Overall Score 73%
I've been watching a fair bit of Dr Who of late, and that's got me thinking about stuff like alternative realities and parallel timelines. Not to trivialise such philosophical ponderings, but imagine for a moment if you will, that in 1984, Alexey Pajitnov had never invented Tetris. The puzzle game scene would just be vastly different from what it is today. So many abstract puzzlers draw at least a little influence from that godfather of computer games that it's really hard to imagine what puzzle gamers would be playing.
That's not to say that Vitamini is a straight Tetris clone, but the whole “blocks fall form the top of the screeen and players need to make matches” gameplay is the basic premise of the game, even though the developers have tried to put their own stamp of originality on the genre. I think they've done a reasonably good job of this. Rather than a hardcore abstract puzzle game, Vitamini is marketed as a stress reliever; a casual game that is relaxing and fun to play for gamers of all skill levels and ages. I can't disagree with that.
There are actually three quite distinct modes of play. “Blocks” is about matching colours as the multi-coloured pieces rain down on the playfield. In “Chains” the idea is to make increasingly long strings of like-coloured gems, and in “Shapes” the player swaps out individual coloured gems in the blocks to create blocks of like-colour. The first two modes are controlled by the keyboard, while the third mode makes use of mouse input. That might sound a little confusing, but trust me, it's all gameplay that you would have seen before and nothing very revolutionary about any of it.
But there are two features of Vitamini that make it stand out from many other block matching puzzle games. Blocks do not simply periodically appear and fall from the top of the screen. The player chooses when they would like a new block to fall by tapping the space bar in “Blocks” and “Chains” and by double-clicking the screen in “Shapes”. Once the pieces are on the way down, they can be freely manipulated and obey the laws of physics; they can bump into each other and convey their inertia, or be rotated and otherwise moved around into desirable positions. They do this with a very tactile and rubbery quality that is indeed, very relaxing. The player can dictate the pace of the game and also the difficulty in this way to customise the experience.
The second feature that appeals is that each time a block bumps into another, a short “chink” sound plays that is in harmony with the background music. It sounds fantastic, and I'm amazed that such a simple concept is so underused in similar games. By getting a whole bunch of blocks on-screen and intentionally bumping them together in time with that background music is a lot of fun, and almost a game in itself.
It's mentioned in the readme file that this feature works even for music tracks that the user adds manually to the game. I was ready to give Vitamini a Bytten gold star for this innovation alone, until I read further and discovered that although this might be possible, it would be far beyond my capabilities as a non-musician. You see, accompanying the actual music file, there also needs to be an addition to a game database file which specifies exactly at which points during the track, which key the sound effects need to be in. As an example, the developers have created a key listing for Metallica's “Nothing Else Matters”, which unfortunately I don't own a copy of. But that song alone has over 60 entries of key changes that would need to be manually set. I guess the feature might still intrigue some more musically minded gamers, but without doubt, it would be a lot of time consuming work to get it right even for somebody who was both a musician and comfortable with editing the xml file.
On a presentation level, Vitamini needs a front-end more than anything else. It may be that the version I tested was an evaluation or reviewers copy, since the directory into which the game installed contained three exe files that had to be launched independently for the three game modes to be played. Also the game would render in a tiny 480x272 window. On my monitors native resolution of 1920x1080 it was comical. Maximising the window just gave me a big black border around the tiny game. The pastel colours used, although quite attractive, did make it extremely difficult to discern the blue gems from the green ones. Finally, I was bothered by a consistent “Warning. Low Framerate” display in the top left hand corner of the game screen despite the frame rate capping at 50 fps during the entirety of testing.
Vitamini is a game that doesn't hold any pretensions and does bring a couple of fresh ideas to the table in a massive pool of games in this genre. It is relaxing to play, and entertained me for far longer than most abstract puzzle games do these days. Checking the price tag, I see the developer is asking but $2. If you're at all a fan of Tetris styled games, then this one is a buy.
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