By John Walker on October 18th, 2013 at 11:00 am.
We are being blessed with some excellent puzzle games of late. But having played the exquisite Hexcells through four times, I was really looking for something else. I wasn’t expecting it to be Tetrobot, but blimey, it is. Here’s wot I think of Blocks That Matter creator SwingSwingSubmarine’s superb, and enormously difficult robotic puzzler:
I’m still a bit confused about what’s actually happening story-wise in Tetrobot, but I can assure you and me that it’s not ultimately that important, and certainly doesn’t stop this being an absolutely stunning puzzle game. You play a young woman scientist, creator of a little robots, and then further creator of a nanobot that goes inside the little robots to fix them. There’s something about other scientists, mentors, and so on, but what’s important here is puzzles. And puzzles it does more intelligently than I’ve seen in a good long while.
Your little robot dude floats about in tile-based levels, able to pick up various block types, and then fling them out again. And it’s pretty much entirely this that forms the foundation for some brain-twisting brilliance that almost never feels like yet another block-manoeuvring puzzle game. It feels distinct, its own smart niche, mixing various familiar styles into a new concoction. You may be trying to figure out how to manipulate the environment to allow your passage, or scratching your cranium over how to arrange a set of blocks you’ve painstakingly collected into a really unlikely formation. There are pipe puzzles, there are machines that fling you through walls of pudding (yes, pudding) that clog up the insides of a robot, there are machines to operate, and strange creatures to squish.
At first, my main criticism of Tetrobot was a lack of information about why some of the levels weren’t yet possible to 100% complete. You can advance forward without collecting all three yellow blocks from each level, so I could keep playing, but there was that frustration of not knowing what wasn’t yet accessible. Surely an upgrade, some new abilities, should be coming soon? It turns out that the thing that needed an upgrade was my brain. The game’s entirely fair, everything’s possible from the start – you just have to be smart enough.
Halfway through the game I realised that I was being a massive wimp, not letting myself get challenged nearly enough, and went back to re-do all those earlier levels to a far higher standard. And I’ll cop to having sneaked a peek at some YouTube videos on occasion just for a prompt. And then immediately felt INCREDIBLY STUPID.
It’s really hard to spend many more words on explaining why this is such a good puzzle game. It would be a bit like trying to write 800 words on why one particular Kakuru puzzle was so much more rewarding to solve than others. It’s just done incredibly well. They’re laid out and thought through by a fantastically clever mind. The nature of the challenges, while none truly original, move around enough to ensure it always feels interesting, without its ever feeling like it’s deviating. The logic for solving them is always incredibly sound, not reliant on guesswork or frustrated spamming of everything on everything. Instead you know the moment of inspiration is just beyond your grasp.
It’s worth noting that it’s possible to back yourself into a corner in here. While most levels make it very obvious when you’ve made it impossible to finish, they don’t warn you when you’ve done something that means you won’t be able to collect all three of the level’s yellow mechanical parts. Essentially gold stars. You may innocently leave a block of wood in an earlier area, or not think so all-encompassingly that you realise a puzzle you solved earlier can now be improved upon with what you have now, freeing up resources used then to be re-used later. However, it does remember every move you make, and lets you take them back as far as you wish. A well-used resource. It’s really only in replaying a level that these possibilities start to occur to you – well, to me at least – as you go back to improve upon yourself. I have twice declared to any passing cats that “I AM A GENIUS!” on figuring something out. That’s a magical thing, when a puzzle game can have you feeling that great about yourself simply for figuring out what they intended you to do in the first place.
The design deserves credit too. It’s a very attractive 2D game, its chunky graphics superbly animated, and the sound effects are fantastic. Even most of the music is pretty decent. And when you switch to another window for a bit, for instance to write a review of it, your robot falls asleep and starts emitting an electronic snoring. That’s a very cute detail. It’s packed with stuff like that. The Facebook-style pages for each block type would be another.
There’s a lot of it. I’ve nowhere near finished, despite playing for hours. And if it’s only going to get tougher, it’s only going to take me longer. For around £8, this is a definite recommendation, even if you’ve found yourself growing weary of puzzle games of late. It’s fresh, cute, and bloody hard.