A couple of years back, 10tons released a very cute little puzzle game called Joining Hands [$1.99]. The goal of the game was to move various creatures around on a hex grid in such a way that they would all hold hands and become happy. Different types of creatures had different requirements for satisfaction, which made it quite a challenging game at times. We liked it quite a bit in our review, and so did our readers. Now, Joining Hands 2 [$2.99] is here, and it's certainly familiar in a lot of ways.
The last game told a story about the little creatures living in a forest who were afraid of the dark, so they hold hands to comfort one another. Well, this time around, a ball of fire crashes out of the sky at the far end of Whispering Woods, and the Peablins decide to check it out. If you were hoping for War and Peace here, I don't know what to tell you. The point of the game remains the same, at least. You need to place each creature on a grid in such a way that they will be happy. Generally speaking, this is accomplished by making sure they are holding hands with another creature. It starts off simply enough, but it gets pretty complicated soon enough.
Like in the first game, there are many different types of creatures, and they all have different needs. Some of them return from the first game, but half the cast are new. The basic Common Peablin just needs to join all of his hands with another creature. It can be moved around freely, and will rotate its hands around as necessary to connect with others. It's soon joined by Grandlin, an old timer who has an awesome beard-hand, but is too frail to move his hands around. At the end of each world, you'll find a Starblin, who lacks hands and cannot move. It needs to be surrounded by other creatures to be happy.
Next, you'll meet Geoblin, who must be on or near a rock space. Brufflin, Grimmlin, and Glooblin return from the first game, and behave as they did then, with the first uniquely being able to rotate, but not able to move its hands, the second being unable to move at all, and the third only able to hold hands with its own kind. Finally, you've got Meeklin, a shy little fellow who cannot have more creatures adjacent to him than he has hands. Peablin, Geoblin, Grimmlin, Glooblin, and Meeklin can appear with any number of hands, from one all the way up to five, further complicating matters.
The grid now appears to be made up of circles, but it still functions like a hex grid, with six sides. Sometimes, the grid will have special spaces with rocks, hearts, or stars filling them. The rocks block every creature except Geoblin, who can only be placed on a rock or a space adjacent to a rock. The hearts are a comfort zone, and any creature you place there will be happy regardless of whether or not its needs are met. As for the star spaces, you'll want to make sure you've got a creature occupying them at the end of each round in order to collect them.
Differing from the first game's very familiar level select screen where you must collect stars to unlock the next stage, Joining Hands 2 features a Mario-style overworld map. There's not really anywhere to go but the next stage at any given point in time, but it is cute and adds to the atmosphere a lot more than a simple chart of levels does. Another new addition to the game is a button that lets you get a hint if you're stuck. There's no penalty for doing this, and you can use it as many times as you want to. It's nice in that you won't ever hit an impassable obstacle, but it's almost a bit too easy to get at.
Joining Hands was a pretty low-stress game already, as it allowed for multiple solutions to levels and lacked a time or move limit. The sequel isn't any different, and with the addition of a hint system, you can certainly go about this game the wrong way and have a terrible, boring time, if you're so inclined. If you can exercise a bit of discipline, you'll find the game to be very challenging in the long run. There are 140 stages, and while the first 30 or so are trivially simple to solve, you'll get a mental workout on the back half. Due to the variety of solutions, it's not so hard to solve the levels, but solving them while collecting the stars calls for paying close attention to what you're doing.
The nice thing about this game is that it has something to offer any skill level. Kids can solve what they can and hint their way through the tougher spots, while puzzle afficianados will enjoy finding their way through the complicated later stages on their own. Everything is wrapped up in some very cute graphics and sounds that aren't too saccharine, and I still very much enjoy the concept. That said, it's a sequel that plays things pretty safe. There aren't any new obstacles you'll encounter, and presentation-wise things look and sound almost the same. Also, while there are a few new creatures to play with, some of the old ones didn't make it back. You've still got a gain, eight creatures versus the original's six, but where did those other two guys go? Here's hoping they return in an update.
Joining Hands 2 is as enjoyable as the first one was. It's a bit slow to ramp up, but it does ramp up, and does so nicely. The mechanics still feel pretty fresh, probably because the first one went sufficiently under the radar to avoid being copied. If you didn't care for the original, this sequel won't convince you otherwise, but if you had fun with Joining Hands like I did, or if you want a nice little game for your younger ones, you should give this one a look.
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