This week’s foray into brain-bending puzzlers comes from Blockado Mountain, the third instalment in the Blockado sliding-block puzzle franchise, which also includes Jungle and a variety of other locations. I went into this game not really looking much into the other two titles in the series, although after grappling with Mountain for a week, I could quite happily go back and devour the entire Blockado set. Rarely does my brain get such a work out as it has in this case.
Block-sliding puzzles have a somewhat humble beginning. It’s amazing how far we have come from the simple penny arcade prizes; you know, the ones that have about eight little tiles you have to mix around to get a picture of a cat in an apron, to an entire sub-genre of mobile gaming. Blockado Mountain, developed by Bitfield GmbH (nope, not a clue either), is styled as a treasure hunting game. So instead of just slide blocks from one part of the puzzle to an exit, the block you are trying to free takes the form of a treasure chest, which is surrounded by a number of other blocks, in different shapes and styles that need to be manoeuvred to complete the level. You are awarded a rating out of three stars for your swiftness in solving each puzzle.
With four different “Adventure” levels, plus 20 “Bonus Puzzles” and the ability to scan new puzzles into the game via the iPhone camera and those clever little QR codes, the game certainly has a fair amount of content to it. And for a reasonable price as well. In fact as soon as this review is written I intend to go and purchase the previous two titles in the series, unless the lovely people at Bitfield GmbH would like to provide their new biggest fan with a couple of sample codes, nudge nudge, wink wink. Each “Adventure” has ten levels, but half way through the course you get a fork in the road that leads to your treasure. It is up to you to choose a couple of easier puzzles to solve, or take the more difficult task of solving two hard puzzles, before solving the final trials and earning your reward.
Having gone back and looked up some info on the previous games, it does appear that I’ve been given the hardest of the three titles to start off with. This is actually fine by me, as I loved how challenging the game was, and it has taken me nearly a full week to complete the four Adventures, plus a handful of the bonus puzzles available to me. Like with the Professor Layton series though, if you get truly stuck on a puzzle, there is a cheat’s way out. Well, it isn’t so much “cheating” as “improvised winning” I guess. Unlike Layton’s hint coins, here the puzzle will solve itself one move at a time, allowing you to swoop in and continue solving it when the puzzle has gotten you through the tricky part you were stuck on, or maybe you just needed the first few moves to be done to get the ball rolling. You will only get one star for the level, but you can go back afterwards and challenge yourself to remember how it is done, or find alternative ways of doing them. Every function of this game makes it so engaging, that asking the game to help you out every so often feels more like being taught a new skills or new thought process, rather than being some game-ruining problem.
The tutorial mode was fantastic for easing me into the game, without ever feeling like it was unwanted or condescending. You are introduced to the various different styles of blocks. You’ve got your garden-variety concrete blocks, which only slide on the horizontal or vertical axis, depending on their orientation. Ice blocks make their nineteen-trillionth addition into a game, this time sliding in the direction you push them in until they hit something solid. Fixed and moveable spring blocks add a great element of strategy into gameplay, as you can hold back other blocks or propel forward treasure chests using well-timed, and well thought-out, combinations of groups of blocks. There is a bendy snake block, which also comes into play a lot in conjunction with the spring blocks. Use a snake block to prop open a spring block, line up a couple of snake blocks to move a treasure chest, release the spring, the snakes push the treasure chest through an available gap, puzzle solved! Not to mention magnet blocks, coloured switches, and all manner of other cool features for you to try and wrap your brain around, which I shan’t spoil for you.
The top-down 2D viewpoint of other puzzlers is swiftly abandoned in the Blockado games, for a 3D rotating isometric kind of viewpoint. Now here lieth my only true gripe with the game: the “control-it-yourself-camera”. Each puzzle begins with a front facing, perfectly aligned game screen, usually viewing the puzzle at a slightly more acute vertical angle, which you can then rotate and tilt to your own desire. If that sentence wasn’t enough of a geometrical mess of words, it’s still going to be easier to understand than the damn camera is to control. I’m not some sort of ham-fisted demi-human, so why is it Blockado’s camera function makes me feel like I’m trying to tweak the nipples of a hungry lion while wearing chain-mail gloves? The slightest movement, at times, will send the game board spinning and tilting wildly out of control, while at other times it seems to remain steadfast in its refusal to move more than one tenth of a degree at any time. And you always get it nearly in place, when suddenly the game throws a wobbler and decides to rotate it to some obtuse angle. In the end, it is often easier to simply stick to the original viewpoint. However, if you want a better view, you’re gonna have to bloody well work for it.
So replace the all-seeing eye of puzzle placement with a more accurate on-screen d-pad of sorts, and you’ve got what is probably a perfect game. I cannot praise the developers enough for a game that is well polished, executed and presented. I’ve barely discussed the subtle-but-still-significant-in-the-background music and sounds that echo during your play, or the harder puzzles that made me doodle them onto scraps of paper that I could solve on my coffee break when my phone was out of action, and not forgetting the cool descriptions of your awarded treasures that provide a little bit of back-story and structure, without getting bogged down by trying to create any sort of plot that doesn’t need to exist. I can only hope Blockado Mountain, and indeed the other titles in the series, make their way into your hands. With a new set of levels on the horizon, in the form of the Deep Sea expansion pack with 60 more levels, there is no better way of improving your brainpower than by tackling this game. Except maybe if you tried watching Countdown while simultaneously playing Brain Training on two different Nintendo DS consoles, and being drip-fed a years supply of Omega-3 fish oils.
MLG Rating: 9/10
Platform: iOS Release Date: 22/08/2011
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Blockado Mountain for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on an iPhone. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.