Cursed Sandtraps – EpicLuca

I can’t believe I played a full 18-hole course of this. It was the same thing throughout, just hit the ball with the club over and over again until you somehow fumble your way through.  Yet, this was nowhere near as bad as Ken Griffey Jr. – EpicLuca
You can check out more of EpicLuca’s stuff over at Gamebreaker Studios.

Sam Keogh (Connecticut)

Kwirk – Game Boy – 1989

Kwirk is an early puzzle game for the original Game Boy, developed by Atlus and published by Acclaim in North America. You control the titular character, a tomato, as he ascends or descends a mysterious puzzle tower. On each floor of the tower, Kwirk must move a variety of blocks to reach the staircase which takes him further along in his journey. Some of these blocks move freely when pushed; others are fixed to an axle like a turnstyle. Blocks can also be pushed into holes in the ground, allowing Kwirk to walk across.

In Going Up mode, Kwirk climbs the puzzle tower, and you have as much time as you need to solve each of the 30 floors (ten for each of the three difficulty levels). The first ten floors of the tower, representing the Easy difficulty, are a nice introduction to the game. Floors one through six are very simple, and basically introduce you to the gameplay concepts, while the next four floors require a little more thought. The difficulty spike between the top floor of the Easy level and the bottom floor of the Medium level, however, could not be more drastic. After at least 45 minutes pushing blocks around on floor one, I finally looked up the solution. It was at about that moment that I realized this game is not for me. The solution, at least compared to the one preceding it, is surprisingly complicated. Even as I was performing it, the moves I was making made very little sense to me. The following floors, as I had worried, were more of the same.

My experience with Kwirk reminds me of a kids’ puzzle game called Rush Hour. A sliding puzzle like Kwirk, the object of the game is to move cars along a grid to get your own car, an ice cream truck, out of traffic. In my youth, I was intrigued by Rush Hour, and I wanted to love it, but the truth is I was terrible at it. I’m not this bad at all puzzles – I quite like number puzzles and deduction puzzles – but these mechanical-sliding puzzles absolutely baffle me. I have never solved a Rubix Cube or even a “15 Puzzle”, and I’ve owned both since childhood. Despite being awful at Rush Hour, I still devoted plenty of time to it. The puzzles whose solutions I couldn’t visualise, that seemed just beyond my reach, could usually be solved by brute force if I could get myself 60% of the way. From there, I would try to solve it again until I could deduce exactly what I did, and to finally figure it out was rewarding. This sweet spot, where puzzles are difficult to solve and take some theorycrafting and guesswork, but ultimately can be conquered through perseverance, can make or break a puzzle game. This was, in my experience, Kwirk’s greatest misstep. There is no attacking these puzzles with brute force; you really need to be able to visualize exactly what you’re doing. Ultimately, I only got to experience one third of Going Up mode, but thankfully, the game doesn’t actually lock you out of any floors, so I was able to see them all for myself, although I didn’t even bother to attempt the Hard ones.

Heading Out is the game’s time attack mode, and it’s surprisingly fleshed out, having completely distinct puzzles from Going Up mode, these ones being smaller. You can set the number of floors (up to 99!) and Kwirk will have to conquer a random assortment of puzzles (according to your difficulty level) until he’s reached the ground floor. As someone who was only able to experience a fraction of the game’s main attraction, I was relieved to learn there’s a decent number of potential floors for each difficulty level (99 total), giving this mode some legitimate replay value. Even though I rarely venture into Medium difficulty, there is enough here to get me to play this mode again.

Putting aside the puzzles themselves, Kwirk is a decent package for a 1989 Game Boy game. The simple controls feel good (for what it’s worth) and the graphics, although unambitious, are easily interpreted, even on an old brick Game Boy. The game features two “camera angles”, top-down and diagonal. The shadows on the diagonal angle can be confusing on floors with holes in the ground, so sticking to the top-down “bird’s eye” camera is preferable. The music, I will admit, is quite grating, and there isn’t very much of it. With Kwirk having been released very early in the Game Boy’s lifespan in Japan, and the standards for sound design on handheld games being quite low at the time, I am willing to forgive this to some degree. It’s not awful, but I usually finished my sessions of this game with the volume off.

