I would go so far as to say that Tidalis is one of those games that you really cannot play effectively without submitting yourself to the indignity of a tutorial. But it is well worth it to sit through that tutorial, as you’ll soon find yourself completely immersed in a great little puzzle game that is both deceptively simple and incredibly challenging at the same time.
The basic premise of Tidalis is that you are creating streams of color in order to make the blocks erase on a tetris-like board. Each of the blocks has an arrow controls the direction the stream will follow. You can rotate the arrows to create a path for you stream, and then click on a block to begin your stream. The stream can go in any direction–up, down, left, or right–that the arrows point it, but it can only jump over 3 blocks that are not part of the stream. This is the deceptively simple part of the game, as it really doesn’t take long to get the hang of it. Before long, you can have streams of ten or twenty blocks curving all over the board. When they disappear they often kick off other streams as well, leaving you feeling like a boss as you have so obviously mastered the game.
The thing with Tidalis, though, is that as soon as you get the thing figured out, it throws a wrench in things with something entirely new. There are so many different levels, each with their own rules and items, that it will feel like you won’t ever really get a handle on it. This is a good thing, because often puzzle games can start to get repetitive really early on in gameplay. With Tidalis, you’ll have a really good mix of the basic game with random elements and themes that will keep you on your toes.
Different types of blocks get added in as you progress in the game, and each has different rules about how they interact with the other blocks. The “help” feature is an invaluable tool, as you can click on it to get a refresher on how the blocks work at any time. There is everything from stone blocks that block streams and can only be eliminated by falling out the bottom of the board, to glass blocks that break when streams are created around them, to sun and moon blocks that must follow a pattern to make a stream, and so much more. These are generally added in one at a time to give you a chance to get used to them. But once you play a level or two with them they are often combined with several other special blocks to create some very unique challenges.
In addition to the different types of blocks, there are different types of levels that can affect how your streams react. There is a gravity mode, which confused the heck out of me at first. Just when I thought I had really gotten the hang of the streams, the gravity mode causes you streams to be affected by, well…gravity. This means that as they fall down they will be able to jump over more spaces to create a stream, but as they go up they will be able to travel much less than usual. And when you try to point your stream to the left or right, it will fall in an arc. The water mode has rising water that can actually push your blocks up if not taken care of with items, meaning you will reach the top of your stacks much quicker, giving you a lot less time. Levels like these can be a bit stressful, but there are plenty of Zen modes thrown in where you are completely free from falling blocks, giving you a more relaxed experience.
This variety is one of the things I liked most about Tidalis. The adventure mode is very long, but it never gets old. You’ll go from brainteaser puzzles that will require you to complete a level in a certain number of moves, to timed frenzy levels where you need only stay alive for a certain length of time as blocks fall at dizzying speeds, to zen modes where you may match a certain number of one color. The gameplay is always being changed up, but without losing any of the charm of the basic idea of matching streams. The story that goes along with it is also quite charming. Although I think it wasn’t strictly necessary, as the puzzles can stand on their own, following the story of visiting a mysterious island and interacting with the strange creatures there does enhance the game.
In addition to the Adventure mode, you can choose from puzzles, quick game, and custom game. These allow you to just pick up and play a round or two in various levels types, and you can even play on user created levels. In custom mode, you can create your own levels, with choices of themes, types of blocks used, and special items included. This adds a significant amount of game time to an already robust game, which means you won’t have to worry whether you got your money’s worth out of this game.
Tidalis is engaging, challenging, unique, and just plain a whole lotta fun. With such a great variety in levels and items, the game just never gets old. The ability to create custom levels adds even more variety. The characters and music fit perfectly with the colorful style of the game. Tidalis is just a well-rounded and well-executed game that really gives you bang for your buck. I give Tidalis an 8.5 out of 10, and recommend it highly to puzzle fans looking for something new.