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Review: Peter Frankl - Tower of Puzzle

Posted: Tue Dec 24, 2013 7:45 am
by goldenband
Peter Frankl: Tower of Puzzle

Japanese title: ピーターフランクル パズルの塔 / Peter Frankl: Puzzle no Tou
alternate translation: Peter Frankl: Pagoda of Puzzles

(Warning: this is a long one!)

There has to be an interesting story behind Peter Frankl: Tower of Puzzle. One wonders what led TBS Multimedia to decide that Frankl, a juggling mathematician who's been described as "one of the most famous non-Japanese people living in Japan today", would be the perfect candidate around whom to build a game for the new 3DO system.

Very few people seem to have played Tower of Puzzle, and there's hardly anything about it on the English-language Internet (and not much in Japanese, either). That's particularly surprising since it's one of the most import-friendly titles in the entire 3DO catalog. Not only is Tower of Puzzle's gameplay very straightforward and easy to pick up, but it offers the option to play the whole game in English, including all the dialogue!

Tower of Puzzle is essentially a collection of 11 minigames, each involving a different kind of brain teaser. These are as follows:

Turn Me On: This game will be familiar to anyone who's used the old Merlin handhelds. You're given a set of candles in a grid formation (normally a rectangle or square, but other shapes appear later), and your task is to light all the candles onscreen. But whenever you light one candle, all the adjacent candles switch state: if unlit, they ignite; if already lit, they're extinguished. This can get very tricky!

Fill Me: Fit a set of tetrominos or pentominos (4- or 5-square shapes) into a rectangular/square space. Like Tetris, you can rotate the pieces, but you can't reflect them. Eventually, this becomes the hardest challenge in the game by far.

Cut Me: Divide a shape into multiple equal parts, using a set of knives. Similar to the matchstick puzzles found in many anthologies.

Place Me: Arrange a set of numbered balls in a preset track so that none of the differences between adjacent balls are the same.

Make Me Red: Similar to "Turn Me On", except with colored hats in a circle. (Plus it's much simpler, and therefore easier.)

Add Me: Build a magic square using numbered tiles, some of which have already been placed for you. The totals for each row, column, and diagonal are automatically calculated and displayed, which is a big help (though it uses a sloppy font that makes it hard to differentiate between 5 and 6).

Make Me One Hundred: Use the four arithmetic operators, plus parentheses, to make a series of digits total 100.

Sign Me: Use the plus and minus symbols to make a series of digits total a predetermined number (often zero, but not always).

Find Me: Use a scale to identify a counterfeit coin in three weighings or less.

Measure Me: Measure out a specific number of milliliters of wine. You have two or three containers to work with, but their sizes don't match the needed quantity, so you have to pour back and forth between them until you get the desired amount in any single container.

Complete Me: Insert numbers into a self-referential document in order to make all of its statements true, e.g. "In this paragraph, there are 2 ones, 3 twos, 2 threes, and 1 fours."

The game's conceit is that you travel to a series of five locations, including a deserted city street, a circus tent, a Stonehenge-like structure, a vaulted temple, and the towering pagoda from which Tower of Puzzle gets its title. (Indeed, I think "Peter Frankl: Pagoda of Puzzles" is a viable alternate translation, and might well be a more accurate one.)

In each place, your mission is to reassemble a poster that's been torn into five pieces and scattered to different spots in the area. Using the control pad you jump between these spots, triggering a pre-rendered transition sequence, and upon arrival you're greeted by one of Frankl's performers. These include jugglers, fire-breathers, gymnasts, pairs of acrobats who play soprano saxophones (!), and other assorted characters. In a short FMV sequence, the performer briefly demonstrates the first few seconds of his or her routine, then verbally challenges you to one of the minigames.

If you accept, the performer then morphs into an image associated with the minigame -- for example, a pair of tiles for Add Me Up -- and a sultry female voice announces the minigame title. This unseen narrator coos, moans, and is practically dripping with carnality! Between her and the double-entendre minigame titles, it puts a creepy, 1-900 spin on what would otherwise be a very kid-friendly game.

After a brief set of spoken instructions, you then start the minigame. None of the games are timed, so you can take as long as you need to solve each puzzle. If you get stuck, you have the option to "PASS", which quits the minigame and kicks you back to the pre-rendered location. In earlier spots, choosing to "PASS" may also switch out the minigame with a different one, but only before you reach the final tower. (I also suspect that the game may save up the puzzles you skip, and hit you with them in the final tower, but I'm not sure.)

If you beat the minigame, you're rewarded with a short FMV sequence in which the performer goes through 30 seconds or so of his/her routine before vanishing in a puff of smoke. You then receive a piece of the poster, and are free to challenge any of the other performers in that location. Beat them all, and the poster automatically reassembles itself and becomes a portal to the next area.

