Overall Score 61%
Mezzo: Winter Edition
With a moniker like the one this game is stuck with, I would have imagined that there had been a previous incarnation of Mezzo; perhaps a summer or spring edition. Some Googling reveals that not only is this the first game from Canadian developers ActionHead Studios, it seems to be the only "Mezzo" game available anywhere on the internet. It might be that ActionHead plan a Mezzo franchise sometime in the future, but only time will tell.
Regardless of the intriguing title, the game plays as a block sliding puzzler. The ground is well trodden here and Mezzo finds itself in a genre with so much competition that any block sliding puzzler has to offer something very special to stand out from the crowd. Mezzo's appeal in this regard is to offer a series of short, cerebral puzzles that are completed in a very limited number of moves. A good analogy would be one of those small hand-held metal logic puzzles that can take hours to figure out, but once mastered, can be solved in a couple of seconds. (You know the little gadgets that I'm talking about, right?)
The game mechanics are as follows. Each puzzle starts with a few icy blocks in a matrix of coloured blocks. The object of each level is to clear the icy blocks by aligning them either horizontally or vertically with only like-coloured blocks between them. But here's the catch; an odd number of blocks in between the icy ones creates another icy block in the middle of the two being cleared. Blocks can only be manipulated by swapping adjacent titles. Using those rules alone, all of the puzzles need to be cleared in the stipulated amount of moves. Some of the more complex puzzles had four or more moves available, but the earlier puzzles often needed to be solved with just one, and the solution was not always very obvious to me at least.
There was a certain degree of satisfaction in clearing the puzzles as each sequential group of 10 cleared gave the reward of rescuing a lost penguin on a separate screen. The rescued penguins can be clicked and dragged around the screen; some sing, others slide and jump around or fly. Pretty cool for a minute or so.
I will admit that I gave up at about retail level 45 of the 130 puzzles included. 30 of these are available in the fully featured demo. Personally, I found Mezzo about as fun to play as solving a Rubiks cube. I would say that if you are a fan of such brain teasers then you will probably like Mezzo a lot more than me. The game reached a level of difficulty whereby I just wasn't having any fun randomly moving cubes and hoping for a miracle combo that would take me to a new (and increasingly frustrating) level. Hardcore puzzle game afficianados would probably argue that fun is not an integral component of a good, solid puzzler and this argument may indeed hold some merit. For me however, any game that is not fun to play will not last long on my hard drive, and I did not find Mezzo much fun to play past the first few levels.
Puzzles need to be cleared in groups of 10 to enable the player to continue to the next set. In effect, this means that if a puzzle stumps you, and assuming you have completed the other 9 puzzles in the set, you are stuck pretty much forever. As far as I could tell, the solutions for the puzzles are not available anywhere, either in the program, or externally on the internet.
The cell-shaded cartoony graphics are very cute and the game presents quite professionally. The background music is repetative but fits well with the overall theme and the limited sound effects are also of reasonable quality. A tentative gripe that I had with the demo is that it shows ads as the game is loading, which was bearable, but ads for an "intimate dating service" (complete with graphical content) that appeared from time to time, although not offensive to me, would without doubt offend some. At a mere $10, the price tag is very reasonable and will keep the retail levels of Mezzo very accessible for the hardcore puzzle game crowd.
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