Push it. Good.
WiiWare. It kind of sounds like it could be a dental dam for special occasions. Something that needs to be sterilized immediately after use. I had been hesitant to check WiiWare titles out, partially because of my aversion to the name, but mostly because of my old thinking. I used to believe that for a game to even have a chance of being good, I'd have to travel to a store and give them lots of money first.
[image1]Then I was invited to try Bruiser and Scratch. If it is any indication of the quality of other games in the WiiWare family, I'll be checking the list from time to time. I was pleasantly surprised with this one, and I never left my couch.
Bruiser and Scratch is your garden-variety puzzle game. It is even, perhaps ironically, played out in a garden, where tile stones serve as a grid for the game pieces. There is some semblance of a storyline to Bruiser and Scratch; you play alternately as the game's main characters - a buttoned-up bulldog and a plucky young kitten. Somehow, during a picnic, this odd couple is transported to an alternate dimension where they are forced to solve puzzles to figure out their way back home.
While solving puzzles in the garden, the pair run into other creatures. Some are nice and some are rude, but all of them offer up clues about how to get back home. You really can't do anything about the clues since the only real interface with the game is solving the puzzles, but they do provide a little extra impetus to get on with it and to keep trying to complete the levels. A solved puzzle results in either new statuary for the garden, or more importantly, machine parts. Assemble the recovered parts and you can build a machine that will get you back to your dimension.
[image2]A handful of vases, urns, and other odd objects are placed on the grid. Your job is to combine similar items by pushing them into each other until they form master vessels. Combine these master vessels to solve the puzzle. The pieces can only move in straight lines, and here is where the tribulations begin. It's a strategic balance of using the movement rules to achieve a single item at the end of the game. It's kind of like that old peg solitaire game, except you don't remove anything - you combine pieces together that pieces wrap around the grid. You could be crushed if you move a piece that has nothing to block it from running right back into you.
Rules of movement are quickly mastered by running through the tutorials. The levels start out easy and fun, but somewhere near level ten, you begin mumbling to yourself and you realize this game is hard. Words like "dastardly" and "malicious", and phrases such as "Foiled again!" start popping up in your head. When you call over a friend and start trying to solve a puzzle as a team, but the two of you just end up arguing out of impotent frustration as to whether a vase is holding mushrooms or raspberries, you'll realize you're hooked.
Story mode has 48 levels and does a pretty good job of mixing the difficulty with the general learning curve. In this mode, puzzles must be solved consecutively, so the occasional gimme is a welcome feature; otherwise, you could get what I like to call 'Bruiser Burnout'.
[image3]That said, you will get stuck, and since any good puzzler will get players stuck, if only to sweeten the triumph, this is not a complaint, only a caution. Indeed, the only solution for some levels is to walk away and come back to it with fresh eyes later. If you get stuck, but can't tear yourself away from the game, there is always Challenge mode, where you can skip around and test your mettle on any of the 75 additional puzzles. Another caution: They don't call it challenge mode for no reason.
A scoring screen at the end of each level lists stats. If the puzzle is solved in the minimum amount of pushes, you get a shooting star. Not much time is spent here, though. You'll either be clicking through it to get to the next puzzle or to go back and try the one you just failed.
There is probably nothing in this game that you haven't seen before, but don't let that stop you from checking this one out. Sometimes a slight spin on an old standard makes for the best combination, and that is the case with Bruiser and Scratch. This game is perfect for puzzle lovers.
It may not offer much in terms of story, graphics are not anything to applaud (although they work fine for this purpose), and the soundtrack is a somewhat unsettling muzak take on the chorus of “Empty Walls”, but the real reason you came to play – the challenge of solving a tricky puzzle – is there for the taking. At only 900 Wii points ($9.00), it's a steal. For the price of a movie ticket, you get to be a part of the story, and the enjoyment lasts a lot longer than a feature film. With over 120 total puzzles, Bruiser and Scratch gives you scads of hours of engaging, perplexing play.