xbox Windows Phone lineup; Tetris doesn’t do it for me anymore. This one’s best feature is its Blitz mode, which even the phenomenal Bejeweled Live+ oddly lacks. If you’ve got a few minutes to spare, it’s easy to put a few rounds of Blitz in without fear of interruption. More mobile games should offer extremely bite-sized modes like that.

Of course, my greatest hope is that a smaller game like this is a stepping stone towards more complex RPGs like Final Fantasy IV and Chrono Trigger coming to Windows Phone. In order for that to happen, KooZac needs to sell well enough to keep Square-Enix interested in our platform. If you dig the company’s output but otherwise don’t find puzzle games too compelling, please consider taking one for the team by picking KooZac up. You might be surprised at how much fun it is.

By the way, the game gets its unusual name from creator Ben Cusack.

KooZac costs $2.99 and works great on Windows Phone 7 and 8. Grab it here from the Windows Phone Store.

QR: KooZac

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Comments

There are 15 comments. Sign in to comment

rcasey says:

Superb review!

Paul Acevedo says:

Very nice of you to say. :)

WinFan1 says:

Hey Paul what's the word with temple run? Any information?

Paul Acevedo says:

We're working on getting a preview/status update from the dev, but he's pretty busy so it's slow going at the moment.

Residing says:

I really liked this game, just not enough to purchase it - It could have been because I was/am stilling enjoying FC Rocket.  But I just purchased BLive + and Zuma's Revenge, so I need to get through those games first.
 
But I liked KooZac; maybe I will swing around and give it another look in a few months.  Great review as always, P.A.

AskaLangly says:

100 points per ONE coin. Just play Taptitude.

Paul Acevedo says:

Points aren't that hard to come by, dude. And the only thing coins really matter for is Achievements, which you won't get in Taptitude anyway.

jcutting says:

Unless you're trying to get to ten MILLION points for that 100,000 coin achievement... then it's a slow, boring grind.  I'm about 22% of the way there... just trying to do a little bit from time to time.  The two grinders are the last ones I need.  The math part appealed to me and it was an enjoyable game for a little while, but it's not one I'm likely to return to after I knock out those last two achievements.

Paul Acevedo says:

Yeah, that is the problem with grinding-based Achievements. Developers often seem to pick the goal numbers out of a hat without thinking of whether the game has enough content to sustain the experience.

Where is Sam??? Its been long since he posted something. He is my favourite writer these days. :D

Paul Acevedo says:

Umm... He's still around. I'm just the main Xbox Live guy and in charge of Xbox Live reviews. :P

schlubadub says:

His last article was on Saturday... So 4 days ago. That's not exactly a "long time"

tylerh1701 says:

Good review, this is definitely near the top of my list of games to pick up, when I decide I need a new mobile fix.  For now, I'm still hooked on Wordament.

coip says:

I like puzzle games that try to innovate the genre so I bought Koozac for my Windows Phone, as it seemed like a unique concept. While I enjoyed it, I ultimately felt a little disappointed because I thought it had the potential to be a truly amazing puzzle game, rather than just a pretty good one. Here are my suggestions:
 

  1. The concept of adding numbers to sum up to a target is a neat idea, but limiting it to ‘vertical’ only makes the game one-dimensional. It would be great if they had the triple options of vertical summation, horizontal summation, and diagonal summation. This would make the game a bit more exciting, with more blocks blowing up, and less ‘dead’ time it is not possible to reach a target. Thankfully you can "buy" horizontal summation now, but it really should be part of the basic play.
  2. Again, the concept of adding numbers to sum up to a target is neat, but it would really liven things up if a new mode was added that had other mathematical operators too. In this mode, the game mode can change (for instance, if you blow up a special block or simply change randomly), thus temporarily changing the game from 'addition' to 'subtraction' or even 'multiplication' or 'division'. That would be a good brain workout as well as a good education tool.
  3. Don’t let it drop ‘dead’ blocks. It always vexes me when a block drops that is larger than the target number for that turn. For instance, if the target number is 3 but the falling block is 5 then it is impossible to make a 3 (although, if you added in my other ideas of subtraction, addition, and division, then this would be a different way to solve this ‘dead’ block problem). When this happens, it’s impossible to achieve the target for that turn, which isn't very fun. I realize we can use that dead time to plan ahead, or that we can zip the block down quickly and move on, but I think it would be more fun if every turn actually had the potential to hit the target.

Paul Acevedo says:

Wow, very detailed feedback. I agree with all those suggestions - especially allowing horizontal and possibly diagonal matches by default. There's really no reason to limit matches to vertical only.