Art of Balance (Wii U): Peaceful, precarious puzzles

October 20, 2014


Developer Shin’en has become known for two things during its long run of supporting Nintendo download platforms: fast-paced shooters and quirky games that get a lot out of limited hardware. Art of Balance is certainly representative of the second group, a simple-on-the-surface stacking puzzle game with a zen-garden aesthetic that allowed for some cool water and lighting effects in a minimalist environment. The first game was a WiiWare standout, and after a foray on the 3DS eShop, the franchise heads to the Wii U in a form clearly shaped by the experiences developing both previous entries.

Those familiar with the previous games will find that not much has changed, gameplay-wise, in this new title. You’re still stacking shapes of various shapes and materials atop limited platforms, and the puzzle-solving is still driven by shapes that can’t be placed at first and pieces that break or otherwise react to being stacked. There are 200 puzzles to complete, much like in the 3DS game, and pushing through the progressively-hard levels makes up the bulk of the experience.

Controls are a mix of the Wii and 3DS schemes. The GamePad touch controls work better than the 3DS version due to sheer screen real estate, and the button controls are here but once again best ignored. If you prefer the real-world control of remotes to the precision of stylus play (or are playing with others), you can use Wii Remotes to make stacking more of a Jenga-like steady-hands sort of experience.


If you haven’t gotten a chance to try an Art of Balance game, you should, because the stacking challenges offer a sort of ponder-heavy solving that will appeal to fans of games like Pushmo. Knowing exactly what order and configuration to use to proceed can be trial-and-error if you want, but there’s nothing like staring a puzzle down and getting it right on the first try. If you have played a previous game, you may find that there are a lot of repeating elements from previous games, and rarely does it throw something at you that you haven’t been through before.

This Wii U version of Art of Balance adds a suite of multiplayer modes to the game, both online and off, and it’s here where you’ll find that the experience feels truly new. The Wii game allowed for two-player co-op and versus play, but this update supports up to five players, and you can even take on an online opponent as a team. The most compelling mode is Tower Tumble, a push-your-luck game in which each player takes turns placing a block until the stack falls. The online mode of Swift Stacker, the head-to-head stacking race, could work — maybe — but we have no way of knowing; multiple attempts at matchmaking on different days and times were fruitless. (So if you want to try it, coordinate with a friend.) Still, the local version of this mode works like a champ.

Aesthetically, Art of Balance once again succeeds in pulling off a distinct feel, though strangely it seems like it isn’t the technical marvel we’re used to seeing from the studio. For anyone but Shin’en, this would be a visual delight, but we’ve come to expect more from the studio, and occasionally the seams show in the environment and the textures look less than real. It’s only occasional, and looks great on the GamePad’s screen (and could have been optimized for off-TV play), but it’s worth noting that it won’t always wow your friends.


If you need a little more balance in your life, you should definitely check out Shin’en’s new title. It’s both well-executed and forgiving, and both a meditative solo experience and a productive social one. It’s may not be worth double-dipping for those who’ve played a previous game, but it’s certainly the definitive version of Art of Balance.

Pros: Smart controls, full suite of modes, compelling core gameplay
Cons: Technically less-than-perfect, puzzles could be stale for returning players

Score: 4/5

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