Is it just me, or are puzzle games not being made that often anymore? I’m not talking about games with puzzles. The Last Campfire has puzzles, Sea of Thieves has puzzles, and even Battletoads has some puzzle-like elements. However, that’s just what all of those puzzles are – smaller pieces that make up an entire game. I suppose you’d have to be pretty brave as a developer in order to make a game that consists entirely of a single puzzle mechanic. Tetris, the puzzle game king, probably sneers whenever it sees the latest entries in its genre. “Ha! I’ve been here since 1984, kiddos. Oh, your puzzle revolves around the idea of eliminating blocks? Hmm, wonder where ya got that”. While Batu Ta Batu may be a block-based puzzler, it isn’t scared of big ol’ Tetris. In fact, it’s the most fun puzzle game I’ve played in a long time.
Developed by 2Awesome Partners, Batu Ta Batu is more than irritating to pronounce. This grid-based, block-sliding puzzle game has a simple premise: combine the blocks on your grid with one of the colors that surrounds said grid in order to eliminate said blocks. Pardon me, they aren’t blocks, they’re “batus”. Batus of the same color can combine to grow larger horizontally or vertically; single batus can slide past one another, but not over larger ones. As blocks slide into the corresponding colors that surround the grid, your score will climb and you’ll be given more time to continue sliding and combining batus. When time runs out, you’re finished and you can start all over again.
At least, that’s how the game’s starting mode works. Fittingly called “endless mode”, the object is to build your score as high as possible and see how far you can go. Quicker actions are rewarded, but so is the elimination of huge batus. As you reach certain score limits, you’ll advance to the next level of endless mode and your grid will expand. Additionally, the colors of your batus will change and you’ll have to reorient yourself as fast as possible to keep progressing.
Following an incredibly brief and effective tutorial, the game grabs hold of your mind and never lets go. Perhaps you’ve heard of or experienced what is known as the tetris effect. No, not the game Tetris Effect: Connected, but the phenomenon that inspired that game’s title. For some people, spending large amounts of time on a single activity can cause their thoughts, dreams, and mental patterns to be shaped by that activity.
Personally, I have experienced many dreams where I’m infinitely stacking Tetris pieces. Now I can say that I’ve dreamed of matching batus. I don’t really need stronger evidence for the game’s core gameplay loop than that. My first play session with the game felt like minutes, but three hours had passed before I knew it. This struck me with both joy and fear. Joy, because I finally have another great puzzle game to turn to, and fear because in my zen-like state I’d forgotten to do the laundry.
For a puzzle game to be great, it has to have a gameplay style that’s simple to pick up and learn, but infinitely replayable and satisfying. Batu Ta Batu nails each of these. Anyone can learn how to play the game and, due to some pleasant sound effects and animations, the game is deeply cathartic when eliminating each batu. In fact, it even allows you to enjoy a little mayhem. Eliminating batus that have an image of a bomb on them grants you a bomb that you can use to destroy larger batus. This is helpful for those moments where you might work yourself into a corner, and it’s super satisfying to make batus go boom-boom.
Now, endless mode isn’t the only mode available to you. As you play, you’ll earn in-game currency to unlock additional game modes. These are more like bite-sized challenges that ask you to use the game’s batu mechanics to reach specific goals. That may be creating the lowest amount of blocks possible, eliminating all of a specific color, and so on. None of them are really that interesting when compared to the flawless sense of flow that accompanies endless mode, but if you’re looking for additional content it’s here. Not only is it here, but it’s here by the bucketloads. Without endless mode, one could spend plenty of time beating every challenge the game has to offer.
If you prefer solving puzzles with friends, you won’t enjoy the multiplayer of Batu Ta Batu. If you like competing against friends to solve puzzles, you still might not like it. You can play any of the available game modes with up to three friends in local multiplayer, but they’re all competitive. That may be what one wants, but they’re not especially fun with others. A puzzle game like this feels best when it’s played solo. If you have friends coming over for some party games, this is the last one you would ever choose. Though, you might have some of the game’s enormous collection of original music play in the background of your party. Really, if every game had this much music that was this much fun, I’d ask for a whole lot less from games. Maybe.
Finally, there is one egregious flaw that keeps Batu Ta Batu from being an absolute must-have: there is no colorblind mode. If you have any form of colorblindness, the game may be horribly difficult to play. The solitary factor that differentiates batus from one another is their color. You can’t rely on shapes, shading, or textures to tell you where each batu needs to go. I’d caution anyone with colorblindness to hold onto their money until, hopefully, a colorblind option is added to the game.
We need more puzzle games. Batu Ta Batu on Xbox has got me fired up for more games with delightfully addictive mechanics. Though the multiplayer feels out of place, and the additional game modes are ho-hum, the endless mode is so good that it’s reason enough to give the game a go. It’s a true shame about the lack of colorblind accessibility, but updates are pretty common nowadays. We can only hope one comes soon, since this is a puzzle game that deserves to be played by as many people as possible.