This game is the brainchild of guest lead designer Lars Bull, who has also provided ongoing design assistance with AI War and other Arcen titles. The core "streams" mechanic is one that is immediately intuitive and fun for puzzle fans, but which also provides a lot of depth for expert players, which was just as important to us as was surface accessibility.
Block-based puzzle games are a dime a dozen, but a lot of them are either match-3 clones, tetris clones, or based on very obtuse mechanics that only hardcore puzzle fans can really get into. Tidalis uses a mechanic that can be grasped in seconds, but which leads to both a non-click-crazy action mode and a fiendishly clever brainteaser-style puzzle mode.
What Is The Gameplay Like?
The basic rules of the game are this: blocks fall down into the board and have a color and an arrow direction. If a stack of blocks exceeds the height of the board, you lose.
In order to clear blocks, you must right-click and drag paths through the arrows in order to set up chain reactions of like-colored blocks. You then left-click one of those blocks to send a stream out of it and along the path you set up. The minimum chain reaction size is three blocks, but you won't get very far with those. Most chains are 5-7 blocks at least, and a very few are twenty blocks or more. The more blocks you put into a chain, the bigger your score.
When a chain finishes, all of its blocks clear at once. The blocks above then fall, and those at the bottom of these falling stacks will automatically send out a stream of their own upon landing. By taking advantage of this effect, you can set up extensive combos for even more points.
Tidalis is not a game about quick reflexes (though those can be helpful for some play styles -- Frenzy, for example). Rather, Tidalis is a game of planning and wits even in the action-oriented modes. Spam-clicking the board has literally no effect, as you can't left-click to start more streams while there are any other ones still on the board. When streams are flying, you'll be arranging combos and preparing for the next chains. With a smart setup, a single stream can lead to massive combos with a lot of chains happening at once!
For added variety, some of the blocks that fall into the board may be special blocks such as Ice, Fire, Charred, Glass, Stone, Tinder, Eaters, and more. They have a wide range of different properties and can change the terrain of the board drastically. In all, there are 16 game styles, and dozens of items and special blocks.
To be clear, if you're worried about this being too complex with so many special blocks and items, you have nothing to fear: the basic gameplay uses them quite rarely, and there is context-sensitive help to remind you of what each one is if you for get. The below video shows off a custom game with a lot of special blocks all at once, but that sort of gameplay is not typical of the adventure mode, and is completely optional. The purposes of special blocks and items is for adding extra twists and longevity to the game once you're already familiar with the basics, not to make it too complicated from the start.
What Are The Overall Different Ways To Play?
The basic ways to play are Adventure, Quick/Custom Play, Vs, Standalone Levels, and Co-Op.
Adventure is a story-driven, map-based chain of levels that will include 114 main action-oriented levels (in a variety of styles), as well as dozens of hidden brainteaser-like levels of varying difficulty. Cutscenes are interspersed throughout the main adventure progression. Don't worry, these can be easily skipped by players who aren't interested, and they don't appear the second time you play a level. On the flip side, if you want to see any cutscene more than once, there is a handy cutscene index for that. Adventure mode is also playable in two player co-op.
Quick Play allows players to jump right into a game of any single style, and with a difficulty and time limit of their choosing. It's very streamlined and meant for casual players to easily be able to get into it.
Custom Play is the same as Quick Play, but with tons more options. You can tweak board size, frequencies of special blocks and items, which items and special blocks are available... you can even combine multiple game styles to make compound game styles with funky rules. One of our staff loves what he calls Zenzy Graviton, which combines graviton, frenzy, and zen. That mode is very easy, but you can also do things like createa Limited Streams + Water + Wind mode, which would be incredibly difficult.
Standalone Levels can be custom player-created level groups (you can even make your own), or they can be the official brainteaser-style puzzles provided by Arcen in a handy digest form. Most of these official puzzles also make an appearance as hidden levels in the adventure mode, but for players who just want the puzzles by themselves, this provides a convenient index. Players can upload their custom levels to the Arcen forums for others to download and enjoy.
Co-Op is a collaborative mode between two human players via network play, or on a single computer with one player controlling the keyboard (or a joystick), and the other controlling the mouse. All of the content from the game is playable in either co-op or solo styles. The adventure mode can also have a second player join and leave at any time.
In network co-op, each player always has his/her own board and does not directly interact with their ally's. When sharing a single computer, players can share a single board or can each have their own board. Thus if two computers are playing network play together, with a pair of players sharing each board, you can have up to four players total in co-op.
Most of the time, co-op players are jointly pursuing a combined goal, generating items and bonuses for their partner via skillful play, strategically using items to get their ally out of a jam, or generally helping each other survive. More info is available at Co-Optimus
Vs is a competitive mode for two players (though, in network play it can be teams of two players per board, as with co-op). VS games are action-oriented and reward skillful play by dropping hazardous special blocks on your opponent, or by providing items (if enabled) for you to use against your opponent.
