Talking Pipe Mania DS / PSP remake and its fire-breathing dragons

Electricity, leak meters and those dragons - what has Razorworks done to one of our favourite puzzle games?

Talking Pipe Mania DS / PSP remake and its fire-breathing dragons
| Pipe Mania

A few months back publisher Empire announced it was re-making the classic pipe-slotting puzzle game Pipe Mania for DS and PSP (as well as PS2 and PC). Naturally we were curious to find out what developer Razorworks had done to improve something so simply addictive.

So we spoke to game designer Ben Everett (pictured in blurry-vision) and Empire product manager Rob Lightbody to find out just what we can expect from the game once it hits the handhelds.

Pocket Gamer: So why decide do remake Pipe Mania? And do you anticipate the game is going to sell more to fans of the original or to a whole new audience this time around?

Rob Lightbody: The original Pipe Mania was such a huge success for Empire that internal conversations about bringing it back have been ongoing for some time. But more recently with the huge success of DS, and based on our own positive experiences with PSP, we felt the time was right to rekindle one of our most successful IPs with handhelds emerging as the perfect focus for its infectious style of gameplay.

We're certainly aware that there is a lot of interest from the old fan base, but we've been careful to make sure that it still appeals to a broad spectrum of gamers – including the original fans.

How difficult to remake has the game proved? Were you conscious you didn't want to change too much and upset fans of the original, or did you really want to alter things to bring it up to date?

Ben Everett: Pipe Mania was tricky to remake in two respects. The diversity of platforms involved meant the design had to be portable, which constrained us in some ways, but also steered us to a more refined design and visual style.

The second tricky area was in finding balance between the original versions and the new features and mechanics we wanted to add to bring it up-to-date, without losing the feel of the original. We were keen to retain the original mechanics and not to break them. This was an important part of our initial 'protopiping' phase. [Sorry about that, readers - Ed]

The original game is very simple, and there have been numerous ports of it over time that all added their own changes, so we had to create our own vision of the original game taking the best parts of each. The NES version in particular is a great version that we felt really nailed the gameplay.

What exactly have you changed and added to the new Pipe Mania on the handhelds?

BE: We have added a wide variety of game modes which add to and vary the rules. There are different Flooze types that behave differently from the default liquid type, and also multiple Floozes which can be split and combined. There are new pieces such as the double elbow and bridge, which are introduced gradually and allow for more complex pipe layouts.

The game should also be a little more forgiving than the original, as we introduce a leak-meter to give players a bit of time to fix their pipeline before the game ends.

You say there will be various types of Floozes. Does that mean some will travel quicker than others? Will it do anything else?

BE: Not just move quicker, but move in different ways… wait until you try the electricity levels.

Do the DS and PSP games have any unique features specific to each console? Are those versions very different to one another?

BE: The PSP features GameSharing, allowing two players to battle against each other, while the DS uses the 'Sketch' piece [see next answer] and allows for stylus control.

How does the game use the DS touchscreen? And can we expect it to make use of the mic, too?

BE: The DS version can be played with the stylus, making it very much like the Windows version that a lot of people will be comfortable and familiar with. It can also be played in a traditional D-pad and button style.

The DS uses a special piece called the 'Sketch' piece which allows the player to draw their own pipe sections.

We didn't use the mic, as most people feel a bit daft talking or blowing into their DS – it seemed more of a novelty than a valuable mechanic.

Can you detail how the game's multiplayer modes work?

BE: We have three modes of play for the game's multiplayer, all of which are battle focused.

Score Attack is a straight battle for the highest score. Quick Clear lets players drop their completed pipelines on their opponent's grid to confuse and trap them. In Charge and Blast, players build up an attack meter by moving the flooze quickly and through loops. They can then launch damaging or disorientating attacks on their opponent's grid such as spreading gunkball obstacles, switching the lights off, or sending a giant clockwork fire-breathing dinosaur to destroy their pipeline.

How about Pipe Mania's different themes – do they affect the gameplay?

BE: There are seven different themed locations, which add unique aspects to the flooze, and introduce new pipe pieces. For example, the Railroad levels use what we call a 'Pulse' flooze – that means the player can re-use pipe sections and rack up huge bonuses if they're smart enough.

They also introduce the points (or switch) piece. The Factory levels introduce the use of converters, splitters and joiners to split, join and alter the type of flooze as it moves. Each location theme has a resident character that can spring unique attacks on you, too.

You've mentioned there will be an army of characters for players to help and hinder along the way. What part exactly will these characters play in the game?

BE: The characters in the game introduce all the new pieces and features of the game. Each of them resides in the game's seven locations and acts as a kind of 'Pipe Master'.

The player begins as a young new plumber who is learning the ropes in order to clean up the Isle of Ducts – an island paradise that has become a polluted mess owing to Cowboy plumbers. The player must train under these Masters, and then beat them to move on. Once you have beaten them, you can use these characters in the multiplayer modes.

Does the game have different difficulty levels so that it's playable for different age groups? Or are you targeting a particular age group with the game?

BE: No particular age group; we were aiming for a wide an audience as possible. The core gameplay of Pipe Mania is quite challenging mentally, much more so than Tetris or Lumines, so maybe 10+ age-wise. The Story Mode of the game should be beatable by most people, with some effort.

We have included harder modes for more proficient players, and there are score targets to beat for levels which unlock more features and bonuses.

For those that worry about such things, how long do you think you'll need to play Pipe Mania in order to get through all of its 70 levels?

BE: I think about eight to ten hours for the main Story Mode, but then you also have the original game in both fixed and random layouts to complete (an additional 160 levels), arcade mode and bonus modes to try, and also the versus modes on the PSP – so you can plumb for days, possibly weeks.

What's the reason for the game's delay from June to mid September?

RL: We felt it more beneficial to realign our schedule for a multi-format release, and that this would give consumers old and new the chance to get a taster with the demos we intend to release.

A lot of publishers are choosing not to release some of their multi-format titles for PSP. But Empire has been supportive of the console with FlatOut and now Pipe Mania. Is it paying off with sales?

RL: We've had some great titles for PSP including Jackass and FlatOut, both of which were received well by the press and have sold consistently well. PSP is less established in some mainland Europe territories where it can require a little more of a focused effort, but typically in the UK product has sold quite well over and over a long period.

What's next in the 'pipeline' after this game? Do you have your eye on any other classic puzzlers to remake on the handhelds? Or if you could choose, is there one you'd really like to do?

RL: We've been looking at a lot of games for handhelds, and we'll announce the first of these next week ;o)

Our thanks to Ben and Rob for their time. We look forward to getting our hands on this remake of an old friend before Pipe Mania is released in September.
Kath Brice
Kath Brice
Kath gave up a job working with animals five years ago to join the world of video game journalism, which now sees her running our DS section. With so many male work colleagues, many have asked if she notices any difference.