The best games make you feel like you’re god’s gift to gaming. A detective game might make you feel like you’ve solved a case with your own ingenuity, when it’s been gently nudging you in the right direction all along. A beat ’em up might pull off ridiculous, over-the-top moves even though you’ve been spamming buttons. Gaming’s great when it’s making you look better than you are.
BouncyBoi in Puzzle Land, on the other hand, makes me feel the exact opposite. It’s been a while since a game has made me feel so stupid, so frequently. And it’s not because we’re failing: it’s because we’re succeeding, yet we couldn’t tell you how. We constantly felt like we were failing upwards.
It shouldn’t be a difficult game. BouncyBoi in Puzzle Land is, in its barest of bones, extremely simple. You are a giant ball of slime, sitting on a grid of squares. You can move from square to square with the analogue stick, and your aim is to reach a square marked with a yellow spiral-circle thing. That’s the exit to the next level, and you’re rewarded with a medal according to how many blob-jumps it took.
Even the next layer of complexity isn’t all that complex. Some squares house switches, and these can be pressed with a tap of the A button to trigger some effect. A bridge will turn ninety-degrees; a gate will open. Meanwhile, enemies move with the moves you make. Some might move once for every two you make, while others are on a different cadence. So, you’re timing your moves and switches with the frogs, mosquitoes, spiders and spectres that are around you.
So, why all the complaints? Dozens of games like this have been released over the years (Kickle Cubicle was our first), and BouncyBoi in Puzzle Land doesn’t look any different. But the answers come in the form of terrible player feedback, and a determination to keep adding layers, all of the time.
We worry that it might just be us, but we found BouncyBoi in Puzzle Land to be an incredibly hard game to read. For example, the individual floor tiles might be coloured, but one illuminated tile will push down some spikes, while another will do something completely different. There’s no hint at what they will do, and no connection to the tile they affect. You will only surmise their function once you’ve stepped on them, and – for a game where you want to time and optimise your bounces – the information can come too late.
Those tiles can look an awful lot like the coloured tiles that represent a missing tile, so there’s a bit of a cognitive muddle. And that’s before we start adding in flowers, switches and tombstones that all look like background junk. It can often be hard to discern what is decoration, and what is a fundamentally necessary switch. We found ourselves muddling through levels, just trying to figure out what things did. Yet it would have been so simple to make each mechanic look significantly different from each other, and introduce them, one at a time, and slowly.
Which is BouncyBoi in Puzzle Land’s other major malfunction. It can’t stop adding stuff, like a grandparent who keeps loading you up with sweets, cakes and drinks when you just wanted to pop over and say hello. New enemies and mechanics get lumbered on with each level, sometimes only appearing once. But they’re never fully explained, they work oddly, and there’s too many of them.
What this amounts to is that ‘failing upwards’ that we talked about. BouncyBoi in Puzzle Land’s levels, once you understand what everything is doing, are actually quite simple. It’s possible to finish a level in a single-digit number of bounces, and that’s true even in the latter levels. But, because of the poor signposting and the avalanche of new mechanics, we – more often than not – completed the level without a single idea of how we managed it. We just saw a clear run to the exit and went for it. But, because mechanics often turned up for one level before buggering off, we couldn’t play a second level to figure out what the hell happened.
We’re beginning to sound like a confused boomer, so we’ll back away and focus on the positives, because BouncyBoi in Puzzle Land does come loaded with some. This is a sizable, solid package of puzzles, with five worlds and ten levels in each, ending – most of the time – with something approximating a boss. The puzzles are well designed, too. We know this because we knew what we were doing for a few of them, and the moment when our best-laid plan pulled off and we gracefully found a path to the exit never failed to amuse.
We weren’t motivated to do so, but there are good reasons to replay a level. A move counter ticks up, and a medal is awarded for completing the level in the smallest number of them. It’s a means to understand and even master a level, and we suspect our criticisms would have been less acute if we had taken that path. There are even outfits available if you get enough medals. But BouncyBoi in Puzzle Land never made us feel good or clever enough to make the prospect of that attractive. We left replays largely alone – we just couldn’t face another round.
We have no doubt that there is a whip-smart puzzle game in BouncyBoi in Puzzle Land, but the muddled presentation never made us feel good about playing it. We tripped, fell and somehow found ourselves at the finish line, but never really understood how we did it. For that reason, it’s a puzzle game that didn’t make us feel good about completing it – something we find oddly hard to recommend.
You can buy BouncyBoi in Puzzle Land from the Xbox Store