The Nintendo Switch has seen a healthy number of puzzle games hit the device this year, highlights including the epic crossover mash-up Puyo Puyo Tetris, the insanely addictive Picross S and the delightfully cute but silly Snipperclips. And while it’s often exciting to see the likes of racers, adventurers and RPGs making the transition over to the small device, the Switch has proven a particularly ideal platform for the puzzling genre, perfect for brief bursts on the go as well as tackling your friends on the big screen.
Tumblestone is a match-three puzzle game that not unlike games like Candy Crush, Bejeweled or even the Sparkle series features brightly coloured shapes that need to be removed from a playing field. That’s where the similarities end however, Tumblestone requiring a different approach to reach your goal. While, yes, you are making colour matches like these other examples, the key mechanic here is very different.
Each grid is made up of five columns that each contain a number of differently-coloured blocks. Controlling your character along the bottom you’ll need to shoot three of a matching colour in order to make them disappear. The catch is you can only shoot whatever is at the bottom of each column. It may sound simple, and at least in the early goings it is, but things soon begin to spike in difficulty. Suddenly you’ll find yourself backed into a corner with no available moves left to make, forcing you to restart – stuck at two blues and no way to shoot a third one in order to make the match, for example. Each puzzle has a route you’ll need to follow in order to clear it; meaning forward planning and some trial and error are key here. While it may be tempting to shoot the first set of three you see, often times it’s best to take your time and really think about each move.
The main hook in Tumblestone is easy to grasp making it a great puzzler for newcomers while also offering enough depth for challenge-seekers. Unlike games such as Snipperclips or Puyo Puyo Tetris however, I never found solving puzzles to be as satisfying. Figuring out the best shape to snip yourself into or nailing a long combo in Puyo Puyo feel very rewarding, whilst Tumblestone lacks that “Eureka!” sensation. That’s not to say shooting blocks in the correct order doesn’t have its merits, just that it never reaches that same level of other puzzlers.
The story mode in Tumblestone sees you tackling a series of increasingly tougher puzzles world by world. The further you progress, the more mechanics will get thrown into the mix – for example, a row of grey blocks that will only disappear when every block below them has or individual grey blocks that pop in and out of play every time you fire. As you can imagine these new ideas only serve to make your life more difficult creating some truly devilish puzzles.
And, speaking of difficulty, Tumblestone can sometimes be unforgiving. On more than one occasion I’d find myself stuck on a single puzzle, racking my brains over its solution. Fortunately you can earn ‘skips’ to boycott troublesome stages, however, these aren’t very frequent meaning if you get stuck without one handy then you’ll have to persevere until you get it right. Sometimes I would find myself losing interest in repeating the same puzzle over and over and despite my best efforts, feel like I was no closer to its solution. When you nail a stage you feel great, but continue to fail and the fun wanes.
Outside of the story, you’ll also find the usual assortment of single player extras in the arcade mode. Slowly dropping rows of blocks where the aim is to survive as long as you can or trying to clear as many grids as possible prove neat distractions that may not have the lasting appeal but add more variety to this already bulky package.
While the single-player content in Tumblestone will likely keep you busy for quite some time, its multiplayer offerings prove just as fruitful. Playable for up to four people, matches can be tweaked and tailored to whatever specifics you want. Three game modes are available each with their own twist. Puzzle Race will throw everyone the same puzzle with the winner being the first to clear his or her grid. Battle meanwhile sees you lobbing lines to opponents for successfully clearing a certain number of your own. Last person standing wins. Finally, Tug of War splits rows into groups of four where completion will send four over to a random competitor. They’re all good fun and thanks to the customizable options you’re bound to find something you’ll want to keep coming back to. Surprisingly, despite the previous Wii U version of the game including online features, in the Switch edition, they are missing in action. A strange and disappointing absence.
Tumblestone is a solid puzzler, packed with content whether you’re playing alone or with a group. While the core concept may not be the best in class, there’s certainly enough fun to be had here and a cool game to come back to every now and again to tackle a couple more puzzles.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild