The 3DS eShop has amassed quite the catalogue of affordable downloadable releases, but while a healthy number of the games available are of high quality, there are also many duds that deserve to be ignored completely. Fortunately, Hazumi is not one of those lesser-desired games. If you’re on the market for a challenging action-puzzler with fresh ideas and tight execution, you’re going to want to keep reading. While there are a few minor concerns to address that might discourage some potential buyers from going all in, the fact remains that Hazumi is a game that’s worthy of a space on your 3DS home screen.

Simply labelling this a "block breaker” wouldn’t provide an accurate enough description of the action found here. While the agenda does consist of bouncing a ball around to eliminate every crystal block on the screen, there’s no on-screen paddle or directional utensil involved as there is in a traditional block breaker. Instead, Hazumi presents enclosed stages full of hazards, pathways and other obstacles, and it’s up to you to navigate the ball through these environments to pop the blocks and avoiding meeting your demise. Constantly moving up and down on its own, the ball can be steered left and right with the Circle Pad and reflected off walls toward the target you desire. It's definitely a concept that takes some getting used to, but it’s unique and works pretty well.

Completing a stage isn’t just about quick movements and snappy reactions, it’s also quite cerebral. Getting to the blocks that need breaking is one thing, but figuring out the sequence that allows you to do so quickly while keeping up a perfect rating is perhaps the greatest challenge of all. Sometimes you’ll need to locate a trigger that clears a path by blowing up a wall of bricks, and other times there’s a sequence of teleports to navigate just to get to where you need to be; did we mention that the colour of the ball needs to match the crystal blocks that you’re looking to break? In some cases you need to have the ball collide with specific colour-changing blocks before you can do any damage. There are many mechanics to be aware of, which helps to keep the gameplay interesting on a consistent basis.

One aspect to be aware of is that this is a very difficult game. Quite frankly, manipulating a ball that’s always in motion with a high degree of precision isn’t the easiest task in the world – especially not when the stage design becomes much more complex, leaving little room for error. Depending on how you perform, up to three stars can be earned in each stage, and these stars are tallied to grant progression through the campaign. The problem is that it often seems you need to get three stars on most stages to keep moving forward, and due to unexpected difficulty spikes this can be an arduous task. This is what makes Hazumi hard to recommend to anyone that isn't fond of unforgiving games.

If slightly over 100 stages isn't quite enough to keep you entertained (though it should be), there's also a stage creator mode that's fairly extensive. Actually, from what we can tell, just about every object found in the developer-prepared stages is available to use in the creator. That means that you can be responsible for crafting stages as complex — or as simple — as the ones featured in the main game. If there's any shortcoming here, it's that it takes a lot of effort to make something that's worthwhile. We played around with it for a little bit, but never came up with a design that worked out as well as we'd hope. If you don't mind spending the time to figure things out, however, this extra chunk of content should definitely extend the value of this package. Keep in mind, though, that only 12 user-created levels can be stored at a time and there's — unfortunately — no way to share these online.

Hazumi is a budget-priced game that's been created with care and neat ideas that pay off. This is the kind of experience that works either in short bursts or marathon sessions; for us, it's the type of game that's best enjoyed when you need a break from that lengthy retail release that you're slowly chipping away at. While there is some room for improvement, and we do believe the concept could be expanded into something even more substantial in the future, what's here is rewarding, fresh, and — most importantly — fun. Oh, and how dare we almost forget to mention the charming chiptune soundtrack and retro sound effects. They're the icing on top of an already-delicious cake.

Conclusion

If you’re searching for a pocket puzzler that will provide ample entertainment at a bargain price, look no further than Hazumi. This spin on the traditional block breaker has been crafted with a lot of care, and the result is an experience that’s as fresh as it is polished. Be warned that the difficulty does ramp up fairly early on, which means not everyone will be able to make their way through all the stages on offer. Yet if you’ve got a hankering for a challenge and think you have what it takes to command a tiny bouncing ball through a series of hazardous maze-like environments, then you should definitely buy Hazumi. It's a delightful addition to the 3DS eShop.