There are times when I have to stop and wonder about how games come into fruition in the minds of creators and developers. For some, I imagine, it’s the culmination of a lifelong dream that they had as a child and can finally bring it to life through code, art and perseverance. For others, it was a lightning strike of inspiration that came when a niche appeared that needed filling, or a joke suddenly seemed to make perfect sense with full realization. For Puzzle Adventure Blockle, I can only assume it was a fever dream of cats, girls and the room constantly spinning, and the whole thing became fuel to put one of the stranger titles onto the Switch that I’ve seen so far.
Puzzle Adventure Blockle is a fairly straightforward puzzle platformer brought to us by INTENSE Co. Ltd., a label with a long history of putting titles out onto every Nintendo platform that allows digital downloads. You find yourself in the paws of Kulu, a rotund kitty in a realm of kitties. For reasons that can only be described as “pure insanity,” the Mayor of the kitty kingdom wants total world domination. Kulu, despite being openly apprehensive to this ideology, agrees to help by seeking out the eight World Stones that have been strewn across the lands. In order to aid Kulu, the Mayor has summoned Arika, a goddess(?) with amnesia, a goofy nature and a predisposition to wear a surprisingly little amount of clothing. Together, Kulu and Akira set out to find the world stones, along the way learning a bit about Arika’s true nature, why the Mayor is pants-on-head crazy, and if there can be uncomfortable, suggestive dialogue between a buxom humanoid and a cat ball (spoiler: there can, and there is).
The main mechanic of Puzzle Adventure Blockle is being able to spin the stage around you in order to reach every nook and cranny of the level. Kulu can’t jump or fall, so it’s up to you to manipulate the landscape in order for him to reach the door to the next level. Along the way, various other mechanics are introduced, like blocks that can either help or squish you, as well as teleporters that can suck you up and spit you back into different places. To its credit, Puzzle Adventure Blockle is pretty liberal with using new and different techniques for each world, without adding too much craziness or sudden changes. World three, for instance, uses ice floors (because it’s a frozen world) and Kulu will slide aimlessly if he starts walking in a certain direction. Large ice blocks, both mobile and immobile, help prevent this from getting too wildly out of control.
One thing I did enjoy about the game were the graphics and general feeling of the game. It’s a true, light, anime-esque puzzle game that stays quirky and fun throughout. Kulu is a cute little sprite, and you can watch him jaunt and squish about the boards without really getting sick of seeing him. The different worlds are equally fun, even the darker World 7 that’s supposed to be spooky (but really comes across as campy). There’s nothing that’s going to suddenly drift into questionable territory with the exception of the heavy amounts of flirting that inexplicably happen between Arika and Kulu. I know it’s a trope in anime for a female character to wear a metal bra as a shirt and talk about cuddling a little too often, but it felt significantly WEIRD inbetween the levels when Akira, slowly realizing she might be a human and not a goddess, desides now’s the time to really come onto the catloaf. It’s funny at times, but it just feels out of place in a puzzle game. Maybe I don’t play enough puzzle games?
Something to keep in mind is that the puzzles themselves swing wildly in difficulty, at least in my opinion. The first world flew by in fewer than 15 minutes and, upon first inspection, it appears every single world will go just as fast. Each world in Puzzle Adventure Blockle has only ten stages, and each stage has three “achievements” to get perfection for said stage. More than a few times, the achievement just seem to happen as a result of finishing the stage: anything that was a time achievement, for instance, seemed to be an incredibly generous amount in order to meet your goal. And, if a stage had an achievement for “zero steps,” then you knew right away that you can, theoretically, do this level without walking, so just get spinning.
But then there are stages that are so painfully simple, but just totally stumped me for the longest time. The strongest culprit was 2-6, where the answer was RIGHT THERE, but I spent a mind-blowing thirty minutes starting, stopping, screaming, and starting again, getting nowhere fast. When I finally figured out what needed to be done, I was grateful I was alone, because I would have been mortified had anyone seen me struggle that long on something so simple. And then, knowing what solved 2-6, the next four stages disappeared in the blink of an eye. I suppose that’s actually the hallmark of a well designed world, in which figuring out one key unlocks everything, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be mad at it. Good job, INTENSE Co., you made a grown man feel foolish.
There are a couple of shortcomings and weird decisions in Puzzle Adventure Blockle, however. For one, the life system. Kulu has five lives when he starts each stage, and he can definitely be killed by falling rocks and other hazards. And there is a button that lets you go back one move, so, if something is going to murder you, why not rewind time so it doesn’t happen again? Rewinding time doesn’t give you back your life, but doing a complete reset of the stage does, and that’s my curiosity. There wasn’t a single stage that I found myself deeply embroiled in to the point where I needed to push on in spite of losing a life, so I could easily just reset if I died and then get a perfect sweep upon completion. I guess the lives make sense with slowly ferreting out a solution, but, with the exception of the bastard stage in World two, you won’t really encounter such issue.
Another is the soundtrack. With puzzle games, the name of the game is ambiance to allow for concentration while still adding to the atmosphere of the game. Puzzle Adventure Blocke has different music for each world, but every one sounds like I’m stuck in a different part of a kid’s amusement park that I don’t want to be at. It’s not quite calliope, but it’s still repetitive and simple enough that I found myself muting the music consciously so I could better appreciate the game without getting supremely distracted and upset at my ears punishing the rest of my brain. It’s definitely not the worst music I’ve ever heard, but it’s far from what I want to focus on during my time of spinning a cat around wildly.
All in all, this is a bizarre but welcome entry to the Switch library. I appreciate the smaller titles that make their way onto Nintendo consoles, and Puzzle Adventure Blockle is enjoyable, satisfying and, at times, unintentionally hilarious with the odd relationship between our characters. The dialogue is good, the premise is solid, and, yea, there are things I don’t like, but the sound can be muted and I don’t have to benefit from the life system. You can probably rip through the whole game in under six hours if you don’t care about perfection, and there are certainly worse things to enjoy on the train or inside on a rainy Thursday. Puzzle fans can look forward to a fun experience, and anime can have long discussions if love can bloom anywhere, even in a puzzle field. It might not be for you, sure, but INTENSE Co. knows that it’s for someone, and that’s for whom they’ve made Puzzle Adventure Blockle.
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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