Developer: Swing Swing Submarine
Are we late to the Blocks That Matter party? Not really. We lauded Swing Swing Submarine's epic indie platformer as our Xbox Live Indie Game Of The Week when it launched back in May, but the subsequent PC version is also definitely worthy of our attention. And yours, more importantly. A major update has recently gone live (fixing a fair few niggling issues) - and many of you will doubtlessly have tried it out at this year's Eurogamer Expo.
It's high time that we gave this innovative puzzle platformer the full review it so thoroughly deserves.
The premise is as surreal, referential and disdainful of the fourth wall as you'd expect from an boutique outfit called Swing Swing Submarine. Fictional Indie devs Markus and Alexey (references to Notch and the creator of Tetris, more on that later) have been kidnapped by mysterious fans who demand that they finish their title, which they believe will be the best game of all time. A bit like Misery, but with belly laughs instead of leg-breaking agony. However, it transpires that their groundbreaking project isn't a game at all; instead, it's a revolutionary mining robot. It's up to this plucky boxy automaton to battle through subterranean caverns to save the day - and its creators - in one of the most impressive hybrid platformers of 2011.
What follows is a 6-8 hour platforming romp through a huge number of dangerous, intricate stages that bristle with hazards and traps. Smooth and floaty controls allow you to navigate these underground labyrinths with total precision - and though the action starts out slow and easy, the challenge soon ramps up to Super Meat Boy-esque levels with the addition of pursuing enemies (many of which are on fire, which we like immensely), collapsible platforms and all manner of hectic, technical chicanery. Attractive and eyecatching visuals bring the experience to vivid life, featuring crisp sprites and a detailed, charming art design.
Here's where things get interesting. The references to Markus Persson and Andrey Pajitnov aren't just throwaway gags, since Blocks That Matter also features a deep puzzle element that combines the best bits of Minecraft and Tetris. You can use your robot's drill to destroy and collect blocks of matter (ooh, now I get it) that can be assembled into tetrominoes to form bridges, platforms and ramps. Each type of matter behaves realistically, and you'll need to work out exactly which blocks to remove, which blocks to assemble and which to ignore in order to maintain structural integrity. Sand, for example, disintegrates without a stable base... whereas wood will burn away if it comes into contact with a naked flame. Or one of those burning enemies, more to the point.
This innovative mechanic is soon taken to extremes, and I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that Blocks That Matter is a very tricky little game. Alongside the platforming challenges, you'll have to frequently destroy structures you've already made or tightly ration your creations in order to retain the blocks you need to progress. Much of the lengthy playtime will be spent bashing your head against some of the harder puzzles (and there's nothing more frustrating than knowing how to complete a puzzle but not being quite fast enough to do so), but we much prefer games to be challenging and satisfying rather than forgettable pointless fluff. £3.99 is an absolute bargain, especially considering that there are plenty of bonus levels and even a rogues gallery of Block-themed games to unlock.
Finally, the PC version ups the ante with an accessible level editor that lets you share your own stages with the community. The recent update has tweaked every aspect of Blocks That Matter to mechanical and technical perfection, and make it a seriously weighty proposition at its incredibly low price point.
- Imaginative and polished gameplay
- Fantastic value
- Slick and charming visual design
- Frequently frustrating
- Occasionally cheap
The Short Version: Blocks That Matter is a tough, rewarding and polished experience that combines the best bits of Super Meat Boy, Minecraft and Tetris. The steep difficulty will deter more casual players, but fans of satisfying challenge will be rewarded with a superb and lengthy adventure.