devildice1.jpg['Bastards of 32-Bit' is a weekly column by Danny Cowan that focuses on overlooked, underrated, and inexplicable titles from the era of the PlayStation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64. This week's column covers the THQ-published puzzle title Devil Dice for the Sony PlayStation, released in the U.S. in June 1998.]

Alea Jacta Est!

It takes a spark of inspiration and not a small amount of luck for a homebrew title to cross over into the mainstream. There aren't many games that have successfully done so in the past, and the stories behind attempted releases like Drymouth and Cave Story's PSP port give some indication of the peril that small-time developers face when trusting their work to publishers.

Devil Dice is one of the lucky homebrew titles that possessed both the necessary creative energy and the good fortune to avoid exploitation by an unscrupulous publisher. Initially programmed using nothing more than the Net Yaroze consumer development toolkit, Devil Dice so impressed Sony that the result was eventually a commercially-released game, followed by a number of sequels, the newest of which was recently released for the PSP. Despite two domestic releases, however, the Devil Dice series remains an obscurity in the United States.

devildice2.jpg(It means "The die is cast!")

As with the best puzzle games, Devil Dice's gameplay is simple in premise, but full of nuance. You control a little devil who runs around a playfield where dice spawn underfoot. In an attempt to stop the onslaught of dice, you can move them around by either pushing them or rolling them into other dice of the same top face number. Once you push together a set amount of dice determined by top face (two connected dice with a top face of two, six with a top face of six, etc.), the dice glow and start to sink back into the ground. It's at this point that you have the opportunity to eliminate more dice by rolling or pushing dice of the same top face into the sinking set. This is where the game's combo system comes into play, with further matches rewarded with more points.

Devil Dice contains a number of variations upon the main game, including the requisite puzzle mode -- where screens must be cleared in a certain number of moves -- and various flavors of multiplayer. Devil Dice can be played competitively with up to five people at a time, but the cooperative two-player mode is even more engrossing. Together, two players can set up chains and combos to mutual benefit, and can perform time-saving moves that aren't possible with a single player. Few puzzle games encourage cooperation rather than competition, and this mode alone provides plenty of reason for replay.

Hey, the game quoted Caesar, not me.(Julius Caesar said that.)

As fun as Devil Dice may be, its gameplay is surpassed in every way by the Japan-only sequel XI Jumbo. XI Jumbo expands upon the original's cooperative two-player mode, and also introduces the ability to jump and flip dice, adding a whole new element of strategy to the Devil Dice formula.

XI Jumbo was later followed by XI Go for the PlayStation 2, which found an American release under the title Bombastic. Bombastic features a quest mode and new exploding dice, but these innovations ultimately add little to the core gameplay. Fortunately, Bombastic includes the original Devil Dice and XI Jumbo gameplay modes as unlockable bonuses, both of which retain their great cooperative play modes.

Devil Dice may have never found its audience in the United States as it did in Japan, but Bombastic remains one of the best puzzle titles to be released on the PS2, and fans of cooperative gameplay owe it to themselves to check the series out.

[Danny Cowan is a freelance writer hailing from Austin, Texas. He has contributed feature articles to Lost Levels Online and 1up.com, and his writing appears monthly in Hardcore Gamer Magazine.]