A long, long time ago, when video games were the scrappy newbie on the block, graphics were so basic that any attempt at realism still resulted in something fairly abstract. An already-blocky level could easily feature floating platforms, without feeling obligated to explain how they could be floating. Even when games first set foot into a 3D space, environments remained simple and boxy by necessity. When they eventually evolved to have convincingly organic geometry, the strict symmetry went away – and with it, a lot of the “exactness” of early video games faded. Also, as a result, the line between the abstract and the realistic became increasingly palpable.
Just before Tomb Raider Legend, Lara still shimmied along somewhat boxy edges until there was room, and nobody raised an eyebrow at her box-pushing activities. Legend, however, had taken that irreversible step into smooth and dynamic environments. In this new place, encountering perfectly square blocks to shove around felt a little weird – even more so as you dragged them up onto a seesaw structure to launch them to a different part of the room for some switch-triggering action.
Realism basically stripped these games of the symmetrical puzzle. The Tomb Raider reboot features puzzles made up of almost entirely contextual components. If it wasn’t for scripting clicking in place and governing the situation, the solution may even appear organic in itself – ostensibly far from designed to be assembled a certain way.
The point is (there is one!), I miss pushing blocks into place. Well, I’m in luck, because rarely has the world witnessed a game that is so devoted to that particular objective as when it laid eyes on Intelligent Systems’ Fallblox, a game exclusively about pulling and pushing blocks around as a little sumo wrestler. I’m pretty sure you’re a little sumo wrestler.
In Fallblox, your objective is to collect birds that have escaped for reasons explained at greater length than they need to be. Spread throughout multple worlds (or “parks”), the birds have perched themselves atop collections of shapes made up of blocks. You push and pull these around to make them fall into a configuration that lets you climb up and collect the bird. Simple! Well, the core mechanics are definitely simple, but the puzzles become delightfully devious, sometimes having you stumped for several minutes, swearing there’s no way to proceed.
As you go along, the game introduces a few minor additions to gameplay. There are blocks with arrows on them that, once triggered, move in the direction of the arrow. There are also colour-coded manholes and doors that have you going into one and coming out of another. Blocks with little pictures of clouds on them stay afloat even as whatever is under them is pulled away. These variables certainly seem minor when looked at in isolation, but they are usually the key to entire puzzles – not always in the most obvious way, however.
Aside from a somewhat long-winded tutorial guy with a beard who takes his sweet time making sure you understand all the mostly self-explanatory intricacies of the game, Fallblox gets down to pushing and pulling blocks pretty much immediately and doesn’t diverge from that. You solve a puzzle, wham, next puzzle appears, bam, and you’re in it, and GO! This means you have little time to find a reason not to play the next puzzle, making Fallblox into the perfect type of addictive, quick-go portable title.
But probably my favourite thing about the game is its tendency to have an equal measure of “prodding and experimenting” and sitting back and pondering a problem. Often a puzzle is a mix of the two, which gives the game a really nice flow. You’ll survey the area, start pushing things around a little to see what happens, and as you observe where blocks are falling, and the distances and configuration you’ll likely need to adhere to, a plan forms. Rarely does it feel like there’s nothing you can do to impact your understanding of the puzzle at hand, and I appreciate that a lot.
Rounding out the package, an editor allows you to create your own puzzles and generate a QR code to share them with friends – or enemies, I guess, if you can somehow lure them into your Fallblox trap. It’s incredibly easy to use, and you can jump in and out of a puzzle to try it out immediately. The hard part is obviously creating something half-way clever, which is where I gave up.
But I urge you to do the opposite in regards to this game and very much give it a shot. If it takes a misstep anywhere it’s definitely towards the end, where truly smart puzzles are inter-cut with some that just aim to overwhelm you. You also get some that are too busy being “fun shapes” to be fun to solve, but they make up a tiny fraction of the game’s otherwise impeccable output. It’s fun, challenging, and yours for a song – the perfect antidote to the puzzle-lessness blues that most modern games invoke. Even though it’s unassumingly tucked away in the 3DS‘ eShop, Fallblox is frankly a great little game.