Pipe Mania
| Pipe Mania

The plughole is bunged up with all sorts of disgusting detritus and the once polished sink is spilling a mucky brown gunge onto the floor. Even if we were to establish an arbitrary points scheme, complete with time-challenge mode (plus bonus multiplier for unblocking the loo in record time!), it still wouldn't make the task any more enticing.

Yes, plumbing is a tough 'n' dirty job and, podgy Italian plumbers aside, isn't the most appealing premise for a game either. So where does that leave Pipe Mania, which arrives on a wave of raw sewage in the attempt to return waste management-based games to their rightful porcelain throne?

With a strong retro-heritage (first released in 1989 for the Amiga) the basics of the game have changed little. A well-designed puzzler, which eschews the tumbling shape-based mechanic of Tetris, Columns et al, Pipe Mania introduced a focus on fitting randomly selected pipe pieces together to construct an elaborate, and hopefully high-scoring, pipeline.

Of course, almost 20 years on, there has been some repositioning in terms of character and plot and so this update to Pipe Mania launches into a bold cartoon introduction complete with mockney voice-over.

For it turns out that Alfonso, founder of the Isle of Ducts, has become worried about his kingdom. The island has been threatened by rogue cowboy plumbers and it's your job as his children to restore order by laying down proper piping and guiding all the Flooze, a mysterious and valuable liquid, to its rightful place.

Piled on top of this somewhat convoluted story, are a bevy of bizarre boss characters, like Ramona the hypochondriac alligator and LOL404, an aloof computer hacker. It feels a bit tacked on – the original game had a solid enough mechanic to make it a compelling experience – and yet it's instigated with enough flair that it should stop the experience being too abstract for the younger target audience.

But it's the pipes that are really the main attraction. Playing out a little like you're micro-managing the plumbing of SimCity, the aim is to lay down a pipeline that allows the Flooze to flow unencumbered from its preset start piece to the final preset drain.

As a beginner, planning ahead can prove almost impossible, due to the fact that you're fed random pieces of piping, which if they aren't used will result in lost points. Significantly, this does open up some tactical variations in terms of whether you want to aim for perfection – rejecting as few pieces as possible – or want to burn through levels fast, albeit with low scores. The difficulty curve is relatively steep: early stages will find new players constantly bombing pipelines (placing new over existing pieces) and incurring penalties, as their best-laid plumbing-plans literally go to waste.

Stick with Pipe Mania DS and keep working with that Flooze though and you'll achieve a state of plumber's zen. It's all about learning to go with the flow, trying to make use of every piece of pipe you're given. And when it all suddenly slots in to place, the frustration is washed away, revealing a challenging puzzler that provides a decent sense of achievement.

The game also extends its basic concept with the introduction of new flows, and related pieces, to direct. So following the original green Flooze, other levels see you handling sewers, electricity cables, factory conveyor belts and railroad trains. These are more interesting as you'll end up simultaneously trying to direct multiple streams. For example, in one of the railroad levels, you have to lay down tracks for the passage of red and blue trains, ensuring one speeds up and the other slows down so they don't collide at a critical pre-positioned piece.

A proper pipe-based puzzler this may be then, but the game isn't without a couple of figurative clogged drains. While the level one tutorial provides a solid overview of the controls, there's no discussion of how to deal with the constant onslaught of pipe shapes. Achieving the state of zen, where complicated pipelines snake satisfyingly around the level, is wholly down to getting to grips with several tough stages.

And the lack of multiplayer is an almost unforgivable omission. It's like a plumber without one of those impressive leather tool belts – he might still be able to do the job, but something important is missing. The game is so much fun alone, but seems to have been designed with multiplayer in mind. For example, the end-of-level bosses perform pipe-damaging attacks, demonstrating the start of a possible multiplayer Versus mechanic, while defeating their zone on the Isle of Pipes unlocks them as playable characters.

Yet the inclusion of additional game modes, such as Pipe Mania Classic (the original game with updated graphics), Arcade and Bonus levels makes this a solid title and good value for the money, although with multiplayer missing, Pipe Mania on DS just doesn't feel quite like the complete package it could have been.

Pipe Mania

A polished remake of a retro classic, Pipe Mania's extra features build on the challenging core gameplay while the broad selection of modes provides hours of enjoyable pipe positioning fun