13th Oct2017

‘Tumblestone’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Rupert Harvey

TumblestoneScreenshot1

Originally released on consoles and PC in 2016, Tumblestone is an ostensibly simple match-3 puzzle game, which becomes devilishly challenging very quickly.

Each level is made up of a selection of differently-coloured tiles. You must move your character from side to side, shooting three tiles of the same colour to make them disappear. However, you can only shoot tiles on the bottom row. To beat the level, you must work out in which order to shoot the tiles to ensure that all of them can be cleared from the board. It is entirely possible to shoot the tiles in the wrong order, and find yourself in an impossible situation – at which point, you’ll need to start over.

The developers’ assertion that Tumblestone is “the first original action-puzzle game of the past fifteen years” may be fanciful, but it is certainly a unique gameplay loop. Essentially, each level begins at peak difficulty – with the player expected to think many, many moves ahead – and then gets easier the further the player digs. Thankfully, there are multiple ways to complete each puzzle, which means that frustration is short-lived, and can often be circumvented by randomly shooting tiles and seeing what happens.

Beat one level and you progress to the next. It really is that simple, regardless of what the arbitrary XP system (it’s basically an ongoing high score) might have you believe. There are 12 worlds in the story mode, each containing 30 levels. Content is not lacking. Later mechanics: conveyer belts which push tiles along; shields which block tiles from being shot; defender blocks which count down from three before disappearing. Makes for maddening conundrums.

Visually, the game is clean and unfussy, with bright primary colours and crisp lines. The story mode feels somewhat tacked-on, presented via a series of static images, which are well-drawn but bland. The sound design works well, providing satisfying cutesy sounds which deliver the impact you’d hope. The music, while lacking memorable themes, is a well-produced selection which blends well with the aesthetics of the environments.

Those environments open with a fantastical Egypt, and are limited to pretty yet static backgrounds, ranging from pyramids to dusky sunsets to mystical, honey-filled caves. Later, you’ll go underwater, and finally end up in Vegas casino zone. But the focus is firmly on the tile-matching gameplay, which basically remains the same throughout. In later levels, additional hazards emerge, such as blocking tiles which disappear and reappear on alternate turns.

There are numerous game modes, including Marathon, which involves pushing a “ceiling” toward the top of the screen, and Heartbeat, which sees the tiles gradually sliding down the screen toward you. But all the modes are based around the same gameplay loop, with only minor mechanical differences. So, if you find the very simplistic gameplay compelling, then the amount of content will keep you going for many dozens of hours.

On Switch, the game unsurprisingly looks appealing popping, and the rumble feature is used sparingly. The inability to turn the board 90 degrees in handheld mode seems like a real missed opportunity. A more glaring omission for some will be the lack of online play – although the out-of-the-box multiplayer nature of the Switch goes some way to making up for this strange omission.

Tumblestone is a fine puzzle game. While it doesn’t offer a huge amount of variety in terms of core gameplay, it’s a proper brainteaser which can potentially provide endless gameplay if you become hooked. In that case, Switch is the ideal platform – even if some key features have been bizarrely overlooked.

Tumblestone is out now on Nintendo Switch

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