The third and potentially final game in Nintendo’s Art Style series, Rotohex, follows form with its counterparts by focusing on very simple game design and reward structure. With a price tag of six dollars and no concerns about fighting for shelf space, the games are freed up to deliver a much more basic experience than other puzzle games. They disperse with the graphics and focus on core game mechanics while the audience consumes the less visually sophisticated product because of the bargain price. Rotohex is a prime example of what the downloadable game scene and the internet can deliver.
The game is a traditional falling block puzzle game with a very unique twist. Rather than just use blocks and a color matching design, it relies on triangles to apply that concept. The player must arrange six triangles of the same color in a hexagon while more triangles fall down into the game map, which is itself a hexagon. The player points a Wiimote cursor that is also this same shape and presses A to rotate the triangles inside of it.
It takes a couple of plays to orient yourself to this, but eventually you learn how to carry triangles inside a six-sided grid and piggyback them into completed shapes. You wouldn’t really expect someone proposing that Tetris with triangles would involve this radical of a shift in play style, but it really is a game concept in and of itself. The entire way you observe the environment, discover potential combinations, and make combos changes drastically from block-based puzzle games. In order to spot combinations, you’re better off observing the shapes that are away from where you want to make the combination and you also have to start thinking in terms of clusters and pie slices. Versus Mode works about like you’d expect with the added twist of having a controlled delay before the triangles you’ve combined fall on your opponent. There is also a neutral space with which you must make a combo before the the blocks will fall.
Equally interesting is the basic reward structure the game applies to this setup. There are still leaderboards and score counting in the game’s unlockable ‘Endless’ mode, but the basic ‘Solo’ section relies on an entirely different experience. Like with Orbient, layers of music are your reward for making a complete hexagon. The game starts off with a simple series of beeps in the background, and with each combo another layer of a song is added. Drums, electronic music, and numerous other bizarre effects are built onto that basis. Once you complete a certain number of Hexagons, a new color gets added and these must then be combined to add the next layer of song. The effect is a very good use of synesthesia to deliver a gaming experience. You’re not just playing to arbitrarily score well, as one does in Tetris or Dr. Mario, you’re engaging in discovering the next piece of music.
It’s a very good carrot to put on the stick of reward structure, as I discovered in Orbient, because the game is sucking you in through a variety of techniques rather than just your basic High Score reward. As you progress, the layers of music that are crowding the soundscape are abandoned for new ones, creating an ongoing and ever-changing musical experience for the player. The fact that most of my play sessions devolved into me wanting to hear the next evolution of the music instead of caring about beating the game speaks to how much broader of an audience this design can appeal to.
And…that’s the gist of it. The Art Style games are about core mechanics, musical reward structures, and making very small tweaks that have enormous effects on gameplay. It’s still basically just Tetris with triangles but as with Orbient, the changes result in an entirely new gaming experience. Rotohex is still fundamentally a redux on the puzzle game genre, but by making it into triangles and having a musical reward structure it becomes something that stands apart. Proving that it takes so little to teach an old game design new tricks is what makes Rotohex worth a download.