For fans of puzzle games, and sliding puzzles in particular, there is a lot to like here. The puzzles, although too difficult for me, aren’t unfun. With twists like Kwirk’s vegetable friends joining the fun, the game introduces enough in the way of variety to keep things fresh. For those to whom these kinds of puzzles don’t come naturally, this might be one to pass over. The difficulty curve is sharp enough that only four floors felt like a fun challenge to me, and that isn’t a great balance. However, I can appreciate that not every game is made for every gamer (and doesn’t need to be!). If you like these kinds of puzzles, and you’re looking for a challenge, Kwirk is made for you.

Ultimately, the concepts behind Kwirk would be expanded and improved upon by the Game Boy’s massive puzzle library (including Kwirk’s two sequels, Spud’s Adventure and Amazing Tater), but it deserves credit for what it accomplished as one of the Game Boy’s earliest third-party titles.

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-Sam Keogh is just a guy from Connecticut who loves retro games. You might be able to find his work at LongBallEra.com

Eric Lappe (Denver, CO)

Let’s GET!! Kwirk for Yokoi Kids!!
For February’s game Eric has put together this great episode of his “Let’s GET!!” series for Yokoi Kids!

-Eric Lappe puts on a show on YouTube called Let’s Get where he hilariously reviews video games. He also has a podcast by the same name and has appeared on the Video Game Years. Check him out!

Lord Reptile, Bloomington, IN

Reptile’s KWIRK Review

The Reptile has had many tomatoes today: tomatoes for breakfast, tomatoes for lunch, and by far the least favorite of them all is KWIRK, the chilled red tomato for Gameboy. While The Reptile usually enjoys tomatoes, this one has left a somewhat bitter flavor in The Reptile’s mouth. That bitterness has resulted in a mostly negative review of this month’s game.

When KWIRK was announced as game of the month it was an exciting time. I thought, “It’s finally time to take the red ball with sneakers and sunglasses on a fun platforming adventure everywhere I go.” Unfortunately, I had mistaken KWIRK for 7-up’s video game mascot Cool Spot. A common mistake, I’m sure.

KWIRK was not a platformer as I originally expected, but a puzzle game. Your objective is to lead our chilled red hero through a labyrinth of rooms, each containing its own set of block sliding and wall flipping puzzles. There’s no enemies, and you can reset the room as many times as necessary. It’s up to your wits, the tomato, and a carrot friend that sometimes helps the tomato to get you through tons of puzzles which separate our tomato protagonist from his sweet tomato girlfriend, TAMMY.

While I enjoy the sound of KWIRK’s squishy footsteps and the few toe tapping tunes his game has to offer, that’s where my praise of KWIRK ends.

KWIRK initially fooled me into believing it could be a fun puzzle adventure not unsimilar to HAL Lab’s brilliant Adventures of LoLo, however it’s really just bootleg LoLo at best. I recommend checking out LoLo instead for a more charming adventure, also available on Gameboy where good games are sold.

The levels of KWIRK are mundane and blend together in no time. Nothing except brick walls and white blocks means some of the cleverness of the puzzles is quickly lost because very little about the rooms is memorable. I want more action in my puzzle games. Or how about some creative visual effects. Where’s the exploding blocks? Where are the cute dinosaurs making chirping sounds? If KWIRK had any of that, maybe it would be worth the frustration caused by some of the more brain-busting levels.

The Reptile’s hoped there would be more to say about KWIRK, but the game feels somewhat bare. While there’s plenty of brain teasers for nerds who like to be tormented by their smart yet boring video games, it does little to captivate gamers like me who need fun gameplay and good graphics. And not unlike the process of writing this review, after a very short amount of time The Reptile has already moved on.

  • FINAL JUDGEMENT: *eats game* Average/Boring

Lord Reptile (@LRD_RPTL) is a retired fast food critic who now goons out on twitter and plays guitar in a Namekian doom metal band when he’s not slinging soup, watching anime or gaming.