Amstrad Action

Pick 'N Pile
By Ubisoft
Amstrad CPC464

Published in Amstrad Action #66

Pick 'N Pile

Ach, no... not there... here, dammit! Blast! - there's a devil... quick, swap it... but what with?... bang! Too late, you've run out of time...

That's Pick 'N Pile, the new Ubisoft game that will have you tearing your hair out with frustration and your joystick casing melting as you waggle your way into the looney bin. Quite an effect for a game which simply has you moving a few coloured balls about... Well, actually, it's not just a few. At the start, each level has a whole torrent of the things descend from the top of the screen - and what you've got to do is get rid of them all. You do this by swapping balls about to form vertical columns the same colour - which promptly disappear.

Things are a little more complicated than that, though. For a start, the game features gravity; in other words, balls being balls, they cascade downwards as soon as one column disappears, totally upsetting your carefully-laid plans.

Pick 'N Pile

Secondly, all sorts of other objects drop down from the skies along with those balls. Walls will help you stack up huge columns just waiting for that final ball; bombs can be made to blow up awkward little clumps of objects; and bonus blocks let you multiply your score as a column is completed. Against this, there are nasty little surprises. Like the little devils that suddenly speed up the passage of time by a factor of two if they're allowed to touch the bottom. Yes, that's the third thing - the time limits.

Oh, and there is one final thing. When you near the end of the screen you might find you've got one or two balls left over and nothing to drop on them. Here, just hit the letter 'P' and someone up there will drop down another couple of balls. If you're lucky, they will now all cancel each other out. If you're not, well, you've got a bigger headache than ever... The game's graphics are reasonable, but nothing special.

The balls are necessarily small, because there are so many of them, and the lo-res 16-colour mode had to be used since the game relies on large numbers of colours - the result is that the balls are very blocky and the other characters none too well defined. Bombs are easy enough to spot, and the little devils jabber away characteristically enough, but frequent glances at the instructions are needed to identify some of the other items.

Sound consists of a jolly title tune and a tick-tock during the game itself just to remind you that your time is ticking away (yeah, thanks). Fortunately, this can be turned off.

And that's about it. There are various strategic elements to the game which you will pick up as you go along - for example, you'll find it a lot easier to pile up tall columns at the edge of the screen, which itself acts as a 'wall' - but beyond that, each successive screen is just more of the same. Your time limits get shorter, the nasties get nastier and the number of balls/objects gets greater. But by the time you've played just the first half dozen or so screens you'll have seen more or less all the game has to offer.

Pick 'n' Pile is a fast, arcade-style puzzler that owes a lot to Klax and even Tetris. It needs the same blend of split-second decision-making and strategic thinking under pressure, and offers an extra element in the various objects that fall down with the balls...

...It's just that it's slightly lacking something. Ubisoft has taken a simple formula but thrown in some extra variables. In theory, this should make the gameplay even deeper. In practice, it just makes it less simple...

Second Opinion

The problem with Pick 'N Pile is that it doesn't seem to get any more difficult. There's little difference between the levels, and consequently it gets tiresome after a few plays.

First Day Target Score

Get 200,000 points (without screaming!)

The Verdict

Graphics 68%
A bit small and blocky, but they're colourful, and plenty of them!

Sonics 75%
A nice 'n' jolly title tune and some good in-game effects.

Grab Factor 82%
Confusing at first but easy enough to pick up.

Staying Power 70%
It just gets tougher and tougher, but will you just lose interest?

Overall 79%
A fast-action puzzler that will get you hooked - but will it keep you going?

Rod Lawton

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