Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Review: Tumblestone


Making headway in the puzzle gaming market is a tough business. With perennial favorites out there the likes of Tetris and Puyo Puyo (let alone when they join forces!) the question usually arises whether there’s a need or at least an opportunity for a new action puzzle game to make some headway. When I first began playing Tumblestone I really wasn’t quite sure what to expect and I initially thought it may be a little too simple. I’m delighted to tell you how wrong I was and that not only did I quickly find myself sucked in with the single-player mode but also enjoying the mutli-player mode with my entire family as well.

Tumblestone ends up having less in common with the aforementioned games than another action puzzle classic Bust-a-Move, but even then it is quite a bit different. You’ll be faced with a board full of stones of different colors and your goal is to remove them. Instead of manipulating new pieces and trying to make matches your goal is to simply choose 3 stones of the same color that aren’t blocked by any other stones. Child’s play you’ll say as you start out, and initially it is pretty simple. Oh, but how quickly things change! Between some very diabolical stone layouts and then eventually some special blocks that will change up the rules a bit for when and how you can clear specific stones you won’t simply be able to stumble your way through these levels. The problem is once you’re trapped from making a mistake you’ll either take a penalty in competitive games or need to start the puzzle over again in modes like the single-player story mode. You see, while other games place the emphasis more on action Tumblestone is really all about the puzzles first, it’s just often pushing you to figure them out more quickly than would initially seem possible if you were watching someone play it.


As you play your focus will end up needing to be on blocks of the same color within the same stack as they’re usually the ones that will lead to your demise if you don’t manage them carefully. Just to be really cruel and sneaky the design of periodic levels will force you to dig deep first rather than try to keep the stacks in parallel, which you’re naturally prone to doing when you’re not forced to do otherwise. Typically no matter how many pieces are in front of you the key will be to focus on how you’ll be able to ensure that when you get towards the bottom you won’t have one of the pieces you need for a match of 3 stuck under another one. Since the game will force you to start the puzzle over when you make a mistake the tricky part is even if you make progress on one attempt you’ll often find that you’ve forgotten what you’d done and will do even worse on a subsequent attempt. Your mind’s desire to seek out the simplest matches has to be fought off constantly on puzzles like these and it can be quite a mental exercise to figure some of these out!

When it comes to single-player content as long as you buy into this core dynamic Tumblestone has you covered for probably a few weeks once you add up all of the modes and levels available to you. You’ll open with the lengthy story mode that spans over 10 Worlds and includes a variety of challenges including boss battles. Aside from the main substantial and challenging Story mode there are also some Arcade modes to help you change things up a little with different styles and speeds to spice things up, as well as a tally of Quests you can try to complete if you like challenging yourself to meet specific objectives as well. I would imagine that all told there’s probably more than 30 hours of single-player content included here easily, and with additional silly characters (though I’m very partial to Sausage King already, props for the Bueller reference!) that can be unlocked for Multiplayer matches tied to the completion of most Worlds you have a great excuse to keep tackling more and more difficult scenarios.


On top of the significant amount of single-player content the game absolutely shines in multi-player. With its simple to pick up but hard to master nature I found that there was a real see-saw to matches and individual rounds within each match between my family and I. Someone would get a pretty substantial lead going but then it would only take making a few rushed mistakes and people were able to overtake them. You’re constantly fighting a battle of wanting to keep up without making foolish mistakes and making your situation even worse. There are a few variants here that switch up the specific way the matches play out but I found all of them to be challenging and enjoyable for everyone. If you’re a person or two (or even three, you’re able to play only against bots too!) short it’s nice that you fill in with CPU bots as well, so if you’re looking for a chance to train a bit against an opponent and you have none around the computer can fill in to turn on a little of that pressure to prepare you for your friends and family.

All said Tumblestone is a very strong contender in the action puzzler space and sets itself apart by not trying to imitate what is successful and instead finds its own way, and it does so quite successfully. The emphasis moreso on puzzle solving is an engaging twist but that’s not to say that the game slows down or is meditative. In mutli-player mode I can assure you it is quite the opposite as the sounds of everyone in my family very rapidly pressing buttons to set up matches was very audible and other than that people generally made no sounds as they were that intensely concentrating on trying to win. As I said the need for precision and seeing patterns so that you don’t trap yourself are both absolutely vital and it makes for compelling gaming sessions. If you really love great puzzle titles Tumblestone is a title you won’t want to miss!


Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • A more puzzle-focused action puzzle game than you’re used to
  • An absolutely massive amount of single-player content
  • Intense and often very competitive multi-player


Cons:
  • Online multi-player was cut for the Switch version in the interest of getting it to market quicker
  • If you prefer your puzzles slower and more relaxing in general Tumblestone isn’t that
  • Not everyone buy into the fundamental game style


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