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DS  header logo

Actionloop (aka Magnetica)

For: DS

Playing hard balls

Product: Actionloop | Developer: Mitchell | Publisher: Nintendo | Format: DS | Genre: Casual | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: US
 
Actionloop DS, thumbnail 1
When it comes to ways of combining coloured balls within a puzzle game experience, you'd think the possibilities were almost endless. And you might be right, but when it comes to Nintendo's latest coloured ball puzzler, Actionloop (confusingly released as Magnetica in the USA), you'd be wrong to expect anything new.

That's because good ideas can also be recycled. Like the Sugababes rising to success on the back of a sample of Gary Numan's Are Friends' Electric?, Actionloop is the DS' version of the massively successful casual PC game Zuma.

Only, like all good investigative stories, if you go further back in time, you'll find that Zuma was actually based on an earlier Japanese arcade game called Puzz Loop, created by the same company that has now made ActionLoop. Oh ain't life complex?

At least we can all agree on what the game (whether it's called Actionloop, Magnetica, Zuma or Puzz Loop) is all about. Each playing screen has a single central hole (or reactor), which the coloured balls slowly roll towards through a spiralling pathway. Should one fall in, it's game over.

The only way you can stop this happening is by grabbing your stylus and flicking the coloured ball that appears from the launcher in the centre of the screen so the ball hits the approaching column of marbles. If it nestles in amongst at least two similarly coloured pals, they all disappear and you receive a moment's reprieve. Then a new ball appears in the launcher and you're off again.

And it's this flicking element that is Actionloop's strongest play, as it brings an element of physicality to the usually completely cerebral puzzle experience. It's accurate and responsive as well – vital elements in such a fast-paced game.

But there's more to the game than just flicking. Once in a while, a handy detonator ball arrives – blast this sucker at a marble and it'll take out all the others of the same hue on the entire screen. And there are combos. If, by destroying one group of balls you bring another group of same-coloured marbles together as they move to fill up the gap, they too disappear. This means you can set off a chain reaction that clears the screen, multiplying your score and making you feel like a genius.

Although, to be honest, it'll be a while before you even approach mentally competent status. Out of all the object-sorting puzzle-'em-ups on the market, Actionloop is one of the most challenging, and the least intuitive. Having to cope with a continually moving line of balls revolving around your launcher makes planning and executing strategies incredibly tough.

Your target area isn't a big bunch of motionless shapes as it is in, say, Tetris – it's a continually moving playing field, which twists around you in layers. Consequently, you need to think on several levels, always retaining a decent mental image of the 360 degree playing area. In this demanding environment, chaining combos can be more a matter of luck than judgement and for a long time true satisfaction remains elusive.

The trick is in really getting to grips with the game's intricacies: learning how to create small isolated rows of static balls, and then mastering the magnetic properties of the balls to get these groups to fly backwards. Exploiting the extra power-ups in the game's Quest mode, which slow down and sometimes stop the oncoming marble rush, is also a must. You can't just stumble along using primary tactics.

Persist and grow as a player though, and you'll find a game that is determined to keep you occupied with a selection of fiendish modes. Challenge mode provides a basic keep-going-til-the-reactor-pops experience. In Quest you get 50 differently designed screens to work through, while Puzzle presents a series of stages that must be cleared using only a set number of flicks. The frantic Vs mode provides a competitive take on the action, enabling you to launch attack items like obscuring clouds across to your mate's screen. These subtle variations add to the longevity and variety of the game, but also – crucially – awaken you to new facets and strategies.

The main issue with Actionloop is that the initial joy of flicking isn't quite enough to retain half-hearted punters who might expect a cute friendly little challenge but are, instead, thrust into a demanding and frustrating mental torture chamber. For those made of sterner stuff, there's plenty to get your stylus stuck into.
 
Actionloop (aka Magnetica)
Reviewer photo
Keith Stuart | 4 September 2006
Actionloop is a tough puzzler that lacks immediate charm, but offers a lasting challenge for those who persevere
 
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