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Tumblestone / 12th of August 2016

Billed as the first genuinely new puzzle game in a decade, Tumblestone arrives amid little fanfare and yet almost buckles under the intense strain placed upon it by its creators’ previous work, well, at least by those in the know anyway. At first glance, it’s just your typical, run of the mill, match three colours puzzle game, and this, to be honest, is hardly a genre that’ll make most gamers sit up and take notice, hell, I probably wouldn’t have given it the time of day at all if I didn’t know that it was developed by The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild, but having done so, I’m rather glad that I did, because it’s surely the best, most intelligent puzzle game that I’ve played in a very long time. “Why?” you ask? Read on and find out…

Now, I will focus on the most immediate, negative aspect of the release to get it out of the way, it’s visual style. The developer’s previous work, The Bridge, was as beautiful as it was canny, inspired by the impossible drawings of M.C. Escher, it had a gorgeous hand drawn look to it, and with it, a sense of character that the comparitively bland appearance of Tumblestone can never hope to match. Of course, given the nature of the game, perhaps it simply comes down to functionality, and having the game work across a multitude of platforms, from mobile platforms to 75” 4k television screens, it’s just a pity that there’s no real discernible style to it, nor has it been optimised to make better use of the hardware powering it. Of course, it’s a puzzle game after all, so the team’s aesthetic choices aren’t exactly the be-all and end-all, but rather it’s in the gameplay department where it really counts, and unsurprisingly, it’s here that Tumblestone is an unadulterated triumph.
The basic premise of the game is an age old one; remove three blocks of the same colour sequentially, then repeat. That’s it. Yet behind this, Tumblestone manages to up the ante and inject some life into a rather stale genre by having the bulk of its conundrums as static as opposed to procedural ones. Typically, in this genre, no two games are the same, but not here, and that – despite sounding a tad backwards – is actually a masterstroke. The difficulty of the puzzles on show can be, as one might expect from its developer, rather taxing, but at no point does the game ever feel frustrating at all as each unsuccessful attempt to crack one is a learning experience. There aren’t many different ways to clear out levels after all, and understanding the knock on effect of each decision made during play is the key to overcoming any of the numerous levels that comprise the game’s rather extensive campaign mode. There are hundreds of levels to conquer, which results in an unwieldly amount of gameplay to be devoured, possibly in the region of forty to fifty hours of it too, so don’t be put off by what appears to be a lack of content, because I can assure you, that’s simply not the case.

Of course, there will likely be those out there that will simply get stuck into the multiplayer component of the game, and whilst that’s fine, it’s certainly not recommended, the campaign mode is the greatest teacher that Tumblestone has, after all. Now, this is not merely due to the many hours of practice that it offers, but the fact that it also instructs its players in how to play methodically, to identify the consequences of an action perhaps two or three moves in advance. Of course, whilst practice is undoubtedly recommended, it’s still more than possible to be bested by the most casual of players. This is thanks to a superb virtual director of sorts that scales the difficulty between each competitor’s puzzles to ensure that all matches remain thoroughly well balanced, keeping everybody on their toes and helping to ensure that online play is always enjoyable, regardless of a player’s skill level.
Multiplayer offers three different modes of play, Battle Mode and Tug of War are fairly similar, but whilst Battle sees players taking turns taking out individual groups of blocks Tug of War sees the game throwing entire sections at players to really up the intensity of the game. Puzzle Race is effectively what the name entails, a simple out and out race to complete a group of puzzles as quickly as possible, it’s fast paced and intense, making it ideal for online multiplayer sessions. Of course, Tumblestone also supports local play too, which might just make it a party favourite if you’re so inclined to give it a try, be warned though, sessions are likely to get rather competitive, so please ensure that all sharp objects remain out of reach of those taking part.

I’d normally start listing all of the areas that I feel aren’t up to snuff with the game at this point, but in reality, my only complaint about the game is that there was a hefty slice of day one DLC, including several different game modes on offer…for a price. Of course, there’s a more than reasonable amount of content in the game as it is, and beyond this, it’s incredibly fun to play, makes for a superb multiplayer experience and well, basically, it’s the smartest and most innovative puzzle game that I’ve seen in quite some time, so that basically renders my one complaint as moot. So, if you’re in the market for something to test the old grey matter, then look no further, I couldn’t possibly recommend Tumblestone highly enough.
James Paton
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