During the three-second head start you get to set up your board in Droplitz, a message will periodically flash reminding you “Don’t forget to blink.” It’s surprisingly good advice for the puzzle game, which requires such rapt attention that after a long session, the shapes you’ve been manipulating will be seared onto the back of your eyelids.
The simple mechanism, which is very similar to the hacking mini-game in Bioshock, involves twisting a series of dials to create paths for drops of liquid to pass from the top of the board to the bottom. A line of drops on the left side shows how many droplitz you have left in reserve; when you run out, the game ends.
Play manages to be both intuitive and intense. Dials lock when you create a path, which relieves the fear of accidentally screwing up a viable route, but also means you need to calculate the best way to turn something ahead of time, or you’ll be unable to change a suboptimal arrangement. While the music alternates between mellow techno and something you might hear in a spa waiting room, it does little to relieve the stress when you have grating sound effects indicating you’re critically low on droplitz.
The game starts with access only to classic mode, a series of levels where you’re constantly forced to speed up the pace as the background fluctuates through unimaginative but unobtrusive themes like hearts and stars. To access new boards and new modes, you need some truly high scores. Even once you’re fairly proficient with the game, a bad start can cause you to bottom out at around 40,000 points. To unlock the last of four modes, you need a score of 250,000.
Even the mechanisms built in to help keep you going do little to relieve the difficulty. A hint mode makes paths shimmer, but even when you have a route in mind, the sheer variety of ways you can twist and turn means that by the time you get a tip, you’re probably going to lose. Still racking up massive multipliers as nearly the whole board becomes one path is satisfying enough to keep players pressing “play again.”