Sometimes the best portable games are the ones you can pick up and instantly know how to play. There's a place for complexity and learning curves, but sometimes all you need is a simple game you can play in short bursts. Just look at some of the best known puzzle games, there's no denying that games like Tetris and Puyo Puyo have become so popular because they are so easy to learn. Slider is not one of the best portable games, but this 1991 puzzler does offer enough levels and challenge to warrant a look.
There's a story to Slider, but when it comes right down to it there's no point in even bringing it up. This isn't a game about complex stories and emotional character arcs, this is a game where you pain all of the tiles pink and then move on to the next level. You play this hairy yellow guy that kind of looks like a pineapple; it's your job to go through the level painting all of the tiles. Unfortunately it's not as easy as just walking around and using your pink paint, because you are constantly having to avoid various enemies (dog-like characters, Pinocchio heads, KKK hoods, etc.) in you want to complete the level.
The game gives you a short amount of time and only a few lives, so the pressure is on to paint all of the tiles and move on to the next stage. As you play through the level you will find all sorts of different items, including power-ups for you (upgrading your weapon, speeding you up, etc.) to icons that blow up parts of the level to idols you can collect. At first you won't think much of these various power-ups, but as you get further into the game's 99 levels you will find it necessary to pay attention to what you're picking up and know what works in every situation.
Although going around and painting tiles may sound like it can get old quickly, the developers have done a good job of throwing a few twists your way. For example, in some levels you'll have to find different ways to transport from tile to tile. In another stage you will actually be creating new tiles as you paint. The game does run out of ideas towards the end, but they do a lot more with the gameplay than you would initially think.
The game's graphics and sound are fine, but certainly nothing to talk about. The game does do a good job of using color to affect gameplay and all of the characters (enemies, our hero, etc.) are large and well detailed. What is impressive is the game's speed. While a lot of puzzle games feel slow and plodding, Slider really zips along. Sometimes I wish you could make him go just a touch faster, but he's definitely one of the speedier characters in a puzzle game.
Slider may not be a classic in the same sense of Tetris of Puyo Puyo, but it does a good job for what it's trying to accomplish. At its heart it's nothing more than a cross between Gauntlet and City Connection, but that weird mash-up actually works out. It's strange that we don't see more games aping Slider's gameplay, the concept of painting a world is an appealing one. The closest we've gotten recent was Geon for the Xbox Live Arcade and the Wii's crazy puzzle, de Blob. Slider isn't as good as either of those two games, but if you have a Game Gear and you're looking for a fun puzzle game, then you can do a lot worse than Slider.