I’ve been reviewing Game Factory’s titles for a while, and I’ve learned that they’re known for licensed work and a few original games here and there. I like that Game Factory works with German developer Shinen, because regardless of what game they make, I always know Shinen will do a good job and put some honest quality into their work. Shinen made a Garfield platformer and a Pet Alien puzzler addictive—that’s hard to do. Their most recent project for Game Factory is a set of two puzzle games: Zenses Ocean and Rainforest. I played around with Ocean first, and came away from it pleasantly refreshed.
Both Zenses games are purely casual fare—there is nothing to unlock, no emphasis on beating high scores and all of the games are simple, time-tested puzzles. The only input method is the stylus, and while there are a few “challenges” to achieve for each puzzle, they’re only fluff and don’t unlock anything. The tagline of the Zenses series is “puzzles to unwind the mind,” and Game Factory isn’t kidding; the whole point is to relax and keep your brain occupied with something that is interesting but not too hard.
The graphics and music in Ocean follow a soothing coral reef theme. Crashing waves, bubbles and rushing sand make up most of the sound effects. The visuals make it look like every game is played near or under a placid shoreline, and Shinen’s expert skill at harnessing the DS’s graphical horsepower is evident even in this casual puzzle game.
Ocean has six puzzles to choose from, all available from the start. The first is Zen-stones, a simple stone matching game. Find two stones adjacent to each other, and tap them both to eliminate them. When no matching adjacent stones are left the game is over.
Pearl Diver is a bit trickier. It gives you a field of multicolored pearls scattered in a random pattern, and a set number of turns to eliminate the pearls. You can remove a pearl by tapping it, but you can remove multiple pearls of the same color in a single turn by connecting up to three in a triangle formation. If you manage to make a triangle that encloses one or more pearls you can earn extra turns.
In Turtle Turn you must flip over sets of turtle shells to match a pattern given on the top screen. There is a time limit for this puzzle but it’s so generous that it’s barely noticeable. Next comes Hot Spot, which consists of a series of luminescent sea creatures which you must assemble from floating parts. The time limit is a bit more stringent on this one, and the glowing fish are another example of how Shinen pushes the DS.
Shell twirl requires that you fill in concentric rings of shell outlines with the appropriate shells, picking from two stacks. Combos are awarded based on matching the same kinds of shells in a row, and the time limit here is the most severe; this is the only game that approaches a hectic pace.
Wave Breaker is a pattern memorization game. Waves roll over a beach and cover a set number of shells with sand, in addition to creating several empty sand piles. The object is to find specific shells without running out of tries.
Most of these games can be found in any casual puzzle collection, probably going all the way back to Windows Entertainment Pack. Shinen’s uncommon quality is what sets the Zenses series apart from other puzzle collections. The calming visuals and music really did help me unwind after a hard day at work, and the lack of competitive elements kept the games from getting frustrating. That said, I have to take value into account when I score a game. Both Zenses titles only include six puzzle games, and both titles cost $30. High production values or not, $30 is a lot to ask for six puzzles, and $60 is way too much for both games. If each game were $20 that would be more reasonable, so I recommend that you rent the Zenses games first or wait until the price comes down. If the price were lower, I could have given Zenses Ocean a higher grade. Still, the package you are getting is remarkably high quality for its genre, so if you want a few puzzles to help you relax, Zenses has you covered.