When there’s a tomb to be raided, a certain Lara Croft is the first person that comes to mind who would be capable of handling such a task. Hold your horses though, as there’s a new duo in town looking to pull off an epic heist in the depths of a tomb and they’re a part of an Xbox One game named SlabWell. Can this, reasonably low-priced, indie puzzling adventure from developers UnderCoders (Conga Master) put these self-proclaimed master thieves on the map, or are they instead the masters of their own downfall?
Whilst you could never really expect anything here to rival Lara’s AAA antics – as that would be unfair – it’s unfortunate that SlabWell doesn’t quite make a splash in the indie puzzler market. In fact, one of the game’s mechanics in particular will frustrate, irate and potentially turn folk away from what’s otherwise a decent offering.
SlabWell: The Quest for Kaktun’s Alpaca follows two of the very best thieves, hoping to become the richest in the world as they take on the mighty Kaktun’s pyramid in search of the much-coveted artifact – the Jade Alpaca. These brothers, Sam and Jacky, must venture through different floors of the temple and overcome various tile-based puzzles. It’s left to Sam to actually navigate the floors, with Jacky providing moral support and advice about new the quirks being introduced to the puzzles via text dialogue.
The story isn’t all that important, although there is a sense of remorse and a sudden emergence of a conscience by the brothers as you advance through the adventure. There’s not enough of a tale present here to consider it a factor towards being a success, which puts a lot of pressure on the puzzles needing to be overcome.
At its core, SlabWell has a basic concept of requiring you to guide Sam and make sure he steps on every tile within a level to progress. For the most part, these tiles can only be stepped on once and so the idea is to figure out a path that enables you to traverse them all, without covering old ground. If there are no moves left to make and there are still untouched tiles, you’ll have to rewind a few moves or restart the floor from scratch. A fair bit of thought is required, but it’s worth it as there’s a rewarding feeling present for achieving success.
Granted, it’s not revolutionary, however new tile mechanics are implemented fairly regularly in order to add some freshness to the experience. These include simple types of square tiles that have to stepped on numerous times or in a specific order, whilst there are also some more obscure ones such as those that send you immediately in a set direction once touched, portals that can transport you between places, and even a selection of tiles which move upon traversing them. Considering there are 70 standard single player story mode levels, these ideas are crucial to help stave off boredom as long as possible; there will still be monotonous moments though, especially when the concept is so straightforward.
In a bid to spice things up, SlabWell likes to get the ghost of Kaktun to chase you through certain levels, introducing a sort of timed element to it. If Kaktun catches you, the level needs restarting. Simple enough to understand and, on paper, it seems great as there’s sure to be an adrenaline rush garnered from attempting to escape his grasp. The problem is he’s ridiculously fast and, despite you knowing the path you wish to take in order to solve the puzzle, rapid button pressing skills as well as swift directional aim are needed. Everything about these levels, which occur in batches throughout the entire story, is weighted heavily against the player, so much so that it’s just unfair. Should you manage to scrape a completion, there’s only sorrow at the sheer thought that more are on the horizon.
On a more positive note, there are a ton of extra levels to have a bash at in multiplayer mode alongside someone locally. And with Kaktun nowhere in sight you can breathe a small sigh of relief as the 60 puzzles here can simply be taken in by two of you at your own pace, working in unison to cover tiles and high fiving each other for doing so. Sure, it doesn’t offer an awful lot of deviation from what’s in the main solo experience, but at least you can embrace different layouts and strategically plan the route to success with two minds conjuring up solutions.
In terms of visuals, there are different backdrops brought into the mix as you advance through the levels, however the themes are nothing special and come across merely as simple depictions of a fiery or water based setting, for example. And whilst the accompanying sounds won’t cause any irritation, it wouldn’t harm the experience to turn them off either.
Overall then and SlabWell presents a rather simple concept that’s been transformed, on the whole, into a good tile-based puzzler thanks to a variety of ideas regarding the tile mechanics. Unfortunately though, the inclusion of the fast-paced Kaktun element is stupendously detrimental and turns a fairly decent game sour with its unfairness. It genuinely sucks all the joy out of the air and is quite off-putting, which is the main reason why I’d suggest giving it a miss.
The only saving grace is that those with a co-op partner handy can run through a vast amount of Kaktun-free levels to reclaim some fun. So if you’re after overcoming challenges with a friend, then maybe have a look at a push, but there are better puzzlers out there.