By Josh Speer / March 4th, 2015
|Developer||From Nothing Game Studios, LLC|
|Publisher||From Nothing Game Studios, LLC|
|Release Date||February 26, 2015|
|Genre||Puzzle, Match-3, Strategy|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone – Mild Language|
There’s something you should know about me. Much as I love platformers, RPGs and the occasional Kart racer, the game genre I always find myself coming back to is the puzzle genre. I grew up playing simple, yet addictive games like Tetris, whose sole purpose is to keep challenging the player to improve themselves. So, when I got the opportunity to try out GravBlocks+, I jumped at the chance eagerly. After all, from a cursory glance, this Wii U-exclusive made by From Nothing Game Studios LLC was a bit like Tetris Attack on drugs, which is something I say with the utmost respect. After all, much as I love puzzle games, they have been a bit derivative of late. So, the question is raised, is GravBlocks+ its own game, or just an unremarkable clone?
The opening of the game’s Story Mode sounds like the setup for an elaborate joke. A guy wakes up on an alien spaceship, strapped to a metal table. No, it’s not time for rectal probes, as the little gray man beside you comments, since they’ve learned all they can from such technology. Instead, you’ve been kidnapped to test your pathetic, fleshy human brain in none other than a puzzle-solving regimen! Yes, it sounds twisted and bizarre (the digital manual itself even refers to your captor as the Alien Jerk), and that’s one of the first things I loved about the game. You don’t usually find a sense of humor in the puzzle genre, and the “abducted by aliens” motif works strangely well. Because why wouldn’t aliens test our brain power with puzzles inspired by the classics? Most specifically, the gameplay borrows certain elements from games like Tetris Attack, where you are limited to swapping two panels simultaneously to match three. Luckily, GravBlocks+ adds a lot to this formula to make it feel fresh.
Most notably, it adds Gravity Blocks. These are transparent blocks with an arrow pointing in one of the four cardinal directions. While you can match three random Gravity Blocks, doing so will not guarantee a shift in gravity. Yes, you heard right. You can — and constantly will — flip gravity to earn point multipliers. So, get ready to get dizzy because you’ll constantly have your orientation shifted in a topsy-turvy fashion. The tricky part comes when you realize there will only ever be a handful of Gravity Blocks on screen, so it will be a challenge to successfully match three Gravity Blocks facing the same direction. However, doing so will guarantee that gravity shifts in the direction you want. You might be asking yourself if there is any harm in shifting gravity, and the answer is a resounding yes! Notably, there are stage hazards in the form of electrical grids found on the screen perimeter. If any blocks fall into a hazard, they are destroyed, which docks you points, and, additionally, you will lose any multipliers you have achieved. So, it’s a constant battle of trying to get more points while not accidentally shifting a block into a hazard.
Other tools at your disposal are Wild Blocks, which briefly turn off all hazards, and Bomb Blocks, which destroy all blocks of the same type when used. GravBlocks+ uses a simple, yet effective formula to keep you coming back for more. The only thing that results in death is if any column reaches the top of the screen, though it does warn you by highlighting the screen red a couple seconds before Game Over is imminent. To further aid you, matching Gravity Blocks will briefly halt new blocks falling, as will matching five of the same type of block. Like I said, simple, but really effective.
First off, there is the main Story Mode, which is comprised of around 90 different levels that require you to solve various objectives, such as matching four or more of a particular block or changing gravity a certain number of times without hitting a hazard. There is also the standard Puzzle and Challenge, as well as Destruction and Zen Modes. These modes can be unlocked simply by playing through each of the other modes to a sufficient degree, and they all offer a welcome change in pace. Puzzle Mode arms you with elaborate puzzles that have to be cleared using only one move, and gets progressively more complex. Challenge Mode is a lot like an endless mode where you play until the screen fills up. Destruction is a very interesting mode where the goal is to destroy all blocks on screen as fast as possible, and it actually encourages using the hazards to do so. Finally, Zen is a calm and relaxed mode that doesn’t get progressively more difficult, allowing players to zone out as they play.
As far as visual and audio direction, GravBlocks+ is a bit of a mixed bag. While nothing looks bad or choppy, the visuals are hardly breathtaking. I find they work fine for what the game demands, though. Blocks are decorated by simple geometric colors, such as Blue Xs or Green Triangles. I do find it entertaining that the background mostly consists of the Alien Jerk dancing about randomly. The audio is by far the stronger part of the package. The game has one song, but it constantly gets more complex and ramps up and down in intensity depending on your progress. It was the perfect background music to such a game, especially coupled with the techno-styled sound effects.
Overall, I was really pleased and surprised by GravBlocks+. It helped scratch that puzzle game itch in a serious way, keeping me entertained and challenged the entire time I played. Even better, it went the extra mile and offered Off-TV play and an extensive digital manual, which most indie games don’t bother with. Though both it and From Nothing Game Studios are relative newcomers to me, I’ll be watching for further projects they put out. I put in about three hours to try out every mode in the game, and I still have lots more to do in Story Mode. I venture I’ll be coming back to GravBlocks+ again and again in the months to come. It’s a lot of fun, and a bargain for $4.99. If you own a Wii U, you owe it to yourself to try this one out.
Review Copy Provided By Developer
Editor’s Note: Some of the pictures are from an earlier build of the game.
From Nothing Game StudiosGravBlocks+puzzleWii U