Ah, the £2.49 Xbox game. The honey trap. Get tempted by the price and the time-limited reduction to 79p, before getting bashed about the head by a lack of achievements and an unfinished mess of a game. By buying it, you might even worry that you’re encouraging the practice, feeding the behaviour until these games multiply on the Xbox Store like shovelware gremlins. Well, that’s what we worry about, anyway.
But is any of it true? Are these 79p games actually that bad? Or are they so terrible that a knock-off Nuntendo Swatch from the market would turn their nose up at them? The only journalistic thing to do is buy one and find out for ourselves.
So, this week, we bring you Monster Blocks: Get 9 Puzzle. At 79p, it’s about the price of a Waitrose-own can of cola. First thing to check is achievements and, sure enough, there are none available. If you’re a Gamerscore hound then turn back now.
Monster Blocks is no-nonsense. One game mode, no options. Just pure gaming. So you ‘Start Game’ and you’re immediately in. There’s just enough of a loading time for you to question whether it’s broken.
What happened next surprised us. There was a game concept here that felt like it might work, and our first moments were – whisper it – actually enjoyable. The rules are simple: you have four columns, and you’re given one block at a time to slot into these columns. The blocks you’re given (coloured differently, with ‘kill me’ expressions on them) run from 1 to 5, and they stack on each other with a satisfying ‘click’.
Now, match blocks of the same number and they will merge into one, new block. That new block will be one greater than the two blocks that were there before. So, a 4 and a 4 will merge to become a 5. While you are only given blocks up to 5, you can create blocks up to 9 on the field. Once they reach 9, they disappear, leaving you room to slot in more blocks.
Simple, really. It’s clearly got an eye on the various ‘merge’ games on mobile, as well as 2048 and other copycat games. You soon realise the trick: the best practice is to stack decreasing blocks on one another so that they chain all the way down to 9. What you don’t want to do is stack a higher block on a lower one, as the only way you’ll reveal it is by disappearing the block above it with a 9. Get up to the top of the game columns and you’re done for: it’s game over.
We were looking around, confused. Where’s the duff game? We almost paid 79p expecting, perhaps even wanting, a duffer.
Turns out, we only had to wait another five minutes. The problem with Monster Blocks is that it doesn’t work. Not in the broken, ‘pressing buttons doesn’t do anything’ sense, but in the game design sense.
If you follow two simple rules, the game will go on forever. Literally, forever. Drop blocks so they’re descending in value, and always put the block on the column that’s closest in value (put a 4 on an available 5, if you can, rather than on an 8, for example). If you abide by these two simple and glaringly obvious rules, it is impossible to lose.
Monster Blocks doesn’t retaliate by dropping higher blocks, by speeding things up or changing anything at all, really. Blocks don’t fall, they wait for you to make your decision. It stares you meekly in the eyes and says “don’t worry, you’ve got this”.
A mathematician will be able to tell you, far better than I, why having four columns and five different blocks is a problem. When the five is a ‘win’ block, which every other block will stack on happily, it means that there are only four troublesome blocks. Four troublesome blocks, four columns to slot them in: you always have an out. You always have a column with either a matching block (bling-bling, now they’ve matched) or one that’s higher than it. It’s impossible to lose.
After ten minutes, we realised we weren’t playing a game any more. We were filing. 79p and we were doing the core job of every work placement. We half-expected to be asked to make a round of coffees.
You could make an argument that Monster Blocks: Get 9 Puzzle is a chill game, but it’s chill in the same way that ironing is. You could argue that it’s educational, teaching children to count down from 9, but we’d rather stick our kids in front of an episode of Numberblocks.
In the end, our sweeping generalisation of 79p games was correct. Monster Blocks: Get 9 Puzzle doesn’t come with achievements, and it’s colourful but with no substance, like a Smartie with the chocolate sucked out. If you’re looking for a complete absence of challenge, and get a kind of thrill from folding shirts, then you might be the person who gets some value from their 79p. Otherwise, save your money for that can of cola.
You can buy Monster Blocks: Get 9 Puzzle for £2.49 (reduced to 79p) from the Xbox Store