In non-network play, there are options to play against an AI opponent. Unlike the full human vs human AI, only some game modes, special blocks, etc, are available for use when playing against the AI.
What Are Some Examples Of Game Styles?
There are 15 overall game styles (in addition to Normal) that keep things interesting in addition to all of the special blocks and items that are available in the game. Don't worry about getting overwhelmed: these are introduced gradually through adventure mode, and each have fairly simple rules. Here are a few example game styles:
Normal is the simplest and most iconic mode in Tidalis. It can be played as a score challenge or with other objectives, with or without a time limit. It follows all of the basic gameplay rules specified above, with options to enable or disable special blocks or items. This mode alone is already very addictive.
Zen: In Zen mode, you don't have to worry about the screen filling up with blocks. The well is already filled with blocks, and new ones only fall when you clear existing blocks. Zen is much more laid-back than other active modes in Tidalis.
Line Clear: In Line Clear mode, clearing a block highlights that block's space on the board. When an entire row of spaces is highlighted, all the blocks currently in that row are cleared. Clearing multiple rows in a single combo earns a higher score.
Frenzy: In Frenzy mode, blocks fall at a faster rate, but you can send out a stream even if there are already others on the screen. This helps you survive more easily despite the increase in blocks.
Sun and Moon: Sun and moon blocks are used instead of the color blocks. Sun and moon blocks must be cleared in an alternating pattern (sun, moon, sun, moon, and so on). Sun streams can't pass through sun blocks, nor can moon streams pass through moon blocks.
Eater Defense: Eaters frequently fall from the top of the well. You try to defend your golden apples from the eaters by throwing regular apples in between them and the hungry hordes. The more golden apples you have on your board, the higher your score -- but lose all your golden apples, and you lose!
Water: Water fills the bottom of the well, rising row-by-row as you pop water balloons that are scattered around. Popping water fish causes the water level to recede, as does dropping sponges into the water. Bubbles form at the bottom of the well and float upwards in the columns, forcing blocks upwards and potentially causing you to lose if the water level is too high. Certain other types of blocks (such as ice and tinder) also float.
The above is just a sampling. For the full list of game modes currently implemented, please see the Tidalis features page.
User-Generated Content Welcome
All of the tools that are being used to create the in-game puzzles and levels, the adventure mode maps and layout, and even the background visual/music "themes" are available to players of the game. This means that it is easy for anyone to create puzzles and even whole adventures if they are inclined to do so. In order to create specific themes, or different world map backgrounds, you'll need digital drawing skills and/or musical skills outside the game, but we're including these tools so that modders can create new themes and such if they are so inclined.
What Other Notable Features Are There?
Robust tutorials and a Guided Tour will help you get up to speed quicky with the game. The basic tutorials are very quick and fun, and can be completed in just a couple of minutes. Later, if you want, there are also tutorials on advanced topics and special blocks. But those are completely optional.
Even once you know how to play the game, however, you might be intimidated by the sheer volume of content in Tidalis. Never fear, that's where the Guided Tour comes in. It provides a sampler of levels, and quick access to the brainteaser-type puzzles and adventure mode, to help you quickly figure out what style of play you prefer.
Colorblind Friendly Features have been added to the game to aid those with varying types of colorblindness. The "faces" block set in particular is designed to let players recognize blocks by shape rather than just by color.
Old-Computer/Netbook Friendly Features: the core game of Tidalis doesn't require a mammoth machine to run, but it runs at a very high resolution (for a puzzle game), and includes a lot of animation. Most recent computers will handle this just fine, but some computers will start to chug when there is an entire field of waving grass, for example.
If your computer falls into this category, never fear -- there is an option for just using static backgrounds. The game also supports all the way down to 800x600 comfortably, which makes it well-suited for netbooks.
Limited Unlockables: As a convenience, all of the various level styles from adventure mode are available in quick and custom play from the start, allowing players to completely skip the adventure and just enjoy quick style games if they are inclined.
There are three different art/music styles that have to be unlocked via play of the adventure, but given that there are 18 others already you can safely skip the adventure mode if all you want is nonstructured play.
Play Tidalis Lite In Your Browser!
Don't just take our word for it! Try the game in your browser, and decide for yourself. The "lite" version of the game is a free, scaled-down web-based edition of the game. The lite version and the downloadable demo version have a lot of overlap in what they give away for free, but there's quite a bit that is only in one version or the other. The lite version is the quickest, easiest way to dip your toes into the game: it's only a 6.7mb download, assuming you already have the unity web player (which is tiny, anyway).