Sunday, 23 May 2010


Time to hurt ourselves again with another unlicensed game from days gone by. Despite spewing their fare share of garbage back in the day, I haven't mentioned the pirate group "Sachen" much... probably because most of their games are centred around gambling. It doesn't even feel right to associate them with the word "pirate", because like companies such as Wisdom Tree they don't appear to be a bunch of crooks, just a group that's trying to appeal to a market Nintendo neglected... and that almost seems fair game.

So time to look at one of their better works. "Pyramid", an original title that took the formula found in Tetris and thought "it's not hip to be square", adding... TRIANGLES into gameplay. Well, it is a video game developer's favourite shape.

Sachen rose to internet fame after their Sonic the Hedgehog clone, Jurassic Boy 2, hit the spotlight. I've also briefly mentioned Pyramid it while giving Char's GBA multicart a look-through. But I feel it needs a bit more of a mention, as I'm a fan of good ideas and this release has a nice one. Released in 1990, Pyramid was the first in a series of... two puzzle games that were manufactured on the cheap for markets in China or Taiwan or any Asian country of your choice bar Japan. It's since wound up in a few multi-carts and has explored the far reaches of the internet, so it's no-where near as rare as it once was.

The rules are identical to Tetris, but the pieces are of different shapes. Rather than sticking four squares together to produce a tetrad or tetromino, the game sticks two to four right-angled triangles together to create pieces. Obviously as two right-angled triangles can be slotted together to create a square, it is still possible to clear a line like in Tetris (and this is in fact your goal), but it requires a bit more thought as a line takes twice as much effort to produce than before. It's a simple game, but I don't think we've deviated from squares either before or since (apart from in Pyramid 2 of course).

But as expected, there are issues. The play area is the same size as Tetris, and because it's arguably more difficult than Tetris, the pieces have been made smaller in an attempt to balance things out. The problem? Now they're too small. It's a very fiddly process to get rid of a line, especially if you're not running it on a large screen, and it's much more time consuming than it should be.

Now this might not be a big issue if say, Nintendo had made it, (or Nintendo had at least approved it) but because it was developed by Sachen these long, drawn out gameplay segments start to be haunted by the game's other flaws. The graphics are of the no-frills variety. You end up staring at triangles on a black screen for long periods of time, and unlike any home variation of Tetris they never change colour or do anything remotely interesting. The music starts to repeat, and you notice that it isn't quite as nice on the third or fourth run-through. You forget that there was once a garbled voice sample introducing you to the game, and you start to wonder whether more effort was put into the SACHEN logo than the game itself.

That being said, things do change. Eventually you'll reach the next level, you'll get to hear the other music track and the speed will increase. However, as this happens the responsiveness seems to decrease, and the game starts to become impossible. You cannot clear a line if you can't get your piece to the far side of the screen, and when you're filling up at high speeds, the chances of you progressing become rapidly slimmer. Bearing mind mind that triangles are a lot more tricky to work with than squares, you're likely to make mistakes and fail. In fact, you probably need a medal if you can actually get past the first level - not all the pieces are nice.

Surprisingly though, the sequel, Pyramid 2, fixes a lot of these problems. The width of the play area is smaller. It supports two players, there's more music and there's an extra "special" mode. It still recycles a lot from the first game but it's a slightly better experience overall, and it also allows you to skip Sachen's flashing logo which counts as a plus.

But though Pyramid is crippled by Sachen's shoddy design team, I don't think it's such a terrible purchase. The early NES library is hideously poor, with games like Urban Champion (which just got itself yet another mention on this blog) being "big hits". Pyramid fits in with this selection just fine... it's just a shame the production values are so low. It's also a shame that it showed up in 1990, at a time where NES games couldn't afford to be this simplistic, but it doesn't hurt to include it in multi-carts along with other similar cheapo titles.

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