Every so often a video game will emerge which further dissembles the division between games and art; it's fair to say that Blek is one of those titles. Its miminimalistic, unsophisticated presentation and engaging puzzles garnered it resoundingly high praise following its release on iOS and Android, and resulted in developer Kunabi Brother releasing a port for the Wii U. Fortunately for Wii U owners, Blek remains a delight on its new home and proves to be one of the most intriguing and distinctive indie titles available on the eShop.
Simply put, the objective of Blek is to draw a line that manages to hit all of the coloured circles without touching any of the black ones. This is achieved by drawing a stroke onto the Wii U GamePad which will continually loop in the pattern you originally made. For example, drawing a straight line from left to right will see your stroke travel in that direction, only to change its course when reflecting off of the boundaries on the side of the screen. However, doodling a loop and leaving its tail facing upwards will see your stroke continue to spiral in that direction - gradually climbing higher and higher. Deciding upon the correct pattern and trajectory needed to weave between the formations of black circles, in order to penetrate the coloured circles, is the key to mastering Blek.
Blek is presented quite unlike any other video game. Gone are the menus, in-game options and other features commonly associated with the medium. There are no flashy cutscenes, and you won't even sit through an introduction after booting up - from the moment you start up Blek you are thrown head first into a series of puzzles. The initial stages are simple, easing the player in and allowing them to figure out the mechanics for themselves, but gradually grow in difficulty and complexity the further into the 60 puzzles you delve - requiring more delicate, intricate and tight-knit squiggles. Eventually, circles begin to fire off smaller projectiles upon being touched, requiring calculated timing and foresight in order to solve the puzzles; this is a welcome level of complexity that prevents the brain-teasers from becoming stale.
The puzzles are noteworthy in that there is no definitively "correct" way of solving them; instead, each sequence can be solved in numerous ways and it is very much down to each individual's perspective. One person may see one solution, whereas another may spot a differing one, and that is part of the beauty of Blek. Kunabi Brother has presented the experience in the most stark, simplistic form imaginable and have tasked the player of completion without any aid. Unlike conventional titles becoming perplexed with a puzzle won't see the participant hurrying on over to Game FAQs or pulling out the "Blek Strategy Guide" - the solution lies solely with the player.
This is a commendable approach, and makes sense considering the numerous solutions to the puzzles, but can become exasperating as the difficulty increases. Blek could profit from allowing the skipping of stages - giving you the option to return to them later, especially when considering how affective a fresh perspective can be. Instead, you may turn your attention away from a puzzle having gazed at it for some fifteen minutes, exhausting every perceivable option, only to look upon the conundrum again and see that the solution is astoundingly obvious. In this regard, you not only play with Blek, it plays with you.
Despite its simple aesthetic, appearing on a larger screen accentuates Blek's almost hypnotic beauty. It has all the characteristics of an interactive modern art installation and would not look out of place as a giant table top exhibit in a swanky urban gallery. Only, it's not. It's very much a mainstream video game, and its visuals result in it being one of the most unique titles on the Wii U eShop. With nothing but the minimalist coloured circles contrasted against the pure white backdrop, Blek's minimalist approach is a far cry from some of the more complex looking titles found on the Wii U, and is proof that sometimes the simpler - the better. No soundtrack is present, and the only audible sounds come from the wonderful chimes used to denote when you've successfully broken a circle, and the nonsensical female utterances made when incorrectly touching a black circle.
Aside from its visuals, Blek both excels and suffers from making the transition from its previous home on handheld mobile devices, to the console experience of the Wii U. Having a larger touchpad and stylus to work with allows for more precise strokes in contrast to the rather inaccurate and cumbersome approach when playing with a finger on an iPhone or other mobile device. However, Blek seems much more suited to on-the-go gaming that comes with the handheld devices, being the sort of title you play in short bursts as opposed to sitting down in front of your television and investing lengthy periods of time. Even with Off-TV play, it still remains anchored to your Wii U system, reducing the mobility of a very mobile-friendly title that would arguably have been a better fit on the 3DS.
Whilst Blek's mind-boggling puzzles will certainly not appeal to everyone, those with artistic appreciation or willingness to try something out of the norm will find an enjoyable challenge with an ample amount of content. Whilst often being as frustrating as it is addictive - with a steep learning curve and nothing but your own wits for assistance - Blek's refusal to pander to its audience in an age of "hand-holding" and tutorials is strangely appealing. Strained braincells and hand cramps aside, this is a unique and beautifully crafted puzzler which is as admirable for its artistic approach as it is for its fresh mechanics.