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. Rainforest was the second of the two games that I looked at, and it has its own casual appeal set to a different relaxation theme.
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 in Rainforest follow a leafy green pattern, with splashes of stone and water mixed in. The sound effects are dominated by peaceful jungle sounds, babbling brooks, animal calls and rustling foliage. The game’s visuals construct everything out of flowers, rocks, leaves and gems, and Shinen’s expert skill at harnessing the DS’s graphical horsepower is evident even in this casual puzzle game.
Rainforest has six puzzles to choose from, all available from the start. The first is Treasure Spin, an odd title because the game consists of spinning a board until a set of four flowers are adjacent to each other. The flowers eliminate when they are adjacent and the round ends, but as the levels progress more obstacles are thrown in the way, including movable blocks.
In Stack Jack a series of interconnecting shapes slowly falls down the two screens, and you must place compatible shapes together to eliminate them. Twist n’ Turn challenges you to match two concentric rings colored with jewel patterns to a pre-set image on the top screen. The puzzle tells you how many turns it should take to solve it as opposed to how many you are taking, while a timer counts down.
Flower Board is a grid based puzzle, where you start with a board with a couple flowers on it, and you must add specified flowers from a provided set to make pairs. This puzzle gets difficult quickly, as more and more flower combinations are required and the list of possible solutions gets smaller.
Sapphire wheel consists of a round stone board with geometric indentations. To solve the board you must place different shapes of gems into the indentations, rotating the board so that differently angled gems will fit. The gems come in a set order, so like in Tetris you must do the most with the pieces you have on hand.
The last game is called Solitaire. It’s not the card game but really more of a play on checkers. You are given a board made of tiles, and pebbles rest of some of these tiles. One tile is a designated end point, and you must eliminate pebbles by jumping them over one another and end by landing on the end point. This one also is surprisingly challenging.
Compared to Ocean’s puzzles, Rainforest has slightly more game-like ones that focus more on grids and logic. Rainforest is probably the more traditional of the two, but neither game’s puzzles are exactly new—they’re just fresh takes on popular classics. 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 Rainforest 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.