Review: Fallblox (3DS eShop)

Drop 'em like they're blox

Meet Fallblox – a game so clever that its very title could be a brand new synonym for “mindboggling”. Predecessor Pullblox / Pushmo remains one of the best titles on the 3DS eShop, an extremely smart puzzler that's fantastic value for money. Fallblox, known in North America as Crashmo, is no lazy sequel: it takes Pullblox's basis, tips in entirely new mechanics and completely outdoes its older sibling in the process. And if you thought Pullblox was tough, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Fallblox's setup is very similar to the previous game. Each puzzle is set on a grid, and you've got to arrange a series of coloured blocks of various shapes and sizes, from single squares to gigantic slabs and all sorts of complicated styles in between, in order to make a path to the goal – usually the peak of the tallest structure. This time adorable puppy-cum-sumo wrestler Mallo has accidentally released a bunch of pet birds, each of which has conveniently perched atop a puzzle ready for you to grab.

Though they use the same basic pushing and pulling mechanics, Pullblox's and Fallblox's puzzles are entirely different beasts, each game taking advantage of the general idea in unique ways. Where Pullblox had you tugging fixed-height blocks back and forth, Fallblox's shapes are prey to gravity and collapse towards the ground when separated from their supporting blocks. Much of the challenge this time around comes from preventing blocks dropping at the wrong time or place; let one descend too early - before you've got appropriate supporting blocks set in place - and the likelihood is that you'll have to start the puzzle all over again.

Blocks can be pushed on and off each other and shifted around the whole play area in four directions, rather than being rooted in one spot, which affords you much more freedom. As long as one square of an off-ground block is balancing on another piece beneath it, it'll stay raised in the air no matter how ridiculous it looks.

Only the single block that you push actually moves, so for example if you shove a shape on the ground, any pieces resting on top of it will remain in the same position. Push too far, removing the floor beneath them, and they'll come tumbling down on your head (thankfully, Mallo's a strong little chap and can hold up anything you drop on him). If you want to move multiple blocks at the same time, you have to 'link' them together: by putting one inside an enclosure on the other, for instance, or by pushing them along simultaneously with a taller piece. As you can imagine, pushing about puzzle pieces from four directions with all these things to consider can lead to brain-fry aplenty.

Since you can move blocks anywhere around each other on the grid, the range of camera options come in very handy. Clicking left and right on the D-Pad lets you look at the puzzle from any of the four sides, while up and down zoom in and out. You can continue playing from each of these angles; it can be pretty handy to switch behind Mallo when you need to hop up a staircase of blocks. There's also a free view: hold down R and you can use the Circle Pad to swoop around quickly.

It's a lot to take in, but thankfully Fallblox eases you in gently, carefully introducing each concept and slowly relinquishing its hold on your hand until you're standing on your own two feet. From the beginning it shows off neat tricks that make you smirk with admiration, and those smirks gradually turn into out-and-out awe-filled grins as the puzzles become more and more complicated.

A level can take you anywhere between 10 seconds and an hour; many of the stages are pure brilliance, and we lost count of the number of times our brains sighed with joy at working out a solution. Fallblox is filled with “oh!” moments and remains supremely satisfying throughout; there's a really decent mix of easier puzzles and ones that will have you scratching your head for a good while.

Often, just as a concept or certain type of block arrangement has clicked in your mind, Fallblox will throw in something new. Gadgets such as cloud blocks, which resist gravity to remain high in the sky no matter what, paired doorways that let you warp around the structure and blocks that slide when you jump on buttons are introduced throughout the 100-stage main campaign. Later levels mix and match gadgets to great effect. These elements ensure that Fallblox stays consistently fresh, even though the presentation doesn't evolve much until special stages are unlocked.

Fallblox can get extremely difficult, but it's hard to get frustrated at it because its attitude is just so positive; it knows it's tough, but it never rubs it in your face and only ever encourages you to do better. Experimentation is welcomed with the return of Pullblox's rewind mechanic, which lets you reverse a limited period of time in order to test out different possibilities and undo mistakes, and if things get too messed up you can reset a puzzle to its starting position at any time. There's always the option to skip any puzzle without restriction, too. There's simply no reason to get annoyed; it always allows you take things at your own pace and never keeps you glued to an insurmountable stage - the game is perfectly happy to let you move on and come back later.

If you're really stumped, there's ample opportunity to get used to all of the mechanics through tutorials that spell everything out and a full suite of 90 training levels. During training stages you can ask to see the complete solution at any point, but to progress any further you then have to remember what you were shown and pull it off yourself. It proves to be a valuable learning tool and the easier stages also act as a good palette cleanser to dip into when you're up against the campaign's most baffling brain busters.

Get to the end and a few more ludicrous challenges open up. Prototype stages mix elements of Pullblox and Fallblox together excellently. We don't want to spoil anything other than to say that though they are few in number, they're the biggest tests by far; intricately designed, inventive and - occasionally - overwhelmingly huge.

One area that Fallblox doesn't really differ from Pullblox is in the presentation. Just as before, it's all bright colours, storybook backgrounds, round friendly characters and chunky lines. It looks great, and though the 3D effect is never necessary it can help give a better perspective; we found it best to alternate between 2D and 3D modes. The music can get repetitive as each piece is used in a large number of stages, but it is very pleasant; the victory jingle is particularly addictive. There's some neat use of pseudo-surround sound too when playing through 3DS's speakers: try to move a block beyond the edge of the stage and a far-off sound in the appropriate direction will signal that you can't shift it any further.

To round things off there's a level creator that lets you use any of the block types to build your own wonders. User-created stages can be as small or gigantic as you like, and once you've made and tested a level – to prove that it's solvable – the game generates a QR code so that you can share it with others. We've only built a couple of simple levels so far, but it's clear that there's a lot of scope for cool creations with some practice.

Conclusion

Mallo's second outing is another massive success; Fallblox constantly surprises, impresses and challenges in equal measures. Even in its difficult moments – and there are plenty – it encourages players to have fun and never significantly punishes errors. Fallblox boasts level design and creativity that many games can only dream of; developer Intelligent Systems' name has never seemed more appropriate.