Ah yes, that natural leap from Net Yaroze to PlayStation to… WonderSwan?!
It’s not as strange as the situation sounds these days though – back when Xi [Sai] Little released in 2001 developers were looking for alternatives to Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance and Bandai’s handheld had a reputation for being warm and welcoming towards Sony-aligned companies. While you wouldn’t have thought a full-3D PlayStation game was the most obvious candidate for portable-ification luckily for us it turns out the game was perfectly suited to the format.
Other than now being entirely in 2D Little plays just like it’s bigger PlayStation sibling, and as always the basics of the game require clever use of your baby-faced coloured devil to roll dice around so their upwards faces match each other, making them disappear. Higher numbers require more matching dice (so an upwards-facing five needs to be touching five other fives to disappear), and if you’re quick you can roll another matching dice into the cluster you just linked together for hot bonus point action. It’s one of those things that makes more sense when you see it in action, and is simultaneously face more straightforward and also more complicated than I make it sound. So, like any other good puzzle game then! There are four different ways to play, and Shift really took the bull by the horns and did an awful lot with the concept, especially when you consider this is essentially a de-make of their very first game!
Let’s have a quick look at what’s on offer:
Trial: This mode comes in customisable Endless/Time Limited and Exhibition flavours and is the basic Tetris-style ‘Let’s just play and see how long we survive’/’How high a score can I get?’ game, a real-time race to match away dice before the constantly arriving new ones clog up the board and end the game.
Battle: This can be played against either another player via link-up cable or a CPU opponent. At first glance it looks like the trial game, but to win here you need to match particular dice values (anywhere between 3~6 depending on how difficult or long you want the game to be) before your opponent beats you to it.
Puzzle: The one mode where I don’t run around like a headless chicken trying to manipulate the dice! Here you have a limited number of steps to remove all of the dice and as much time as you need to work it out. What makes this challenges so special is that they actually teach you how to use some very clever tricks that can then be applied to the more frantic battle and trial modes.
Dance: I’ve saved this one for last as it’s a WonderSwan exclusive! This mode’s a replacement for the ‘Wars’ 1-5 player battle mode found in the console version. Here you have to make sure the correct number is pointing upwards by the time the appropriate face reaches the box on the left of your play area. To keep you on your toes the field changes during the match with darker colours being worth more points – this is to stop you sitting cowardly in the middle and making movement too easy. It’s not actually Xi DDR (or DDDDR if you’re an overseas fan of the series) as you’re not doing anything in time to a beat, but it’s still a pleasant diversion and it’s good to see that Shift took the time to replace Wars mode with something instead of just axing it and hoping nobody would notice.
All of the above bar puzzle mode can be played with another person via the WonderSwan link cable, making social play almost as fully-featured as puzzling alone – never something to be taken for granted in portable gaming and a very welcome added feature.
Xi [Sai] Little is pretty much a perfect port of an already excellent game, and one that’s well suited to on-the-go play. The ability to easily scale the difficulty and length of the fast-paced trial/battle modes and the sheer quantity of puzzles on offer means that it’s just as easy to play for five minutes as it is to settle down for a much longer session. Of course with the original game available in portable form on both PSP and Vita these days there’s a legitimate question as to how practical it is to track down this WonderSwan port, but with the SwanCrystal’s slender form and the astonishing battery life a single AA battery provides it means that you could potentially leave this lying around somewhere convenient and always have a top-quality puzzle title ready to play. If you don’t already have a SwanCrystal around - and please do buy a Crystal, not a Colour - it’s not worth hunting one down just to play this game, but if happen to own one already and fancy branching out from the usual Final Fantasy remakes and Digimon games then this is a very well made, familiar, and (currently) reasonably priced choice.