I will be the first to admit that I flat out don’t like puzzle games. Though some have an interesting premise or engrossing storyline to back up the central idea, most tend to just be swapping panels or shooting colorful blobs for the sake of doing so. I grew up in a time where PopCap Games came into their own and everyone and their brother played Bejeweled, Peggle and every other mindless enjoyment that you could name. It robbed me of time and dignity when I understood that hours had passed because I let colorful gems do so. Knowing that, please use a grain of salt and an ear of focus when I say that Levels+ is an absolute blast to play.
From the start, the full title of Levels+: Addictive Puzzle Game already should put up your shields and prepare you for the worse. Anyone who puts addictive in their game’s name is either looking to be challenged or has no idea how to handle proper advertisement for their wares. Shumpei Hayashi, the solo developer, is neither of these things and genuinely wants to give you a heads up about his game. The concept is painstakingly simple, and I think that’s what makes it work. Too often, you see puzzle games that really seek to individualize themselves through insane ideology (Portal), which results in others trying to copy off-the-wall concepts and gimmicks in order to attain the same level of popularity, with disastrous results. Kudos, then, to Levels+ to keeping it real and essentially simple.
There are three piece types to think about in Levels+, which are Gold, Heroes and Enemies. Each item starts off at a value of one, and you move a same colored one to one to make two (arithmetic, it’s everywhere!). Gold are the only things that add to your score, and the value of the gold goes up dramatically with each numeric increase (so getting one “two” tile is worth significantly more than two “one” pieces). Heroes, who are blue, are essential to collecting gold (yellow) and defeating enemies (red). Combining heroes makes for a bigger hero, and bigger heroes eventually attract bigger enemies(you don’t swap around the red pieces, the AI gradually inflates for you). Number “three” heroes can collect number “two” gold and defeat number “two” enemies, so getting a massive blue piece is good for progression, but don’t corner yourself: big heroes can’t fuse with lowly “one” heroes and you don’t want to box yourself in.
There are a number of achievements peppered throughout the game, all in the form of collecting, creating and combining larger and larger pieces. There is no final boss or ultimate end game other than things get bigger and you need to deal with them. I put a good five or six hours into this game with no sign of an end in sight and, honestly, I couldn’t care less. Levels+ makes a point to emphasize that there isn’t a time limit, so it’s not like you’re racing against the clock to save the princess or balance the budget or whatever asinine concept you could create for tile swapping. No, you are just a blue puzzle, in a red puzzle world, trying to get some yellow and make sense of things. This ain’t Heavy Rain, take your overly dramatic and damaging cut scenes and go find somewhere else to cry.
But you will be driven to play. You see, Levels+ fails to mention that it has an awesome chiptune soundtrack that gradually grows in vibe and atmosphere the higher and higher you unlock the numbers of the tiles you encounter. When you first get a level five hero onto the board, you realize that this is a totally different world than where you started just a few(?) minutes ago. It’s catchy and repetitive in an earworm fashion, and drags you kicking and screaming into the game’s labyrinth. The best equivocation I can make is trying to go for a top ten score on the Centipede machine at the pizza parlor and making it, only to find that you put four dollars in quarters into the cabinet and now you aren’t eating lunch. Do you care? A little, but, dammit, you’re on the board!
One of the core principles that you’ve heard time and again about Nintendo titles is the focus on fun. From the late Satoru Iwata to the still living and possibly immortal Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo has made it a spear point to insist that a game be fun before anything else. And that’s where I am with Levels+. The graphics are super simple and the gameplay is as basic as it comes. There isn’t a shocking twist, stunning reveal or anything more surprising than to realize you can swap beyond a number seven if you’re so determined. But I got pulled under by a simple dream that was polished to a sheen and then set to my aural Kryptonite, chiptune music. I will finish this review and then probably play more to help unwind and sail peacefully into the rest of my day or evening. There’s no time crunch, no open world, just endless Levels to conquer, and I’m up for the challenge.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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