He may be a peacock, but Plumeboom – star of several new casual titles from veteran developer Fireglow, known primarily for hardcore wargame series Sudden Strike, oddly enough – is no dandy. Never one to get his feathers ruffled at the thought of adventure, the flashy mascot’s all too keen to set off in search of hidden treasures in latest interactive jaunt Golden Path, a click-happy, pattern-making puzzler.
Cut from the standard arcade-style, color-matching mold popularized by smash hits like Zuma and Luxor, it’s a welcome entry into the category, if one that may prove just a tad too familiar for discerning keyboard jocks. Blame an overall lack of storyline, general dearth of variety when it comes to catchy stages/power-ups and the absence of any single revolutionary feature that could’ve elevated the title above those it lovingly mimics. A shame really, but then again, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
Loading the game, you’ll be immediately struck by how familiar everything feels. There’s one single play mode, levels are divided into 100-plus individual standalone sub-stages spread across 11 secret caves on the obligatory campaign map, and you earn individual (sadly nondescript) pieces of jewelry for each scenario completed. Play itself revolves around the same tried-and-true formula as ever to boot: Wielding a cannon mounted on a paddle located on the bottom of the screen, move your mouse horizontally to shift the contraption and thereby aim, then left-click to shoot colored orbs at the masses of similar spheres hovering above. Match three of the same hue by connecting them, and all disappear, adding time to a constantly-dwindling meter and potentially causing gems that award points when caught to fall.
Where things differ from the usual setup, though, is in the title’s execution. Instead of a fixed grid, orbs attach themselves to a magical lock located in the center of screen which spins and whirls as the balls you squirt out strike it and/or explode, and exerts magnetic pull upon any shots fired, markedly altering the course of their flight path. At first, this novel twist seems exciting (surprisingly solid physics modeling actually causes orbs to bounce and roll when struck instead of just conveniently sticking together, increasingly one’s range of tactical approaches). But it isn’t long before you notice said caveat also makes precise targeting difficult, and results in often unexpected effects that detract from, rather than enhance, the hands-on play experience.
Likewise, the presence of power-ups – earned by smashing diamonds which appear on various stages – that repaint groups of orbs in a single color or unleash lightning bolts capable of destroying random spheres proves a nice bonus in theory. Nonetheless, few come off as anywhere near unique, or affect the action in any meaningfully positive sense, with several – e.g. bouncing fireballs and vertically-climbing rockets – frustratingly prone to hitting no orbs whatsoever from time to time as well. Such extras do prove an occasionally handy way to offset challenges such as metal orbs which bounce around, disrupting sphere placement, or guns which add to your workload by blasting randomly-colored orbs out onto certain playfields. Nonetheless, akin to the plotline, which all but disappears after an initial intro, there’s little here worth raving about.
To recap, what you’re left with is an audio-visually pleasing game that pays lip service to most standard genre conventions, yet excels in no particular area. What’s more, Plumeboom himself isn’t even a major part of the escapade, nor does anything convincingly speak to the game being set in his particular world versus, say, that of other popular characters like Snowy or Turtix. A shame, really: There’s nothing wrong with the general premise here, per se – we’d just like to have seen more in the way of standout features that could’ve made this one a must-see, versus also-ran. Still, with more games planned in the series, hey… there’s always the token sequel, right?