You think you’re indie? You’ve got nothing on Yuan Works, a two-man studio in Costa Rica (the land that game development forgot), who, not too long ago, commercially released Wind & Water: Puzzle Battles, a very clever, incredibly full-featured puzzle game on both the (impressively obscure) GP2X handheld, and the Dreamcast, long after Sega had abandoned all support for it. Now, this game has come to PC, and for the best price of all: Free!
Influences abound here. Wind & Water feels less like a homage, and more a gushing love-letter to every classic action-puzzle game ever made. Shooting for a wide audience (complete with fully bilingual English/Japanese scripts), there’s elements of Capcoms classic Puzzle Fighter, Bejewelled, Puzzle Quest (although it may even predate that) and more. And while it feels familiar and comfortable, this is very much its own game, with a broad range of interesting scoring and gameplay elements that you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.
Most notably, the game boasts a story mode. A huge, sprawling one that the developers estimate will take most players 30+ hours to complete. Working your way across a level-map akin to Super Mario World, you’re given challenges, earn money through your successes, spend it on character upgrades and bonuses in the stores, meet the cast of characters in a variety of goofy cartoonish dialogue scenes, distract yourself with a variety of quickfire arcade minigames, and generally do a lot of puzzling.
The core gameplay is very simple to learn, quite hard to master. You’re presented with a large grid of colour-coded elemental tiles, and can select and rotate (via keyboard, gamepad or – recently patched in – mouse) diamond-shaped segments of four at a time. By rotating blocks into a configuration where four of the same colour form a diamond, they’ll pop out of existance, taking any attached same-colour blocks with them. There’s a variety of advanced scoring techniques, too, such as elemental combos (remove two or more different colours in a single move), full combos (clear all of a specific colour from the board in one go) and more.
There’s also Puzzle Fighter-esque Vs gameplay against the CPU or another player, where you aim to chip away at your opponents side of the screen, removing viable moves. Beyond that, there’s still much more to see. There’s really an impressive amount of content here. The game would be well worth putting some money down on, if they were actively charging for it. Instead, the PC version is supported by donations. Donate $10, and you get your own personalized in-game avatar, visible for all to see in the online scoreboards. At $15, you get an animated one. Once I’ve got a little more in my pockets than lint, I plan on buying myself one.
So, what are you waiting for? The game is free, it’s fun, charming and clever. There’s enough content here to easily justify a commercial release, and the core gameplay is both intuitive and challenging. There’s a lot to love here, even if you don’t dig the cute bobble-headed character art (which in itself is a big nod to Puzzle Fighter) and goofy story dialogue. Not content to rest on their laurels, Yuan Works are still actively supporting the game as well, most notably adding full mouse support in the latest update. Go download it, and see for yourself why this is one of the best freeware games released so far this year.