So far as physics puzzlers go, water is a popular subject matter.
There is something quite calming about manipulating the flow of water and making it go where you want. As such, there are a fair few games out there that have the player directing water to whatever purpose it is required. Fresh from the popular PC version, Nanda’s Island is hitting the DS in the US, published by Mumbo Jumbo.
Nanda, a cute looking Panda Shaman, has managed to master the rain dance and can now create rain clouds at will. Unfortunately for his plans to revive his island, he has yet to work out how to control these rain clouds and thus requires the player to guide the falling raindrops to the various seeds that will restore the former beauty of the island. All sounds pretty simple?
Taking a mechanic from Max and the Magic Marker, players are given a magical pen with a limited amount of ink with which to guide the water. This can be done through drawing a series of lines on the touch screen, channeling the water to certain places or to avoid hazards such as hot rocks, covering small troughs to prevent the water from pooling, or simply to block the path of the water. There is only a certain amount of ink within the magic pen, so players will have to work across the levels as they erase old lines and draw new ones, using the limited ink to the best effect. As the player progresses through some 50 odd levels, things will get more complex with the addition of different seeds.
To begin with, the player is responsible for guiding the water to a target flower, which needs a certain number of drops in order to bloom and allow the player to proceed. Things get more interesting with the inclusion of a selection of exotic blooms with interesting side effects such as creating more water droplets, launching the droplets through the air or even teleporting them to another place on the screen. Players will need to plan ahead in order to reach the target plant with enough droplets to complete the level.
Which is in fact one of the games flaws. The puzzles themselves are not too taxing and most players will find it relatively easy to work through all of the levels. Or at least they would were it not for the awkward level design. The droplets of water are incredibly small and it is very easy to find them stuck in little nooks and crannies that are part of the scenery, or even have them jammed on the drawn lines if the player is not especially smooth with their drawing. Having spent a huge amount of time trying to get one solitary droplet out of a hole, I can certainly testify to how frustrating this can be.
Nanda’s Island includes both a puzzle and arcade mode, with the primary difference being that in arcade mode the player is limited to three lives, although more lives are available if the player manages to reach certain scores. In puzzle mode the player will earn coins along with points that can be used to purchase new items for the island, such as wildlife, from the boat on the island map.
The visuals of the game are a mixed bag. The levels all look quite nice and Nanda has a certain amount of cuteness. But everything seems slightly washed out and the colours seem to be lacking vibrancy. Also, I cannot understand why the water droplets are shown in the game as basic, blue-coloured pixels. Aside from how unimpressive this looks, it makes the droplets square which seems to help them get stuck behind stuff.
Nanda’s Island is a nice little casual game with plenty of levels to keep the avid puzzle player happy for a while. Whilst the mechanics are easy to grasp, the added difficulty from having droplets become stuck may well lead the more impatient gamer to frustration. If you can ignore the problems, Nanda’s Island is a lot of fun to play and offers a sense of satisfaction on completing levels, compelling the player to move on to the next. So far as DS physics puzzlers go, Nanda’s Island is certainly worth a shot.