Tower of Puzzle is a fairly lengthy game, with a total of 25 puzzles to beat in the five areas, plus an additional, extra-tough puzzle you get at the end (and which you can't PASS or swap out for a different minigame). Once you've solved that last puzzle, the Pagoda of Puzzles University gives you a Bachelor's degree in Mathematical Puzzle-Solving. Then the credits roll…

...but don't think you're done yet, as the game immediately throws you into a Master's degree program of another 26 puzzles -- and if you complete that, well, you've guessed it: just like in real life, you go straight into the doctorate. Only after earning your Ph.D. do you get the game's true ending, in which Peter Frankl gives a short congratulatory speech, followed by a couple extra screens of text in Japanese with, I assume, a similar meaning. (By the way, these screens, and the scrolling credits that follow them, are the only untranslated text in the game -- though one of the street performers does speak several lines in French, with no subtitles given.)

All told, beating Tower of Puzzle means getting past 78 brain-teasing challenges, and even the most adept puzzle-solvers will need 5-6 hours, minimum, to reach the end. Fortunately you don't have to do it all in one sitting, as the game has four save slots and a very efficient autosave function that silently records your progress. (Note that when you finally beat the game, your saved game is erased!)

Overall, Tower of Puzzle is reasonably entertaining, and most of the puzzles are challenging and satisfying to complete. Obviously the game makes little use of the 3DO's hardware power, since at heart it's a typical mid-1990s CD-ROM title, and could fairly be classified within the edutainment genre (despite the almost-pornographic voice that announces each puzzle). And it's true that the content is repetitive; the FMV "rewards" are mildly amusing at best, and are unfortunately recycled throughout the game -- so after the first few times you've seen them, you'll be hitting X to skip ahead. Still, the puzzles are engaging enough to make Tower of Puzzle a game worth firing up every now and then.

However, some significant flaws mar Tower of Puzzle, including several presentation issues. Some of the morphs are clumsily done, with improperly handled keyframes that lead to glitchy transitions. There are different musical themes for each type of puzzle, but they tend to be "cutesy" loops lasting 10-15 seconds at most. On puzzles that take longer to solve, that gets annoying very fast, and you'll be reaching for the mute button before long.

The difficulty curve in Tower of Puzzle is also fairly uneven, sometimes in ways that don't make much sense. I found that the first set of puzzles was generally quite easy, but the final challenge, a "Fill Me" puzzle, was exponentially tougher. After spending hours on it -- longer than I'd spent on all the previous puzzles combined! -- I eventually caved and asked my fiancée to use a pentomino solver to tell me where to put the first few pieces, after which I was able to solve it myself.

(She ended up helping me again on another "Fill Me", and while getting outside assistance made me feel a bit like a cheat, I felt justified since the game later cheated me out of at least two correct answers -- see below.)

The Master's degree puzzles were mostly straightforward, but I expected to get a very nasty one at the end: nope, the last puzzle was a relatively trivial "Complete Me" puzzle. At least the Ph.D. puzzles are uniformly tougher, and in my playthrough, the final six puzzles were quite challenging.

However, around here I ran into a very nasty bug in the game: on two different occasions in the final tower, I entered a completely valid solution for an "Add Me Up" puzzle, but didn't get credit for it. Even though the autosumming display meant I could readily see that my totals all matched, I double- and triple-checked my math, confirming that my solution was correct -- but still the game paid it no mind.

After consulting a few online resources about magic squares, I tried swapping two columns in each of my answers, and only now did the game validate my solution. Clearly, the game seems to be comparing your answer to a precalculated solution, and isn't actually checking your work. That's unacceptable, and in the pre-Internet age, it probably made a few poor Japanese kids tear their hair out in frustration.

(I also entered a seemingly valid solution for one of the "Cut Me" puzzles that wasn't accepted, but it could be that my answer used mirror-reflected shapes -- though the game's guidelines didn't mention anything about that.)

Finally, there are a few annoying quirks in Tower of Puzzle's user interface. Chief among them is that when you "RESET" a puzzle, the game insists on replaying the introductory spiel, causing a delay of a few seconds for disk access. You can skip the spiel (and most FMV bits in the game) by pressing the X button, but it's still frustrating to have to wait several seconds to restart a tough puzzle from scratch. In addition, I occasionally ran into a minor bug in the Fill Me mode where the game wouldn't let me place a piece in a valid location, though after removing and replacing a few other pieces, the issue seemed to clear up.

The ideal candidate for Peter Frankl: Tower of Puzzle is a gamer who either loves brain-teasers, or who wants to explore the 3DO's Japanese-language library and likes the idea of starting with a very import-friendly title. (Otherwise, you'd be well-advised to steer clear, as there's really not much else to the game.)

