by Robert A. Jung
Atari Corp., for the Atari Jaguar
Free with Jaguar CD player
It sounds simple enough. Given a music video, divide the screen into a number of pieces, then scramble them. Now make a game out of it: play the video, then ask player to rearrange the pieces and reassemble the completed image before time runs out. A sort of hybrid between the sliding-block puzzle, jigsaws, and MTV's greatest hits, as it were.
This is the premise of Vid Grid for the Atari Jaguar CD, a translation of Jasmine Multimedia's puzzle title for the IBM PC. The game consists of five levels, each of which contains nine rock-and-roll music videos. Players must unscramble a video to solve it, either by simply rearranging the pieces or by shuffling them in a sliding-block puzzle. Points are given for fast solving times, while later stages add confusion-inducing requirements and limitations. Finally, up to five games can be saved to a Jaguar Memory Track cartridge.
The initial response most people have for Vid Grid is a dubious, "how much fun can it be?" The answer is a pleasantly surprised "very!" It's easy to dismiss the first few puzzles, as they offer nothing but reshuffling a 3 x 3 or a 4 x 4 picture grid. But then things get tricky -- some pieces may be flipped, the entire video might be upside-down, a puzzle may have to be solved multiple times, or the entire board might be rescrambled if a single piece is dropped in the wrong place.
These few extra wrinkles suddenly transform Vid Grid from a simplistic diversion into a captivating game. Each requirement is a minor complication, yet combining them increases the difficulty -- and the fun -- exponentially. The game smoothly draws the player in, gradually building up the complexity without being overly frustrating. Success always seems to be within reach, and defeat is quickly met with a confident "I'll get it this time..."
The videos themselves are an integral part of the game. Some, like Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer," feature bright, detailed scenes that help in assembly, while others, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Give it Away," have quick cuts and complex shots which constantly baffle the player. Selecting videos soon becomes a part of the game's strategy, and savvy players will match certain titles to certain requirements. The nine videos are reasonably diverse, and do not become repetitive any time soon.
The songs are "safe," without any harsh language or explicit lyrics. Sensitive parents may find some of the videos slightly disturbing, however. For instance, Aerosmith's "Cryin'" ends with a fake suicide jump, Van Halen's "Right Now" includes an on-screen comment on safe sex, and Metallica's "Enter Sandman" has frightening scenes that might spook young children. Still, for the most part, anyone over the age of eight should not have a problem with the videos' contents.
Vid Grid bends over backwards to be friendly. Controls are simple and responsive, offering intuitive drag-and-drop and click-and-slide interfaces. It's possible to replay finished videos for better times, and the practice mode lets players hone their skills with any set of parameters. In-play options allow a video to be restarted for another try, or to concede defeat and have it automatically solved. The only thing that is missing are variable difficulty levels; while the complexity builds at a fair pace, an option to make things easier or harder for other players would have been welcome.
The graphics and sound on Vid Grid are very good, but not great. They're fine when running on a simple color TV with one speaker, but gamers with high-end audio/video equipment will find a few flaws. The videos are almost broadcast quality, comparable to the full-motion video found on other CD-based game consoles. However, some videos are fuzzier or grainier than others, and there are brief jumps on occasion. To its credit, the Jaguar easily keeps pace with the game, handling up to thirty-six changing, scattered fragments without any difficulty.
The music and sounds are in a similar fix; they're sufficient for playing the game and casual listening, but devoted audiophiles will prefer to listen to audio CDs from the actual performers. Almost all of the songs have minor bits of static and noise, though they're audible only with good speakers or a set of headphones. The few game sounds, like the short fanfare when a video is completed or the click of selecting options, are unarguably clean and functional.
What sounds like a shallow and simplistic concept actually turns out to be an engrossing and captivating puzzle challenge. Vid Grid is easily worth $40 or more if sold separately, but getting it free with the Jaguar CD player is just terrific. The game is great for players of all ages, though some parents may find some of the videos a little disturbing for younger children. The graphics and sound could have been improved a little, but on the whole this title will provide hours of uncomplicated fun.