It's always refreshing when a game comes along that challenges norms and makes its players rethink the standards of a genre. The modern gaming market is so abundant that even the least common genres are saturated with new titles, making it even more appreciated when something that feels new makes its way onto consoles. As Nintendo likes to point out with its penchant for creating unique hardware that goes beyond a basic controller setup, sometimes what makes a game unique isn't the gameplay itself, but how it's played. Developer Bplus has clearly taken a page from Nintendo's book with the release of its latest 3DS eShop title, PUZZLEBOX setup, a game that quite literally flips the conventions of the handheld console on its head.
The premise is simple: drop coloured blocks from the top screen into the bottom screen in order to form pictures, not unlike pouring coloured sand into a jar. What makes this interesting is that in order to be played your 3DS console must be held upside down, turning the top screen into the one with touch-based controls. As images scroll past on the bottom, you must tap the correct coloured blocks to drop them into the image below and form a complete picture. Holding your console upside down may sound like an inconvenient way to play, but it works surprisingly well and provides what may be one of the more engaging casual experiences that we've seen on the eShop. There is a lack of depth to all of it, but that doesn't make it any less appealing.
In what is surely a move aimed at confusing players a tiny bit, puzzles are categorized in the game's menu into “Boxes", which are then further categorized into “Setups." Beyond the standard moving puzzles, each Setup comes with an alternate version or "Copycat" mode. Rather than scrolling through, these Copycat puzzles instead show a completed still image into which you must drop the correct coloured tiles. The premise remains the same between both modes, but Copycat is a bit more laid back, allowing you to take more time to process the image that you're working on.
When considering both modes, there is an abundance of puzzles to complete in this package. On top of the sheer volume, each puzzle is designed to be played multiple times in order to best your own time and high score, ensuring that you'll be spending plenty of hours on this one before seeing it to completion. The gameplay doesn't change throughout, and that may grate on the players who choose to marathon the whole thing from start to finish, but PUZZLEBOX setup provides a good amount of quick pick-up-and-play action.
The art direction may not be the most detailed, but it is very attractive in its own way. Each image that you put together looks like a large piece of pixel art, so this determines the rest of the game's aesthetic. The pieces that you drop down are single coloured square tiles that form the image, so in a way the gameplay determines the art, and vice-versa. The idea of the gameplay influencing the art is reminiscent of Picross, another type of puzzle that incorporates action to reveal pixelated images. The colours are bright and the soundtrack is cheerful, coming together to form a welcoming ambiance for players of any age. The console's 3D effect is even put to use, bringing a hint of depth to the otherwise flat images that scroll past.
Surprising no one, Puzzlebox Setup controls very well, sticking entirely to the touchscreen for all inputs. The 3DS's resistive pad may not be the most sensitive, but it works perfectly for what is asked of it here. The only real control issue that we ran into was forgetting that the console was upside down and accidentally tapping the bottom screen, but this is clearly little more than user error, and quite embarrassing.
For what could easily be written off as a lackluster casual puzzle game, Puzzlebox Setup is as interesting as it is entertaining. Whether the simplistic concept of dropping coloured blocks to form images appeals to you or not, credit is due to Bplus for rethinking how a console can or should be used, and testing those conventions. We're happy to report that this risky experiment was a success.