Yuan Works' Wind & Water: Puzzle Battles has been out for a while now, but I for one can not give this game enough love. I originally purchased my copy in Dreamcast format back in 2008 via Red Spot Games, and over the past couple of years it has been one of the most played titles that I own for the console. With it's combination of beautiful presentation, well executed design and original game concept (a rarity these days in the puzzle genre), W&W:PB is a genuinely special game that still has me hooked. When the news broke earlier this year that the game was being released for PC as freeware, I was initially taken aback; how could Yuan Works possibly give this AAA quality title away for nothing? But that is exactly what they've done - and you, the games playing public, owe it to yourself to download a copy of this perfect independent release at the earliest opportunity.
Still here? Well if you're not already convinced, lets review review the game further.
Gorgeous pixel-art and audio aside, the main game-play mechanic involves manoeuvring your four-block cursor around the offset grid of tiles and rotating the selected pieces so as to join multiples of the same element (wind, fire, water, earth). "Ah! So it's a match-x game!" I hear you exclaim. Well, yes - but setting it apart from the many throwaway games in the over-crowded puzzle field are some really neat features and a plethora of fantastic game modes. First of all, there's the uber-cute 'overworld' in the main story-mode from which you access the puzzle challenges, adding a huge amount of depth and character to the game as it guides you step-by-step through the complex game rules. There are a variety of different paths and bonuses to unlock on the map, and although the game gets more and more difficult as you progress, the sheer charm of the Wind & Water world is enough to draw you back to attempt to beat it time and time again. Then there's the tricky puzzle mode (solving boards in a limited number of moves against the clock) and a brutal competition VS mode where you can battle against the AI or a friend/sibling/nemesis. The list goes on; chain bonuses and special moves to master, fun little bonus mini-games, unlockable extras and slides - but the most impressive (and indeed popular) highlight is the ability to add your own in-game avatar.
For a small fee, the Yuan Works team will hand-craft an avatar of you; just send them a photo via their website and within a couple of days you can feature in W&W:PB yourself! With well over 500 avatars sold to date, it's a novel approach to raising revenue from a free game, and a feature that I'd really like to see more development teams adopt (in favour of requests for donations). In conclusion, Wind & Water: Puzzle Battles is an indie 'must-have' title. Yuan Works have spoiled PC owners by giving this commercial-quality, superb game away for free and are definitely a development team to look out for in future. Download the game here (from Yuan Works' website).