A line is one of the first things we draw as children. There is nothing simpler (well, perhaps a dot). You simply drag your pen across some paper, and there you have it, a line is drawn. With this in mind, how have Nintendo created an entire puzzle game that revolves around drawing lines? A puzzle game that is so unlike anything that has come before it, and a true example of what the Nintendo DS is about?
As I have already mentioned, Polarium has a pretty simple game mechanic. You draw lines on the DS's Touch Screen, turning whichever blocks you touch to their opposite colour - to make things easy on the eye the game only ever uses black and white. Once a whole row is the same colour, that row is removed from the grid and you are given points based on the number of rows you remove in one go. You can draw your line around the entire screen if you like, attempting to clear as much as you can in one line.
New rows of blocks fall onto the grid (in a similar way to Tetris, but not quite the same - these are entire rows and they can't be rotated) as time progresses, gradually building up the screen, usually faster than you can remove them. It is the same battle that has been fought in block falling games through the ages, but the manic drawing is what sets this apart from the pack. The grid has an empty one block thick border surrounding it, so with careful drawing you can cover large areas of the grid in a single line, making large combos and clearing huge sections of the screen. However, in the frenzied pace of the game it is easy to make mistakes, with a stray movement destroying your carefully drawn line. One falsely changed block can totally throw you, so concentration is the key.
Block falling mode is what you will keep coming back to, but the game also includes a puzzle mode. Here you will need to clear a set number of blocks with just one line. With the later puzzles becoming increasingly more difficult, this isn't just a tacked on game mode. You'll want to tear your hair out numerous times, but the simplicity of it forces you to go on. You won't be beaten by a damn line. If you really can't figure out a puzzle, the top screen will show some hints and your previous failed attempt. Whether this serves to help you or to rub in your failure depends on how frustrated you have become. The game also includes a puzzle creator mode that lets you create and share puzzles with friends, and a two-player mode, expanding the game's lifespan indefinitely.
As expected from a puzzle game, the visuals aren't the key to its success. The game is almost entirely void of colour, with black and white making up 99% of what you see on the screen. A successful clearance of a large number of rows will result in a blaze of colour, but this is pretty much the only colour you are going to see. If ever there was a game to argue the virtues of gameplay over graphics, this is it, especially when handhelds are now attempting to move into the 3D games arena.
It's hard to write much about Polarium. I can't remember a game in recent years that has revolved around such a simple idea, yet been so utterly addictive. The DS has been hyped up as being able to provide unique gaming experiences that simply aren't possible on other systems, but for the most part, the launch line-up fallen victim to the hype. There are undoubtedly some solid games available for the DS, but Polarium is the perfect example of what the DS is about. The PSP may be taking all the headlines with its swish 3D visuals, but Polarium is a game that simply wouldn't work on any system other than the Nintendo DS. This is a must-have launch title.