If you fit into either of those categories, you stand a good chance of getting some enjoyment out of Tower of Puzzle. Be warned, though, that the "Fill Me" puzzles can get very difficult, and really disrupt the rhythm of a game that otherwise allows for steady, satisfying progress.

Re: Review: Peter Frankl - Tower of Puzzle

Posted: Tue Dec 24, 2013 8:26 am
by goldenband
Some extra bits:
  • Here's a favorable review of the game in French, with some screenshots and a box image for a Macintosh/Windows version of the game (which isn't surprising if it exists).
  • Here's a Japanese page with some more screenshots. It looks to be an educator's page, related to lesson plans for middle school math classes, but I can't imagine using the game in an educational context, at least with the English audio (maybe the Japanese is more G-rated). The automatic translation is amusing: "I hate students and often"!
  • Another Japanese-language discussion of the game here, and a page with a few puzzle solutions here.
Also, I've attached the two final screens of Japanese text that appear after completing your Ph.D., in case one of our Japanese-speaking members can transcribe and/or translate them. I could transcribe a lot of it, but some of the kanji are very difficult to read. It was only through luck that I was able to grab the first screenshot, as it started to automatically fade out just as I took the picture!



Re: Review: Peter Frankl - Tower of Puzzle

Posted: Tue Dec 24, 2013 10:47 pm
by Trev
Very informative review. I played this one quite a bit several years ago, and I agree this is one of the most import friendly titles you can find for 3DO. Good job.

Re: Review: Peter Frankl - Tower of Puzzle

Posted: Fri Dec 27, 2013 7:03 pm
by Austin
Great review, Phil! It's good to see some more information thrown out there on a title that most probably have little experience with.

Re: Review: Peter Frankl - Tower of Puzzle

Posted: Mon Dec 30, 2013 1:59 am
by goldenband
Thanks, y'all! :mrgreen:

Re: Review: Peter Frankl - Tower of Puzzle

Posted: Thu Jan 02, 2014 2:59 am
by Martin III
Indeed, much appreciated review of a game I knew nothing about.

Re: Review: Peter Frankl - Tower of Puzzle

Posted: Thu Feb 27, 2014 4:19 am
by T2KFreeker
I concur. I had no idea what this was. After a quick search on the Evilbay, it appears I may not ever know what it is? I'll keep an eye out for it though as it sounds like a really fun puzzler. Thanx' for the review.

Re: Review: Peter Frankl - Tower of Puzzle

Posted: Fri Feb 28, 2014 7:20 pm
by goldenband
You're very welcome! And the review bump prompted me to visit my Japanese neighbor and ask her to translate the game-ending text, which she was kind enough to do. Basically, it congratulates you, affirms that you've earned the Ph.D. in puzzle-solving, and tells you that if you're one of the first 100 people to reach that screen, you can send away for a certificate using a keyphrase found on the next page. (I think you might need to send along a sticker of some kind too.)

That keyphrase is indeed on the next page, and says something roughly along the lines of "Mathematics isn't just counting, it's a concept" (or maybe "whole way of thinking"). The rest of that page gives the address to which to send the documents, and -- I wasn't 100% clear on this -- may say something about needing to send along a document that's only available from Japanese post offices. The implication would be that importers are excluded from the offer!

Interestingly, she knew exactly who Peter Frankl was -- "He's a genius!" -- so I guess the claims about him being one of the most famous Westerners to live in Japan really are true.

Re: Review: Peter Frankl - Tower of Puzzle

Posted: Sat Mar 01, 2014 5:30 pm
by Trev
That's great info, thanks for sharing goldenband! :)

Wow,that certificate must rank up there among the rarest 3DO items! :o Bitrate, you ever see one?

Re: Review: Peter Frankl - Tower of Puzzle

Posted: Sun Mar 02, 2014 5:31 am
by goldenband
Trev wrote:That's great info, thanks for sharing goldenband! :)

Wow,that certificate must rank up there among the rarest 3DO items! :o Bitrate, you ever see one?
Holy crap, I hadn't thought of that angle! Wow, that's gotta be a Holy Grail. I'd love to know if Bitrate's ever run across one of these.

Re: Review: Peter Frankl - Tower of Puzzle

Posted: Tue Mar 11, 2014 5:27 am
by bitrate
Sorry to disappoint. I've never even seen one. For some reason I do seem to remember reading about this before. There is probably some article about this in one of the obscure Japanese 3DO publications.

Re: Review: Peter Frankl - Tower of Puzzle

Posted: Tue Mar 11, 2014 7:26 am
by goldenband
Hey, thanks for replying, bitrate. If you ever run across the Japanese publication where you read about it, I'd love that info. (Do you read Japanese fluently?)