Glow Worm is pretty, to be sure, but what good is a puzzle game that never actually puzzles?
Publisher: Tri Synergy
Multimedia: Glow Worm
Number of players: 1
ESRB rating: Everyone
Developer: Flashbang Studios
US release date: 2006-09-11
I don't like to lose. Really.
There's nothing worse than working and working at a game and ultimately coming up short, knowing you're just going to have to perform whatever menial task you were trying to complete all over again from the beginning. The first time you lose, it's mildly irritating, but understandable. The 10th time, it hurts. The 30th? Controllers get smashed, consoles get berated and thrown, and mayhem ensues. It's not a pretty sight.
Even as this may be the case, however, it has taken but one game to show me just how unappealing the other side of the spectrum is. One game demonstrated that winning every single time is just as unfulfilling and frustrating as losing every single time. As it turns out, it's balance that makes a game feel challenging. So what was this one game? Tri Synergy's entry into the PC puzzle arena, a little game called Glow Worm.
Glow Worm is a tile-based puzzle game in which a number of (as you might expect) glow worms and butterflies (they look like fireflies to me, not least thanks to their little glowing butts) populate each game board, along with various obstacles and scenery. Your job is to place a number of additional glow worms on the board, creating blocks of four bugs of like colors. If a block is created, each glow worm turns into a butterfly the color of the spots on the glow worm (i.e. a green worm with red spots will turn into a red butterfly), and each butterfly disappears. Naturally, this mechanic can lead to all sorts of strategically placed combos and whatnot, though the size of the combo is slightly limited by the number of tiles on the board. Even so, a master Glow Worm-er might quickly be able to put together combos of eight or more groups of four, an event that without fail gives the rather large encouragement-spouting glow worm to the left of the game board no end of delight: "Well done," he'll say, and warm fuzzies will ensue.
Even apart from the delightfully inane spoutings of said sentient glow worm, there is plenty to like about the game. The visuals are clean and far more colorful than the game's constant nighttime ambience would indicate. Each successful clear brings about bright (but not oppressive) flashes of light, and the colors are well-defined enough that you'll never get confused as to the difference between a green and a blue. The game's mechanics are very easy to pick up, and despite its flaws, there is a level of addiction to be found in the early going. The tutorial levels are clear and concise, the text is easily readable, and the environments lush and wonderfully rendered. To be sure, it's a pretty game to look at, and the soothing music only adds to the peaceful mood.
There are even three modes of play, introducing some semblance of variety to the game, even if the main play mechanics never change: "Classic" mode is a "tile breaking" game, in that you need to break the stone tiles beneath the bugs by completing blocks on top of the tiles. "Adventure" mode adds some Tetris-style gravity to the mix, and "Puzzle" mode takes away the ability to switch the colors of your glow worm and its spots, a very useful little trick in the other two modes. To be sure, "Puzzle" mode is the most difficult of the three, and therefore the one most worth playing.
Unfortunately, there lies the rub of Glow Worm: the qualifier "most difficult" does the actual level of challenge involved in Glow Worm a disservice, as there is actually nothing difficult about it at all. The "Classic" mode seems like a natural choice for a beginner such as myself, and so I started with that, breaking the little tiles to my heart's content. Four dozen mind-numbingly easy levels later, I had finished the "Classic" mode, having not once trapped myself into a corner. I understand making the first few levels this easy. Maybe I can even understand making the first half or so of the game this easy. Still, when you're playing level 47 of 48 and thinking to yourself, "Gee, this is taking me a bit longer than those other 46 levels," and taking that to represent a challenge, there is something seriously wrong. While the restrictions placed on the other modes up the challenge a bit, it's never to the point where the player is racking his brain, trying to come up with the one combination that will lead to ultimate success.
As such, while it holds that I don't like to lose, that doesn't mean I don't want to lose. I imagine that most gamers are the same way -- that when they see a game that is marketed as a puzzle game, they want to be puzzled. Most gamers would as soon chew off their own hand than not be at least a little bit challenged by whatever game it is they might be playing. To these gamers, Glow Worm might provide a temporary diversion, but the boredom that will inevitably result from extended play will more than offset the title's budget price. As anything more than Junior's First Puzzle Game, Glow Worm is nice to look at, but painfully dull.