Sometimes, game developers can be a little bit slow (some notoriously more than others). While gamers are often impatient when it comes to the product being released, there’s always that one that will go to extreme lengths to accelerate the process. This is the premise behind Blocks That Matter from Swing Swing Submarine. You control a robot on a mission to save its creators: Markus and Alexey, indie game developers at work on a super secret project. The game is a puzzle platformer that takes you through a variety of environments and blocks. It’s full of tricky puzzles and reflex-testing challenges which are sure to frustrate, entertain, and satisfy you.
Look out Gabe Newell…
Markus and Alexey are hard at work on their project, though a little bit behind schedule. One day, they are both kidnapped and the kidnapper insists that they finish their secret project. It is then revealed that the secret project isn’t a new game at all, but a tiny robot. When the kidnapper still insists that they finish, Markus and Alexey remotely activate the robot and send it on a rescue mission. Markus and Alexey are based on Markus Persson (Notch, creator of Minecraft) and Alexey Pajitnov (creator of Tetris), who have programmed the robot based on their previous projects. The robot can destroy and collect blocks then recycle them by placing them in blocks of four to form tetrominoes. As the two of them sit in the cabin waiting for Tetrobot to save them, they learn more about their kidnapper. Alexey realizes that the kidnapper is only a child through three main clues: the gun he was carrying was a toy gun; he had a childlike voice; and he had an annoying tendency to want everything right now. There’s not much more to say without going into spoiler territory, but it is overall a nice story with a bit of childlike charm. Though it is odd how calmly the two protagonists take their kidnapping.
Super Tetris Bros.
As mentioned earlier, the Tetrobot you play as has the ability to destroy blocks by jumping into them Mario-style or drilling, then recycle them into tetrominoes and placing them in the environment. There are many factors that add to the difficulty of the game. Sometimes there will be no way to retrieve a block after you place it. Sometimes you will place a block somewhere so that it will block your path. The difficulty curve is a bit steep. At first, the puzzles are simple but rapidly become more difficult. The game does well at challenging both newcomers and veteran puzzle gamers without seeming entirely impossible to either. The game causes that phenomenon where you will hit a roadblock only to come back later to the puzzle and figure it out within a couple minutes. The game may seem frustrating at times but the puzzles are always satisfying to complete, especially the most rage-inducing ones.
Many interesting mechanics add to the variety of the puzzles. At first, there is only one type of block that you have to place. Over time, more blocks are added that have different properties. The sand block will not hover in midair like most do while the obsidian block cannot be destroyed in addition to not hovering. There are several other types of blocks that cannot be destroyed when you first encounter them, but later on in the story you will gain an upgrade that will allow you to destroy some of the blocks. If you replay an earlier level after obtaining an upgrade, you will have that upgrade and many collectibles require some backtracking. I would say that the game has a great variety. Added in the mix of difficult puzzles are a few surprise chase levels where you have to run from a giant slime that is breaking through everything in its path.
The meaning of the title may seem obvious at first: it is a block manipulation game, of course the blocks matter. When you destroy treasure chests, you unlock “blocks that matter” which are representations of a variety of games. When you collect a “block that matters,” the empty box which represents the level will be filled with some hand drawn art representing that game. There are often similarities between levels in the game and the “block that matters” games. One of my favourite examples was the Super Mario Bros. block where you have to go above the screen and run to the right until you land in what is traditionally the area where the warp-zone pipes are found. After you collect a “block that matters,” you can also collect stars which are earned by having a certain amount of blocks remaining in your inventory after you finish the level.
After the story is completed, there is still plenty of content left. As you unlock new blocks and stars, bonus levels are unlocked. There are almost as many bonus levels as there are story levels and they all add new challenges to the gameplay (though some players may want to keep some sanity and skip over them) and that’s not all. The developers fully support the modding community and have included a map making tool. You can upload your design to their marketplace and then download levels that other players have created. The community is active (and creative) so there should be no shortage of entertainment.
Swing Swing Submarine claims that due to a lack of artistic talent, they went with the “do what we can, not exactly what we want” art style. While the art style may not exactly be considered the best drawn or the best looking, I rather like it. It has a very charming feel, and the game itself is beautiful. The scenes are all hand drawn and look amazing. The game has a great atmosphere and the characters are all full of personality. It is especially inspiring for up and coming indie developers considering the budget of zero dollars.
The game has a wide variety of music, from some pieces that have a very cozy feel during the scenes of the two indie developers having fun and developing to the electronic music that plays when you first take control of Tetrobot in the lab. It all does a great job of supporting the atmosphere. Every piece of music in the game can be replayed from a soundtrack mode in-game. The sound effects in the game are decent. They could definitely use some improvement but they do their jobs. There are a couple noises that are especially grating to the point that they stand out above all other sounds in my memory: the one that I remember the most clearly is the sound of the drill hitting an immovable object. The first time I heard it I thought I was about to break the drill but after I realized that was not possible, it just started to get irritating.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
Blocks That Matter is probably my favourite indie game of the year so far. As a puzzle game, I would consider it on par with Portal; it challenges you without making you want to quit for good and when you do figure out the solution, it always gives you a great feeling of satisfaction. It is currently at an extremely low price of $5 and for the amount you’ll be getting out of it, it is definitely worth such a low cost. There is about a five hour campaign and several bonus levels which will take just as long if not longer, AND an active modding community with new levels being made every day. If I haven’t convinced you yet, take a look at the demo which is available on Steam.
Blocks That Matter Technical Summary:
- Time Played – 6 hours
- Widescreen Support – Yes
- 5.1 Audio – No
- Bugs – None
- DRM – Steamworks
- Control Scheme – Customizable Keyboard
- Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
- Availability – Steam, Desura, GamersGate
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