Review: Working Dawgs: A-Maze-ing Pipes

Plumbers, in my Nintendo handheld? Quit spouting nonsense.

By Lukas Velunta. Posted 05/20/2013 10:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Addicting puzzles, interesting level design
Poison Mushroom for...
Stylus controls insufficient in later levels, wrench mechanic needs tweaking, relatively pricey

The pun-filled Working Dawgs: A-Maze-ing Pipes is a pipe-laying puzzle game. It’s very similar in style to the PC title Pipe Dream and the hacking mini-game from BioShock— water is moving from its source to an outlet, and it’s your job to get the liquid there before it runs out of pipe.

The eponymous pipes come in four flavors: straight, L-shaped, cross, and T-shaped, the last two of which allow for extremely windy permutations of paths for the water to flow. But unlike, say, BioShock‘s hacking minigame, the focus of the Working Dawgs isn’t just getting the water from one end to the other– it’s routing the water in the most inefficient path possible (just like real world waterworks operations, when you think about it: take the maximum amount of time laying down pipes in convoluted ways just to maximize the reward—in the real world, cash for the contractor; in Working Dawgs, points for the plumber player. Biting social commentary!)

In each level, the faucet and the outlet are in a sprawling area littered with disconnected pipes and squares for possible pipe-laying readily apparent. You have a set amount of pipes in your inventory, and it’s up to you to use the existing pipes with your own, laying the law down with your stylus to get the water where it needs to go. You can also modify the existing pipes with your limited wrenches– getting them in your inventory for use elsewhere, or simply changing their orientation. The game gives you a grace period to prepare your pipes before the water flows (of variable length depending on the complexity of the level), or if you are prepared before the timer runs out, you can turn on the faucet to earn bonus early bird points.

Since points are primarily given depending on how many sections comprise the whole length of the pipe, the game runs on this “maximizing the available space” mechanic. It absolutely punishes those who choose the easy route and make directly for the outlet, and this is especially true in later levels where special squares marked with arrows give bonuses if a pipe is laid there—and if the water flows in the direction of the arrow.

In this regard, the game is a success. I’m a sucker for spatial puzzles, and there is a real thrill in appraising the level, seeing its layout, and plotting a winding course throughout. Laying down your final section of pipe just as the water reaches it is much more exciting than it reads, and the successes of each puzzle blend into the next, giving it that “just one more level” element so pervasive in other puzzle games such as Picross.

Issues did detract from my enjoyment of the game, the most egregious of which is the wrench mechanic. As stated above, the wrench allows you to remove pipes that are already part of the level, but it is also the tool used to modify your own pipe-laying mistakes. Once you lay down a pipe, you can no longer move it, only change its orientation. Once you lay down another section of pipe, you can no longer manipulate any previous section of pipe, except by using the wrench. You only have a handful of wrenches per level, and most if not all of those will be used to modify the pipes that are already part of the puzzle.

As you can imagine, when laying down a complex network pipes as the clock is ticking and the water (quite rapidly) flows ever closer, having to start over because of an errant tap of the stylus is aggravating. The issue is further compounded by all of the actions being stylus-controlled—all but the first few levels are larger than the bottom screen, so panning the camera also interferes with the gameplay (you can pan using the d-pad, but not with the face buttons, an issue for left-handed players). This is particularly blatant in the later levels, where two runs become necessary to win—the first to plan and memorize your layout, and the second to lay down your pipes absolutely perfectly, following the optimal path.

Mid-game additions such as bombs add to the strategy, but consume precious wrenches in the process. Bombs remove obstacles but wreck the orientation of extant pipes. Even if bombs are used before laying down any sections of pipe, the sections already in the default level do get affected,  more often than not, which further drains wrenches.

A second glaring flaw is in the level design itself. Many of the levels do give you leeway— maximizing the available space will still leave you with a few surplus sections of pipe. However, others simply leave you hanging, unable to close out the pipes. Luckily, Ace (one of the “Working Dawgs”) is on the top screen, dropping wrenches and pipe sections occasionally, but it’s agonizing having to wait for him to save the day. The “correct” paths are so obviously telegraphed by the level layouts that even if you lay them down as quickly as you can, you still have to wait for Ace to send you the final section in certain levels, which costs points.

By the way, I wasn’t joking about the game’s punishment for taking the direct route. Those wishing to subvert the game’s mechanics will find themselves unable to progress—each level has Bronze, Silver, and Gold awards for reaching a certain points threshold, and it is impossible to move on unless an award has been received in seven out of the eight levels in each world.

It’s hard to recommend Working Dawgs: A-Maze-ing Pipes to anyone but a tiny subset of the most ardent of pipe-laying fans—those who own only a DSi or 3DS. Shelling out 200 Nintendo Points ($2.00) for pipe-laying action you could easily get for free on your smartphone isn’t a great value proposition. Still, the game has 72 functional, engaging puzzles (80 if you count the baby ones in the first world), so if this is the only way to get your fix, joining the Working Dawgs in the mains isn’t so bad.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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