Falling block puzzlers aren't necessarily a rare experience these days. What isn't commonplace, however, is such a puzzler that throws a twist on the formula that enhances and refreshes the experience. GravBlocks+ (itself an enhanced version of the Android game GravBlocks) tries its hand at mixing up the traditional "match three blocks" style puzzle game, and to decent success. Though the game doesn't have the most dazzling of visuals, the core mechanics are novel and entertaining.
All of the modes in GravBlocks+ revolve around the traditional match three puzzle game mainstays, such as the bomb block which destroys all blocks of one colour on the screen. But the most interesting change here is the presence of (aptly named) gravity blocks. These have arrows that point either up, down, left, or right, and clearing three or more which point in the same direction shift the gravity of the playing field, so that the direction the arrows pointed is now the direction that blocks will fall. This introduces a deal of strategy to lining up the blocks so that shifting the gravity results in multiplier-boosting combos, which manages to remain both dynamic and fun.
There are also hazards to contend with, which take the form of one block-width chunks of the walls and floors that will reset the multiplier to one if blocks fall in. The way to avoid this is by clearing "wild" blocks, which can be matched with two or more blocks of the same colour, and clear the field of hazards for a short time. One complaint here is that sometimes the manner in which theses hazards can appear is sporadic, which resulted in a few last-minute combo breakers - such may be the nature of puzzle games, but these instances were frustrating nonetheless. Fortunately the game is forgiving at the beginning, with blocks falling slowly enough for players to get the hang of planning combos; however, as the speed built we felt the pressure to clear the field while still utilizing our chains. This managed to make progressing difficult, but largely fair (outside of the stray sneaky hazards). GravBlocks+ feels familiar in many ways, but it manages to differentiate itself from the puzzle game masses decently well.
There are five modes available here: Story, Puzzle, Challenge, Destruction, and Zen. The story mode is rather straightforward - complete three objectives shown to clear the level (clear green blocks using a bomb, change the gravity to "up," etc). A narrative told through the player character's thoughts takes us through the story of a human abducted by aliens for the purpose of testing his wit, seeing as how the aliens have reached the limit of what they can discover with "traditional probing." This mode, though somewhat repetitive in its objectives, manages to be charming thanks to some clever writing. Puzzle mode (our personal favorite) presents players with a set of blocks and requests that all the blocks be cleared using limited moves and in limited time. These are challenging, addictive, and plentiful (150 stages) with some of the later puzzles being insidiously difficult.
Challenge mode is standard "clear the blocks and progress through increasingly difficult levels" style puzzling, where Zen Mode is identical minus the increasing difficulty (thus the name). Destruction mode is another fun one, with the objective here being to completely clear the screen of all blocks to progress through the levels. Wall hazards are numerous here to help players clear the blocks, and the action gets pretty frenetic in later levels. Destroying stacks of blocks using gravity and electrified walls is truly satisfying, and quite cathartic after the difficulty of some of the other modes. These last three (Challenge, Zen, and Destruction) all have difficulty sliders as well as an option for how long each level lasts. These choices are greatly appreciated and allowed us to start slow and progress toward playing on higher difficulties as we improved our skills.
On the subject of choices, there are a number of ways for players to customize the interface in GravBlocks+. There are options for block graphics, background images, and reticle colour. Some of these are unlockable through playing different modes, which is a nice touch. There's also an achievement wall, which is fun for those with a taste for clearing unknown objectives. Options for both D-Pad + A button controls as well as touch screen controls are present, though the better option is most definitely the GamePad touch screen since the action requires as much precision as possible as the difficulty ramps up. There is a lot to do and see here, which is a pleasant surprise for a budget title.
Seeing that GravBlocks+ has such strong core mechanics, it's a shame the presentation doesn't live up to the same standard. The animation and modelling for some of the backgrounds that feature aliens isn't great, and the visuals in general are rather plain, muddy, and incohesive. In fact, some of the text on certain screens (particularly when viewing achievements) is downright difficult to read due to fonts and out-of-place pixels. Loading screens are plentiful and make navigating menus a bit of a chore, especially when we encountered a loading screen into the sound options (which has only two volume fields to display). Though it's disappointing that there wasn't more of it, meanwhile, the music is catchy and atmospheric; yet some more tracks, unlockable or otherwise, for the actual puzzle screen would have been greatly appreciated.
What GravBlocks+ lacks in presentation, it makes up for in variety. The gravity-shifting mechanic is a fun take on traditional games in the genre, and this experience is certain to challenge even the most seasoned puzzle-solvers. The host of modes here is enough to provide plenty of entertainment, regardless of skill level, plus unlockables and achievements are present for even more longevity. GravBlocks+, while not altogether revolutionary or visually remarkable, is a sound puzzle game that sometimes strays from conventions in rewarding ways while providing a decent bang-to-buck ratio.