Indie Reviews: Blocks that Matter
Blocks that matter is a charming and enjoyable fusion between platforming and blocktastic puzzling. Have a great time challenging your brain as well as its interesting narrative.
- Worth The Time?Easily if you're into Indie games.
- Things LovedGreat aesthetics and memorable soundtrack. Fun, solid puzzle and platforming mechanics. Great little narrative.
- Things HatedTrial and error gameplay can get on your nerves at times.
- RecommendationFor any fan of indie games and anyone else with some time to kill. Blocks that matter has a great look and feel that compliments its memorable soundtrack and solid gameplay; with an enjoyable and unobtrusive story.
- Name: Blocks that Matter
- Genre: Puzzle Platformer
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: No
- Platforms: Pc, Mac
- Developer: Swing Swing Submarine
- Publisher: Steam
- Price: $4.99 (R35)
- Reviewed On: PC
As innovative and niche as many indie games are or aim to be; there are still popular trends and styles of and within the indie genre. The two most prominent styles (or sub-genres) within the indie genre are platforming and the blocktacular (of what I like to call) blockgasming. The former genre relates to games like Limbo, Terraria, Braid, Super Crate Box and many more. The latter was made famous by Minecraft and has spread its influence among many other games; both indie and beyond. These are usually quite disconnected genres and so few games (like Terraria) have tried to integrate both. Even fewer have managed it with any measure of success and balance. Blocks that Matter on the other hand is one of the few games that has managed to successfully have its cake and eat it. In fact, I’m positive that Blocks that Matter is the illegitimate love child between Mario and Minecraft; a child we would all most assuredly love.
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Gameplay mechanics aside for one moment; Blocks that Matter, in a rare but greatly underappreciated fashion, proposes a meta-narrative that is not only self aware but interesting and thoroughly enjoyable. As is the case with many indie games, a strong plot is not always necessary and is only required in cases of artistic emphasises and/or connecting the game’s mechanics with its setting. This is done purely to prevent a disjointed feel and as many indie games are purely about their gameplay, this seldom happens. Swing Swing Submarine (the developers of Blocks that Matter) are obviously fans of involved plots however, because they’ve provided an uncommon yet appealing narrative for the game. As I referred to before, the narrative is self-aware. By self-aware, I mean that the game’s characters are somewhat aware that they are within a game but make no direct mentioning of it. Nevertheless, the game builds its core mechanics around that premise. Just in case I’ve lost some of you. Blocks that Matter’s narrative tells the story of a little robot (named Tetrabot) who is out to save its creators. At the same time however, Tetrabot’s creators are also the developers of the game you’re playing and while they frequently refer to it; they also make mention that the game you’re playing doesn’t actually exist. As you can see, it’s quite complex to explain and will only really make any sense if you just play the game. Suffice it to say, Blocks that Matter has a great little story that (while unnecessary) is both enjoyable and intriguing. The best thing about the story though is that it’s presented unobtrusively through speech bubbles as you play and won’t draw your attention away from some hugely satisfying gameplay and solid mechanics.
Let’s be honest though, most good indie games are almost always about their innovative and enjoyable gameplay. In this regard, Blocks that Matter will not disappoint. The game revolves around the adventures of Tetrabot; the aforementioned created robot. Tetrabot’s goal is to reach and save his creators, who have been kidnapped, through a series of 40+ connected levels. Each stage’s goal tasks you with reaching the portals connecting each world and provides platforming puzzles to overcome. Reaching the portal, as implied by the puzzle elements, is more than a matter of jumping and avoiding the occasional enemy. Rather, Tetrabot must make use of the well established Mario jump and head bash, as well as a drill, to break and collect a variety of blocks placed throughout the level. In doing so, Tetrabot can enter a puzzle mode which allows you to recycle and use the collected blocks. This is done by creating objects that will assist Tetrabot in manoeuvring through the world. Three of the possible block types Tetrabot can collect are sand, wood and stone; each with their own varying properties. The most important property to remember is that blocks like sand can’t support themselves and will fall without blocks underneath them; while wood and stone will happily remain aloft without any supporting blocks. If the block’s properties sound familiar to you, they will look familiar as well. In a tip of the hat to Minecraft, the game that so obviously inspired Blocks that Matter; the blocks look and act like their counterparts within Minecraft. There are even a variant of unbreakable obsidian blocks that impede your path and require some lateral thinking to get around or make use of.
The great thing about Blocks that Matter is that its puzzle mechanics mesh so well with its platforming. You can appreciate the thought that’s gone into each level as they can provide some serious platforming while maintaining a great challenge to the mind. The other thing I loved was that the challenge constantly increased and provided a satisfying learning curve without becoming too unfair. That and there is enough variety to keep you from repeating anything unnecessarily. This is especially the case when bosses (or the closest thing to bosses) are introduced. Because when you’re being chased by an enormous, and all enveloping, slime monster that requires you to rapidly escape while constantly solving, collecting and building platforms; the final escape is very rewarding. This is especially the case because you cannot just create whichever shape you choose in puzzle mode. There are limitations that every shape must be created out of four blocks; no more, no less. Moreover, at least one block must touch the floor, roof or wall. These limitations create some crazy difficult instances, especially when you’re being chased down. Be warned though, as good as the mechanics are, they require a certain amount of trial and error. So if, like most, you feel you get impatient easily; Blocks that Matter will grate at your nerves. That’s part of the appeal though, the sense of accomplishment you feel after each stage’s completion.
Honestly though, I had so much fun that even if the aesthetics of the game (that is the graphical style) was rubbish; I’d still enjoy it. Happily however; it’s a great looking game and has an awesome sound track to boot. Its hand drawn and painted veneer provides plenty to look at and holds the whole game together really well. Tetrabot doesn’t try to be abrasively cute; yet its subtle idle and running animations keep it cute and remind you of the characters indie roots. In fact, the only thing that trumps its look is its audio. That’s not really a surprise though because indie games have largely strived to define themselves through audio as much as through the visual. I think that’s because of an indie game’s relatively small budget as well as the comparative ease of creating a charming and great looking indie game. As such, indie games need to separate themselves from one another and compete with AAA games through the use of audio. In this aspect, Blocks that Matter could stand alongside the best and would drop kick many fully featured games in the face. It’s an inspired 8-bit soundtrack that is supplemented by a layered and modern audio symphony of sorts. It’s weird but when you hear it, it somehow just feels right for both the puzzle and platform orientated gamepay.
Thinking back to many of the indie games I have played. I have either recommended or have been recommended a game based on having just one of the aspects Blocks that matter has. I’m sure it’s not the game anyone has been waiting all year for; especially if challenging puzzles frustrate you. More than that, I know for a fact that most will drop this game in a heartbeat if it meant playing Skyrim or Battlefield 3. I also understand that indie games like this have their limitations and often struggle in maintaining a lasting appeal. But if you’re at all interested in indie games and have some time to kill. Blocks that Matter is most definitely (100%) for you. It’s one of the few games that manages to successfully combine both platforming and blockgasming puzzles into an intelligent and well balanced package. It maintains plenty of challenge without being cheap and unless you slowly wean yourself off of the game; you might find yourself coming back for more, with plenty of levels to accommodate that. All in all, if you’re not having fun with Blocks that Matter, you’re not playing it right. Happy gaming.