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