As a video game journalist it's entirely too easy to simply pigeonhole a game into a simple genre. When I say that something is a Tetris clone or resembles Grand Theft Auto it's usually easy to understand and gets the point across, even if it is completely unfair to the people that spent months (and even years) making the game what it is. I'm certainly guilty of this practice; I can't even begin to count the times that I have unfairly compared a game to some bigger, more popular title in the same franchise.
When it comes to Eets: Chowdown, the first Xbox Live Arcade game from Klei Entertainment, I have a hard time pushing it into some easy to understand genre. While others may want to compare the game to Lemmings, The Incredible Machine and other similar classic puzzle games, Eets stands out as a truly original idea that is not only executed well but also adorable in every way possible. This is a puzzle game unlike anything else on the Xbox Live Arcade, which is one of the many reasons why Eets: Chowdown is such an attractive console game.
This Xbox Live Arcade game is actually a beefier version of the Eets computer game released last year, a game that I thoroughly enjoyed and practically begged people to go out and buy. While the core game play remains the same, Eets: Chowdown brings more levels to the table and even features a fun (albeit short lived) mini-game that you can play with up to four people. Eets isn't a perfect translation to the console, but considering that there's nothing like it on the Xbox 360 (or any other console for that matter) it is definitely worth the 800 Microsoft Points (or $10).
In Eets you guide a cute little animal-like character through a 2D maze in order to pick up a puzzle piece. It's that easy. Well, actually, it's not that easy. In fact, there's a whole lot more to Eets than what meets the eyes. What sets Eets apart from most other 2D puzzle/platformers is that you don't directly control the character, instead you put down special items that will manipulate Eets' mood, catapult him into the air, and so much more. This is not like Lemmings where you can simply add and subtract items during game play; instead you have to plan out the path Eets will take before you start each level (which can make the game extremely challenging at times).
All this would be boring if it weren't for the amazing assortment of different items that are at your disposal. At first you'll just be feeding berries to Eets - such as an angry berry that makes him jump farther, a scared berry that makes him tip toe around at a snail's pace, etc. It won't take long before you realize that Eets has a mind of his own (and a death wish), if you don't want him to simply jump off a ledge to his death then you will have to feed him a scared berry, that way he'll be too afraid to make that leap. It's important to understand the effects these berries have on the adorable Eets creature, these moods come into play on practically every one of the more than 120 different levels in Eets: Chowdown.
But there's more to Eets than just feeding him berries, you will also have to set down floating whales that will suck him in and spit him into the air. You will also have mine carts to place throughout the levels (allowing Eets to get around quicker). And don't forget about clouds that shoot chocolate chips at poor old Eets. These items are just the start of the madness, as you progress through the game you will be given all sorts of different items and characters to use, something that will keep you rethinking the way to complete each of the levels.
With so many different items to choose from you would think that it would be overwhelming at times, but thankfully Klei Entertainment knows a thing or two about pacing. Each of the different items are presented over time, so there's never a time when you feel like you don't know how a particular item should be used. Even better is that once a new item is introduced they will often have you try it out in a simple way, that way you understand its importance. By the end of the game you are using all sorts of berries, whales, light bulbs and chocolate chip clouds without even batting an eye.
When I think back to the PC version I tend to remember it as a simple game with easy to understand controls, so I was shocked to see how many buttons you end up using in this Xbox Live Arcade port. While you never actually control the Eets character you are given the task of controlling some of the items, such as the whale, trampoline and chocolate chip cloud. For every interactive item you place on the board you get a face button assigned to it (X, Y, B, A). This is fine when there are only one or two items on the board, but things get a little trickier when you have five or six. Suddenly you aren't just pressing one button, now you have to hold left on the analog stick and push a button, which can lead to some accidents. This isn't that big of a deal, but what seemed like such a streamlined control scheme on the PC comes off feeling overly complicated on the Xbox 360. This gets especially tricky when you have to trigger a bunch of items in a short amount of time, there are levels towards the end that are overly frustrating only because of the control scheme. Most gamers will get over this minor inconvenience, but part of me yearns for the ease of use that came with the PC original.
The game is split up into seven different areas (including a training area), each with between nine and eighteen different puzzles to complete. In the PC version you could skip around and complete the various puzzles in any order, but for some strange reason you have to go through the levels in a linear fashion. Even though all of the levels are fun (and you're going to want to complete all of the puzzles anyway) I would have liked to have had a little more control over the order of the levels. I can tell you from experience that when I got stuck in the PC version I would usually just move on to a different puzzle and come back to the hard level later, but that's just not something you can do in this version.
To keep you from getting too frustrated on one level the developers have instituted a couple of different ways to get helpful hints. If all you need is a little hint then you can push the Left Bumper and the computer will show you where one or two of the items are supposed to go. If this is not enough of a help and you're absolutely stumped, then you can always pause the game and have the computer show you the solution. Not only will you see how everything is laid out, but you will see somebody run through the entire puzzle from beginning to end. The problem is that there's no penalty for using these hints, so the only thing stopping you from using these in every level is your own moral code. The "Show Solution" option makes the game feel like it was dumbed down for the console market; it would have been nice to at least see some sort of ill effect or penalty added to your time/score for what is essentially cheating.
When you've grown tired of solving puzzles and making your way through the 123 puzzles, you can play the brand new mini-game, Marsho Madness. Unlike the Lemmings-inspired Eets, Marsho Madness is a mini-game that has you quickly pressing specific button combinations in order to remove berries and other items from attacking you. At first you're just picking off one or two slow moving items with simple button patterns, but as the game goes on the items will move faster and there will be more of them. Play long enough and you'll be picking up special items and pulling off giant combinations. As a single player game this mini-game is a fun diversion for a short while, but bring a few friends in and you have yourself a real party. I still prefer the regular Eets game over Marsho Madness, but I'm glad Klei decided to give the Xbox 360 owners something new and entertaining.
While Eets certainly can't compare its visuals with the likes of Gears of War or Rainbow Six Vegas, it does have a great art style that is very reminiscent of a Flash game on the computer. All of the artwork (from the adorable characters/items to the ever changing backgrounds) is all hand drawn and come with a real sense of style. I don't care how many 2D games you've seen in your life, there's nothing quite like the look of Eets. If you played the PC version then the great graphics should come as no surprise, but there's something to be said about how good the game looks on a nice large television.
Had I never played PC version I would probably have been more impressed with this Xbox Live Arcade version. That's not to say that there's anything wrong with this port (in a lot of ways it's one of the very best Xbox Live Arcade games currently available), but I miss the streamlined controls and the user-generated content that made the PC version so much fun. Now that the game is on the Xbox Live Arcade I can only hope that Eets gets the exposure that it deserves, it's a great puzzle game that nobody should overlook. If you somehow missed it on the PC then now is your chance to pick up a cheap puzzle game that will have you glued to your television set for many hours to come. No matter what platform it's on Eets is an amazing game!