Mario may have been content to smash bricks with his thick skull and be on his merry way, but not the little robot in Blocks That Matter. Nosiree, that little bugger isn’t a fan of wasting all of that precious material, and his innovative ability to collect blocks and assemble them into useful structures is what makes Blocks That Matter so wildly enjoyable.
The feisty little robot, which looks eerily like a washing machine with stick-figure limbs, is on a mission to rescue its kidnapped creators. Although he’s about as threatening as C-3P0 in a mini-skirt, this puzzle-platformer doesn’t revolve as much around killing enemies as it does outwitting them and using the world around him to survive. The robot is able to collect certain types of materials by bashing them from beneath, or by grinding them up with his drill if it is directly in front of him. Collect four blocks and you can pause the game and assemble them into a structure to allow you to reach a new area in the level. It’a such a simple mechanic, but it’s an ingenious one, and the novelty doesn’t wear off through the game’s increasingly challenging levels.
Find a few blocks, build a little tower and use it to jump to a previously-out-of-reach ledge. Simple, right? At least in the beginning; the first few levels are really just the training wheels for later ones, which require absolutely flawless resource management. The game forces you to be as economical as you can, and every single piece must be used to its full potential in order to complete each level.
The challenge partly stems from the fact that every structure you build must be exactly 4 blocks in mass, but sometimes you don’t actually require something quite so large. Sometimes you really just need one floating block to get to the new place. So, rather than waste those other 3, you can lay them down and re-collect them to use them later in the level. It’s safe to say that every block matters. The robot also gains the ability to destroy 8 blocks that are horizontally aligned, but doing so destroys them permanently. There are also different types of blocks that take on different properties, such as wooden blocks that have a propensity for immolation when combined with fire.
Of course any game can take an innovative idea and drive it into the ground if it’s merely content to copy-paste the same puzzle a hundred times. Blocks That Matter avoids this problem by constantly introducing new types of blocks, enemies and puzzles to keep the game fresh. Tired of crafting ledges? No worries; the game will mix in a level where you’re being chased by a giant slime or have to guide an enormous fireball through the level by building bridges.
My overall exuberance may belie the fact that I frequently hurled strings of expletives at my television that would have made Quentin Tarantino flinch. This can be a frustrating game. There were so many occasions when I felt as if I exhausted every combination and pattern of blocks and was just unable to come up with a proper pattern or order. I felt like a velociraptor probing every possible spot in the level for the weakness. Yet, the frustration just made me feel even more erudite when I inevitably cracked the digital rubix cube.
Do not look at this game and pass it off as merely another indie 2D platformer, or worse yet, a bizarre niche puzzle game. If you like innovative 2D games that challenge you to actually use your noodle ever once in a while like Braid and Limbo, then you have no excuse. Play Blocks That Matter. This is in the absolute upper echelon of Xbox Live Indie Games, and with 40 levels, bonus stages, and collectables, it’s also an amazing value.
Blocks That Matter was provided for review by Swing Swing Submarine and is available for $3. You can download a free demo on the Xbox Live Marketplace.