Tumblestone‘s elevator pitch is a bold one, with developer The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild positioning it as “the first original action-puzzle game of the past fifteen years.” That marketing spiel doesn’t end there either, with an added promise that it will turn “the match-three genre into a deep and cerebral puzzle-solving experience that you won’t forget.”
Those are tall and partly head-scratching claims, and whether they hold any truth or not it doesn’t detract from the fact that the four-strong development team has produced a comprehensive puzzle package.
The mobile market has proven to be a boon of success for the genre, most notably seen in PopCap’s Bejeweled Blitz and King’s Candy Crush Saga. Propped up against those, Tumblestone massively differs and in simplest terms plays more like a reverse, cubic Puzzle Bobble. There’s no Bub and Bob, with the puzzler instead recruiting miniature kings and queens to do battle. Oh, and a sausage.
With your character patiently stood at the base of the puzzle grid, the player can yank away one tumblestone at a time. These must be matched in sets of three to remove them entirely, and, while it sounds easy, it becomes increasingly tricky as your progress. The tumblestones are layered in such a way that one wrong move will require players to start over – a punishing approach, but one that will lead to many eureka moments.
Addiction soon creeps in, quickly solving one puzzle swiftly seeing players move on to the next. That continues until you reach the next mind-boggling puzzle that challenges you to think in a new way, Tumblestone therefore riding a rickety rollercoaster in regards to difficulty. It dips when something new is introduced, slowly ramping up over time before the next curveball is hurled at you. That’s more prominent in the main Story mode, which will see players trek across 12 worlds in a campaign that promises to sap more than 40 hours.
Some levels have multiple puzzles, others are timed in that the tumblestones will move toward the base of the puzzle area, but most are content to let you sit, stare, and work out how you can clear everything in view.
You earn skip tokens on your journey which can be spent to dodge any levels that confound you. One immediate gripe that I had, was that you can’t cancel the tumblestones that you have selected. That meant that I had to restart levels on multiple occasions, simply because I mistakenly chose the wrong colour with my first selection. It’s certainly an odd omission.
Boss levels can see you racing to complete puzzles faster than your computer-controlled opponent, with progression rewarding you with modifiers to use in the Multiplayer mode. Tumblestone surprises here in that multiplayer matches support up to four players locally as well as online over Nintendo Network. Modes include Battle, Tug of War, and Puzzle Race, that can each be tweaked with unlocked modifiers. Not many Nintendo eShop games make the effort to support online let alone matchmaking, so it’s great to see here.
You have chance to sink more time into Arcade, with Marathon mode challenging players to keep lifting a glass ceiling by clearing tumblestones. The fast-paced Heartbeat mode provides little time to successfully remove the number of tumblestone blocks specified, while Infinipuzzle mode lets you apply modifiers and sees puzzles appear in an unending loop.
Players will rank up in any mode that they choose, earning medals and contributing to their overall stats which are meticulously tracked. These can be viewed in online leaderboards, seeing how your efforts compare to friends and other players worldwide. Quests objectify your time, completion rewarding you with experience to boost your rank.
Tumblestone is bursting with colour and character, even if the game’s presentation is doesn’t particularly astound. That sentiment carries across to the soundtrack, which is jovial in nature but never lingers in the memory for long.
Whether Tumblestone is destined to become another puzzle classic is unclear, but it deploys a solid concept and packs plenty of content behind it. The tall asking price risks turning people away, but those that choose to buy will discover a game that they can happily sink hours into.
Version Tested: Wii U
Review copy provided by The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild