Art of Balance for Wii U is the third iteration of the physics-based puzzle series. It originally appeared on Nintendo Wii as a WiiWare game, then on the 3DS as Art of Balance Touch! and now finally as the HD remake that this review will be covering.
Regardless of the version, the name of the game is still the same: balance the (sometimes) wooden blocks on top of a peg until you used them all and if the hastily built construction lasts more than three seconds, you clear the level. However, letting one piece or more fall into the water forces you to restart the level.
There are over 200 unique puzzles in Art of Balance; each one containing a subtle but noticeable difference, such as strangely-shaped blocks to work with, a difference in the peg shape, pieces with abnormal traits (such as one that “pops” after a while or can only handle the weight of two or less blocks on top), etc.
In Arcade mode (the main single player mode of the game), these 200+ puzzle levels are separated into different “worlds,” with the levels themselves categorized by 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, etc.
Sprinkled around each world are special “challenge” levels that are exactly what they sound like.One such level may give you a time limit to solve the puzzle, while another may swap out the stable peg for a lightweight and easily capsized floaty. You must complete a certain amount of puzzles in order to move on to the next world.
The physics themselves are incredibly well-executed and it actually feels like you’re playing a real life game of Jenga, complete with that tense moment when you place the final block and see if your creation will stabilize or quickly crumble down along with your hopes and dreams.
It can get so involved, in fact, that a few times I’ve found myself turning the GamePad to try and balance my creations (with zero results of course).
There are three control schemes for Art of Balance: using the GamePad/Pro controller’s buttons and analog stick to click on and move pieces, using the GamePad’s touchscreen to move each piece or using the original Wii Remote to move pieces around.
Out of the three methods, I do prefer the touchpad controls thanks to the pinpoint accuracy; accuracy that is vital when trying to set pieces just right to not thrown off the balance of everything else.
Graphics are gorgeous with beautiful water, lifelike textures and lovely lighting effects that really make this game a joy to gaze at for hours at a time. Audio design is on point and each piece makes delightfully accurate sounds as they clink together and tumble into the equally well-done water sound effects.
Balance‘s soundtrack is also excellent, with a plethora of relaxing but somehow upbeat tracks that keeps you motivated to complete “just one more” puzzle. As a nice bonus, the music changes in each world, keeping things fresh and distinctive.
For those wanting to shake things up a bit, there’s also an Endurance mode and two multiplayer modes: Tower Tumble and Swift Stacker. Endurance mode has you solve puzzles of varying difficulties with only three lives (mistakes) spread through your entire session. Rack up a high enough score and you’ll land on the online leaderboards.
Tower Tumble has you and other players take turns stacking pieces — the one whose piece collapses the tower “loses” and the other player(s) receive a point. Swift Stacker splits you and the other players into two teams tasked with solving the same puzzle, and the one who solves it first wins.
The multiplayer aspects are pretty fun but can be a frustrating experience if the players working together aren’t on a similar skill level. That’s where Arcade mode comes in — by practicing first in that mode with no time limits or scores to pressure you, players can focus on learning about the properties of each piece and eventually hone their skills. Soon you’ll stop being the dead-weight everyone dreads getting paired up with.
Art of Balance is a fun, well executed puzzle game with a unique premise, addictive gameplay, an on-point physics engine and great music and graphics in one low price package.
If you never played this game before and happen to own a Wii U, the purchase is a no brainer. For those that may have one or both previous versions however, justifying a third time purchase may be a bit of stretch unless you consider the vast amount of tweaks and upgrades that nearly guarantee a whole new experience.