Laying down pipes is a tough job. It's not only for overweight guys with a problem keeping their butt cracks covered up, it's a job for puzzle lovers and thinkers, too. Don't agree? Well, if so, that's because you haven't played Pipemania yet. We've put in some time with the pipe-centric puzzler, playing up the DS version which, while having a different interface than the PSP, will have the exact same core gameplay and game modes.
The main objective of the game is to build pipes and keep fluid called "Flooze" from flooding the game grid. There are two designated squares which will represent 1) the beginning where the Flooze will flow from, and 2) the end where the Flooze needs to be brought to. To bridge these two points together, you'll have to make good use of a prearranged line of differently shaped pipe pieces. You'll only be able to use pipes in a fixed sequential order; however, you'll be able to view the next few pieces in line to plan ahead. This sort of preset arrangement maintains a consistent difficulty, providing balance to the progressive difficulty of the game as more gameplay elements and stricter time pressure appear.
Speaking of new elements, as you go through the main game mode called "World mode," you'll be brought to seven different locales with different themes. The first two levels, Basic pipes and The Sewers, utilize the traditional pipes/green Flooze look, but later stages like Railroad and Toy Factory take unique twists on this. In Railroad, you won't be placing down pipes, you'll be putting down rail tracks and guiding trains. Railroad introduces these tunnel-like squares which the track path can pass through before reaching the goal for added points. The Toy Factory sees the creation of conveyor belts, guiding toys to their proper boxes. One interesting element of the Toy Factory involves altering the Flooze. Factory Flooze must pass though coloring station squares in order for it to be complete; you'll have to plot out a course so that your path connects each station in order and still reach the goal.
Now about points and scores. As you play a stage, you'll gain points for using certain pieces, the length of your pipe, making the pipe form a loop, and/or passing through special squares. You lose points for every unconnected, non-Flooze flowing pipe on the grid and for every time you replace a pipe already on there. The purpose of getting more points and a higher score is to get a better ranking. You'll receive either a bronze, silver, or gold trophy. Getting trophies helps unlock content like new modes and stages like Arcade mode, Bonus mode, and all the Classic stages found in the original title.
Arcade mode plays out like a side-scrolling game. You'll be putting down pipes and the screen will start to scroll to the right. You'll have to think fast. We played two different mini-games in Bonus mode, both of which only last several seconds. Both mini-games require players to choose between 3x3, 4x4, or 5x5 sized grids which will already be filled with pipes. The objective of one of the mini-games is to spin some of the pipes around in order to make all the pipes connect before the Flooze spills. The other game requires players to fill in the few last pieces missing from the grid as hastily as they can.
Since we did play the DS version, we unfortunately did not get to try out the multiplayer mode. The PSP is the only handheld version of the game to have multiplayer and it will be via ad hoc (not infrastructure like we had previously thought). We were told that ad hoc can be used for two-player head-to-head with only one person needing to own the UMD; the other only needs a second PSP. The game will be out this September 30 in North America and will retail for a full $39.99 [Update: We were given the wrong price information, the game will be $20]. While we sincerely enjoyed the game, one bit of information that we have to say that we're disappointed with is the price. Other good, relatively short, puzzle-like PSP games such as Patapon and N+ were released/currently releasing for only $20 -- we certainly expected Pipemania to follow as well.