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Genre: Puzzle Developer: Loriciel Publisher: Sega Ent./Victor Musical Industries Players: 1 Released: 1991

Game Gear owners undoubtedly have fun with the machine’s pack-in title, Columns, which is a true classic of the genre. It’s also the most high-profile puzzle title the Game Gear has, and that popularity has probably overshadowed others that are just as much fun. I think Slider is one such release that kind of gets lost in Columns’ shadow, an unfortunate fact that’s made people overlook what is a pretty decent game.

The U.S. version, renamed from the Japanese Skweek, not only saw a change in box art from an amazing piece by Greg Martin (the artist behind the Sonic the Hedgehog covers), but it also saw a change in plot. In Slider, the main character’s home world of Rozen is invaded and polluted by the Scum Lords. The objective is to clean up the toxins and defeat the Scum Lords across 99 levels. Slider relies on a cute, mascot aesthetic and some punchy presentation to give players an enjoyable world, one much cuter and softer than the armageddon storyline suggests. The Game Gear makes excellent use of color and shade here, and while there’s never any graphic-intensive action going on, the visuals have a style that looks good even today. A more expansive soundtrack would have done more to make the experience more memorable and immersive, but it gets the job done.

Slider plays more in the vein of games like Adventures of Lolo or Sega’s own Zoom! on the Genesis. It’s one of those games where players avoid enemies while they zip around a playfield to change its color before a timer expires. Some floor tiles are slippery, others explode when stepped on to force players to choose the right path to continue without falling, and the one-way tiles either speed up Slider’s walking speed or slow him down if he walks against them. Various enemies litter the playfield, including several that move randomly and others that can shoot back. A few even create new blue tiles. To defend himself, Slider has a gun that can be upgraded from a single shot to more powerful lasers, a freeze ray, and multi-directional shots. The game spices things up with a barrier for temporary invisibility and bonus items for extra points or time. Some cooler items, like wings that increase Slider’s pace and shoes that let him walk over ice and arrow tiles normally, are tempered by one pain-in-the-ass gift box. This item may net players extra points, or it might make things harder by changing the layout of the D-pad and making Slider turn pink tiles back to blue.

Slider can advance to the next level by completing any one of four goals: changing all the tiles to pink, using his freeze gun on six enemies at one time, collecting four teddy bears (each was a different color and worth an five extra lives if all are collected), or using a warp door when it appears. Sliders starts players off with only four lives and 10 continues for a 99-level marathon, so picking up these bonuses is vital. Thankfully, there’s a password system, so the game doesn’t have to be completed in one sitting.

That password will come in handy, too. Slider starts off easy enough, but eventually it comes more than just a Pac-Man-esque quest to change all the tiles quickly. Some level layouts can be tricky, with explosive tiles placed in locations that prohibit backtracking. These designs can be frustrating if not done in the right order, and though Slider includes an option to give up and restart, it comes at the cost of a precious life.

I don’t have a problem with challenging level design. After all, it’s how puzzle games stay interesting. Slider does that well enough, but I think Loriciel could have upped the ante by going the Pepenga Pengo route by including boss battles every once in a while, perhaps every 25 levels. Slider has a projectile weapon, so why not use it? Even just employing larger versions of the existing enemies as bosses would have added some more action to a game that already has the controls to go with it.

Fans of Zoom! will feel right at home with Slider, and it still holds up after all these years. I find it fun to play in short bursts, doing a few levels at a time thanks to the handy password feature. It’s not the most complex puzzler on the Game Gear, but it does a good job of combing aesthetics and proven gameplay to create an engaging experience.

SCORE: 7 out of 10


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