The Nintendo DS has become the haven of old-school 2D platformers and continues to make inroads on the puzzle game market despite the competition from the iPhone and iPod Touch. The genre is associated as one of the more “hardcore” games in what is oddly, otherwise widely considered a more casual console system. Now, along comes EA Tiburon’s platform-puzzle game Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure. The title itself prompts one to assume a relation with the Professor Layton series, but the odd name is the extent of this similarity—except for the borderline stereotypical British characters.
The premise revolves around Henry Hatsworth, a wealthy English gentleman with an inclination for high adventuring. With the aid of his assistant, Colin, the helpless pompous Hatsworth goes off to search for numerous pieces of the “Golden Suit” which gives its wearer immense power as well as the ability to open up the Puzzle Realm into our reality. Of course to be worthy of the suit, its wearer must have the utmost sense of fashion and style. In the process, Hatwsorth eventually runs into an array of colorful villains along with his nemesis Leopold Charles Anthony Weasleby the Third.
Henry Hatsworth is in interesting little genre bender. While the top screen offers classic platforming action the likes of earlier classic 8-bit titles, the bottom screen contains a fun little puzzle game similar to Tetris Attack. If the player does not stop the blocks from reaching the top of the bottom screen, enemies will return and attack Henry Hatsworth. Also, clearing spaces in the puzzle game recharges Henry Hatsworth’s power meter, which allows him to shoot projectiles as well as power-up for special attacks and “Tea Time,” an option which allows Hatsworth to operate a mechanized, giant, robotic suit. Hatsworth also gains the ability to purchase upgrades as well as improve his robot suit.
Lead designer, Kyle Gray, is dipping his hand into many different elements in Henry Hatsworth. The game obviously draws from Jules Verne, steampunk, and even Capcom’s Ducktales videogame. Add to that composer Gene Rozenberg’s wonderfully colorful score. The entire game is very tongue- in- cheek, playing heavily on its overall charm and the idiosyncratic characters that compliment its varying stages. This is definitely a game with the kind of aesthetic gloss and creativity that one would expect from a system associated with quirky, niche games. However, I cannot draw the line on what constitutes charm or stupidity. Instead, I will allow you to make the final decision.
Don’t be fooled by the seemingly friendly nature of Henry Hatsworth. The game can be brutally difficult. It is divided into five worlds that Hatsworth must visit. Immediately, when the player reaches world three the game’s difficulty spikes from the relative ease of a Super Mario Bros.-like difficulty to Mega Man-like brutality and that difficulty continues to increase to a frustrating degree. Like any platformer, perseverance, patience, and a multitude of extra lives will lead to victory. Still, Henry Hatsworth is deceptive in offering what at once looks like quite casual gameplay before spiking to an irritating level of difficulty that leads to unfair deaths at times. The puzzle element of the game is much easier to approach with classic block matching mechanics similar to the likes of Puzzle Quest or Bejeweled. Enemies will take the form of blocks that often hinder the player, power-ups will often appear that will harm enemies or refill Hatsworth’s life bar, and so much of the strategy concerns figuring out when to play the puzzle game in order to deal the most destructive damage to enemies or replenish the player’s life.
There is a lot of mileage to be had here for players that decide to stick with the game. With five worlds adding up to a total of about 30 levels and secrets hidden throughout, the player can revisit stages and continuously upgrade their stats to their heart’s content. But because players must complete levels to keep the money collected in the stage, the risk of losing extra lives is a consequence that needs to be considered, especially considering that upgrade prices skyrocket and cash begins to dwindle once a stage is completed. Plus, some questionable choices regarding the placement of checkpoints will cause the player to turn off the Nintendo DS in periodic rage.
Henry Hatsworth is little more than a culmination of a number of platform- and puzzle-style games that have gone before with a fun little narrative and setting stretched over some familiar mechanics. It is gimmicky, but it is executed very well. But, despite its eccentricities and solid execution, there is no further draw to the game. Henry Hatsworth is one of the better platformers on the DS with a serviceable puzzle game to boot, but the charm of the game quickly wears thin once the difficulty kicks in. Likewise, the puzzle element quickly becomes tiresome often becoming more of a nagging chore as the game progresses.
However, Henry Hatsworth is worthy choice of game for those looking for old-school gameplay on the system. It is not a substitute for the multiple puzzle games on the Nintendo DS, but the title is definitely worthy if gamers are looking for a specifically “hardcore” experience with a friendly enough face. Along with the wonderful production values and quirkiness, it is nice to see the developers at EA Tiburon take the risk to create a fairly original and new property even though the mechanics of the game do not completely live up to that promise.