Tapeworm Disco Puzzle is the second Dreamcast title from Lowtek Games. Their first, Flea!, was a homage to the excellent Super Meat Boy. This time around they tackle the puzzle genre. It is available now on Lowtek’s Etsy site and includes the CD soundtrack. Tapeworm started out life as a NES game and has since been ported to PC before landing on the Dreamcast. I was impressed with Flea! so had high hopes going into this one. It is fantastic to see a new puzzle game make its way to the Dreamcast and I hope this is not the last we see of Lowtek Games on the system.
The story is just as silly as you would expect from a game called Tapeworm Disco Puzzle. You play as DJ Tapeworm who must make sure the fleas enjoy themselves in the disco. You do this by playing bangin’ tunes, collecting the blood and getting them to the gigs on time. According to reports some of the fleas have been acting strange and you must find out why. I really love the premise for Lowtek’s games. They always have a funny backstory that makes about as much sense as a Roald Dhal novel.
When I started my journey with this one it felt as if Snake had been thrown into a turn-based puzzler. The standard levels are very much a classic sliding puzzle with some obstacles and useful objects added. You are a tapeworm in the literal sense. You worm your way out from a cassette and each movement up, down, left or right costs one movement point. These movement points come to represent your length, each square increases your size by one. You are always connected to the cassette at the bottom of each level although you can choose where to start your worm from one of two entrances.
The levels are broken down into blocks of twenty, each having their own colour scheme and representing a discothèque. At the end of each block the gameplay suddenly changes from turn-based to actual Snake. But not the simple Nokia game we all remember. It is a maze filled with traps and warps and other things. These ‘boss’ levels are tricky, much more so than the standard turn-based levels. They may be difficult but they are fun and certainly help break up the puzzling gameplay. The other major difference with these stages is your worm doesn’t increase in size. It simply continues to move.
Tapeworm, at its heart, is a turn-based puzzle game with a few action levels thrown in for good measure. To complete each level you must complete a task. These are usually collecting music notes or helping the fleas to collect blood bottles. Other tasks include helping fleas to an exit, Lemmings style, by creating bridges with your long worm body. There is actually a lot of variety in the puzzles and although there is some repetition, it is spread around helping to keep you focused and sharp.
My only criticism would be that some of the levels are easy to complete. But you could also think of them as taking the foot of the brakes of an otherwise difficult game. I enjoyed the pacing of Tapeworm and the gameplay is further broken up with tiny cutscenes about every fifth level or so. The mix of objects and enemies to interact with help to stop the gameplay becoming stale and each level has its own charm. It is very fun watching the story unfold in front of you as you progress and the hard ‘boss’ stages really make you sit up and lurch forward.
Visually, Tapeworm Disco Puzzle is simple. We need to appreciate that this is a NES game ported to other platforms. That being said, the animation and colours are joyful. I loved controlling the worm as he goes about his mission. Each set of levels has a different look and feel that makes you feel as though you’re progressing through a body. The large wasps, fleas and other bugs are the same assets from Flea! which made me smile. I am not sure this is meant to be in the same series but it certainly sits in the same universe. I do hope we get to see more of these characters!
The music is provided by Tuï just as it was for Flea! I enjoyed the musical interludes as I played and they certainly fit well with the gameplay. Overall the presentation is what you would expect from a NES game but Tapeworm Disco Puzzle is all about the action. It is not trying to wow you with amazing graphics or sounds, it wants to challenge your mind. And it does that in spades. Add to this the delightful pixel scenes between stages and the whole experience is wonderful. It is not often I review a game with a big grin on my face.
I had a lot of fun playing Tapeworm Disco Puzzle. From the very start, a certain magic quality that rarely comes together in indie games was brought to life. The simple mechanics are disguised with devilishly devious puzzles that get tougher and tougher as you progress. It will not be for everybody however, those who want more of a spectacle or a fast pace to their games will not find much here to entertain. But those that like a challenge, varied gameplay and colourful presentation will be pleasantly surprised. I recommend Tapeworm and can’t wait to see what Lowtek come up with next. Great stuff!
Thank you to Lowtek Games for providing a review copy of the game.