There is something about bubble-popping-puzzle games that always gets me. I even find myself getting addicted to the generic flash versions that make their way into my life while surfing the Internet. Puzzle Bobble, or Generic Bubble Popper 7 on a random flash page, they have all eaten away hours of my lifetime. I wasn’t sure what to expect the first time that I booted up Germinator but as soon as I saw that it was similar to those games, I knew that my productivity was in for a little trouble for the immediate future.
Creat Studios was pretty smart in their approach to creating Germinator in the sense that they didn’t try to fix what wasn’t broken in an established gaming genre. The game has to core gameplay mechanics of its predecessor’s down to an art. You are given a screen of germs of different colors and challenged with clearing them by shooting matching colored germs into them. It is simple to understand yet hard to master, the true mark of a great puzzle premise! Just because they nail the core mechanics so tightly doesn’t mean that they don’t at least try to make their own mark on the genre because they do, and quite well.
The spin on the genre in Germinator is that each color has a special ability associated with it. After clearing a string of germs off the screen you will build up a special meter on the side which you can use to activate your germ ammunition’s special abilities. With there being a variety of colors in the game, there are quite a few abilities. They all boil down to allowing you to “snipe” your next shot to an impossible target, even through other germs, but it is the potential reaction that they cause that makes them unique.
Some, like yellow germs, will explode and destroy any germs in its horizontal path. Others, like the purple germ, simply clear out anything in its path to its destination. You have to remember which colors do what and often find yourself praying for a particular color to come on deck when things are getting hairy. When you don’t have a special meter filled up to assist you, the only thing you have to rely on is your ricochet skills which you will need to place your ammo into tight spaces and narrow openings. Again, the core here is classic and patented gameplay that we have seen before, and that is what should draw fans in.
Each level challenges you to clear the entire screen of germs before they reach the top of the screen. The faster that you can clear them, and fewer amount of ammo that it takes you, the higher your score(s). You are also given a rating on each level based on a three-star scale, akin to something like Angry Birds; this means that “completionists” will want to go back and earn a score that gets them all three stars, because having anything less is failing (/joke).
There are a couple of modes of play, which helps extend the life of the game. In addition to a story mode that revolves around you clearing your house from these nasty infections, there are a variety of puzzle levels and a local multiplayer option. The puzzle levels give you precarious situations and challenge you to clear the screen with a limited number of germs. These are fun the first time through but like the regular mode, once you know the solutions there really isn’t any reason to go back. The competitive multiplayer mode is perhaps the closest that the game comes to giving you endless replayability as your opponents can alter the course of the game depending on their actions. This is the type of mechanic that the game needs incorporated into the solo modes to give it some serious longevity.
The other original feature that Creat has brought to the game is the ability to capture gameplay videos and upload them directly to Youtube. It is a very simple process which even the least tech-savvy players will be able to figure out. All that you have to do is activate the replay recording feature in the game’s main option screen and that is it! After each completed round, regardless of the mode, you are given an a choice to upload the round to Youtube. The first time you do it, you will have to enter your Youtube account information, but after that it it as simple as pressing a single button. As cool of a feature as video capturing is, it may end up being this game’s demise, as I am about to explain.
While Germinator is a lot of fun, it does have one drawback that really keeps it from achieving its full potential. The one thing that makes puzzle games work is randomness, particularly as it pertains to levels and puzzles. The best puzzle games offer a completely different experience each and every time that you play them. That doesn’t happen here and the “replayability” of the game suffers as a result. The same germs will be in the same place each time you load the level and you will have the same germs in line to shoot out of your cannon every time. This means that there is a perfect solution to each puzzle rather than a strategy that gets you through it. The quicker you find that solution, the quicker you finish a level and the higher your score climbs.
While it starts off being about quickly reacting to your situation and applying the skills you learned, after you know the solution it becomes all about proverbial “muscle memory” and retracing the steps that will complete the stage. When you consider that before long all of the highest-scoring and perfect solutions will be posted to Youtube, you can imagine how drastically reduced the desire to replay the game will become after its launch when people see how easy it is to max out their scores. Don’t get me wrong, it is a lot of fun while it lasts, but once you have made your way through all of the puzzles in all of the modes, you have seen everything there is to see.
I loved my time with Germinator and am still going back and trying to improve my scores on a lot of the puzzle levels and trying to get all three star son some of the story stages. If only there were more of a focus on endless modes that made this more like Puzzle Bobble or Dr. Mario, then perhaps it would have the legs to keep my interest months down the line. Instead, the main modes pushed on players are finite levels with concrete solutions; if you want the endless experience, head straight to the Arcade Mode. As it stands now however, it is something that I will eventually finish and have no reason to go back to once I have peaked my scores on all of the leaderboards. I guess that gives me hope for a Germinator 2!