Like some of the greatest ideas, the one behind Art of Balance is simple. Using the Wii Remote the player must stack the different shaped pieces on a central point, placing them carefully to prevent them toppling over into the water bowl below (complete with water splashes on the screen for that extra touch). Use all the shapes, and then make sure they stay stacked for three seconds, and the level is complete. If any shape topples and hits the water, it’s time to try again.
The game complicates things further in later levels by requiring the player to use the weight and shape of blocks to effectively stack shapes, introducing blocks which shatter if too much weight is placed on them, or ones that vanish after a few seconds once another is placed on top. Loosing these two block types doesn’t mean the level is over, but it does mean the player has to be especially cunning in where they place the remaining stack to avoid it taking a dip.
Thankfully, Art of Balance strikes the right line between being forgiving and requiring ninja-like reflexes. By avoiding swaying too far in either of these directions, the game remains approachable and even when a level is hard to crack, its style and approach manages to avoid making it frustrating. However, it would be nice if a severe shake of the Remote allowed you to send the water bowl flying in a satisfying fit of pique. With branching paths for each stage, it also means that it’s possible to skip a level and come back later, without it hindering overall progress.
The ideas behind it may have been done before by a multitude of titles, but Art of Balance is notable for its charming style and approach. It’s one of those simple little WiiWare titles that elevates itself above the shovelware on the service thanks to its superior presentation. Everything from the relaxed visual style of its bright colour palette and cherry blossom / bamboo backgrounds, through to the audio cues, and even the way congratulatory messages sweep across the screen when you complete a level, make it very reminiscent of Nintendo first party titles like Wii Sports. By aping this style so successfully it makes the game feel like a comfortable pair of shoes, instantly putting the player in a familiar zone. It’s a wise choice to duplicate a presentation style which has always worked remarkably well.
Sadly the title is let down by its longevity. It may contain 100 levels split over five stages, but there remains little challenge once the player gets to grips with the basic premise. This means the game can be sped through in the space of a few hours. Of course, this can either be seen as the perfect accompaniment to the games relaxed style or offering very little replay value, but there are two player co-operative and Versus modes which attempt to keep things going.
Art of Balance is one of those titles that you will either pick up and love for the short period of time that it holds your attention, or will leave you feeling like you’ve not had your fill. It’s a shame that with a little more effort the game could have been an essential WiiWare title. However, as it stands, it still comes highly recommended as a fun way to pass a few hours.