The matching scene has been around for decades, however since the rise of mobile gaming, it’s seen a bit of a spike, with gamers more than happy to spend a relaxing hour or two combining colours with ease. Now though, there’s a new match-3 colour smasher on the block, but it’s a little different to what you may be used to.
Tumblestone attempts to tell a story, it attempts to take you on an adventure and it attempts to get your mind whirring into gear as you try to solve the numerous match-3 puzzles that are in place. I’m here to say that thankfully it does all those things pretty damn well. Although it is the latter which really excites me.
You play the part of a little King or Queen who runs along the bottom of the stage, staring up at the numerous coloured blocks ahead of them. With a swift shot of your magical block removing gun (it may have a proper name, but to me it’s a magical block removing gun), whatever cube is above you is quickly removed. In order to progress, you need to remove three similar colours in succession, before moving on to the next three, and the next three, and so on. Eventually, the board will become sparse, your excitement will hold no bounds and you’ll be pushed on to the next cleverly created puzzle.
Fire your way through enough stages and you’ll come across practice stages, allowing you to hone your skills a bit more and numerous ‘Boss battles’. Now, Tumblestone is in no way a violent game, in fact the brilliantly created characters within are all up for a bit of a love fest. But to progress from area to area, you’ll need to go up against your compatriots, prove your block busting skills and hope that they see enough in you for them to decide to help you out, allowing the story to push on. Whilst Tumblestone is a fairly relaxed affair, it is these end of stage areas which see the pace pick up massively, pushing your brain, and everything you’ve previously learnt to the max.
It is however a simple affair, and one that takes next to no time to learn, but as with all good puzzlers, the difficulty and intriguing nature it brings ramps up fairly swiftly.
You see, to mix things up and stop any old stale smell from seeping through Tumblestone’s walls are a number of clever magical blocks and special rules. Pushed into action at a rate which allows you to fully understand not just how they work, but exactly how to get past a stage that is littered with them, these special actions see blocks appear and disappear, have them arrive in a multicoloured variety, mix up the columns, allow for double shots and much more. They are a great way of ensuring that Tumblestone’s stages don’t ever become too familiar and once you find a few of them combined in one level, will shout with joy each time you master their weird ways.
And that is something which is really key to a good puzzler. Whilst you need to have decent mechanics in place to allow the player to roll from one stage to the next, there also has to be that euphoric feeling that all gamers occasionally feel. It’s a cross between frustration and aha moments, two things which Tumblestone delivers in spades. Just as you think the former has done you over, some time away from the game, before reemerging with a fresh mind and a new look on things, will see the latter arrive. If you get really stuck, then a skip level option is in place…but use it wisely, for they are severely limited. Go back to complete a previously bypassed level though, and you’ll find your precious token back in your bag and ready to be used elsewhere. That in itself is a great little idea which will see you going back over numerous levels many times.
If you do find things in the single player stupidly tough, then there is also the option to hop into a multiplayer battle. And a battle is exactly what it is.
With both local and online multiplayer options in play, and three rather unique game modes to check out, we can’t complain too much about what Tumblestone offers for those with friends. It is however a very different beast when you have someone to go up against and you’ll need fast wits and even faster fingers should you wish to come out as the victor in either the Battle mode, the Tug of War or the seriously swift Puzzle Race. With weights and rubber banding both in place to allow a fairly even feel no matter what the player’s skills and the option to include all the modifying blocks and rules which have previously been unlocked in the single player campaign mixing things up each time you play, you should find Tumblestone bringing some great memories. Memories that will be remembered forever more if you’ve got some online friends to mess around with. It’s just a shame there aren’t too many variations in the multiplayer modes on offer. Some form of co-operative block removing action would have felt great.
However, once you’ve completed the rather lengthy story mode, and have run out of friends to compete against, unfortunately Tumblestone lets itself down a little. In fact, some may argue that it lets itself down a lot as the included Arcade mode can only be played properly if you get your wallet out. You see, after an initial burst of 60 wonderful seconds, the arcade stages are frustratingly locked down, only opening their doors to those who decide to spend a bit of cash.
I don’t have a problem with people who wish to pay for content, especially when a game is initially free to download, but looking further into the future, it does seem to be a bit of a strange decision to see gamers pay once, and then feel the need to drop more cash, for all the features. Seeing as numerous achievements are included as part of the ‘paid add-on’, I can see Tumblestone unfortunately getting a bit of a rough ride. (Edit – It seems that the DLC add-on actually brings 500 more Gamerscore points and doesn’t eat in to the regular 1000GS that gamers are used to. That’s a great move that should delight achievement addicts)
That said, if you’re happy enough to look beyond that and are looking to stick with the huge amount of gameplay found in the story mode and multiplayer sections, then you’ll find a solid, colourful game that may just appeal to more than the usual puzzle fiends…one that is pushed along well with a humorous story in the background. A number of ‘Quests’ have also been included and when combined with the online leaderboards and XP drops that they bring, will see you dipping in and out of Tumblestone for some time to come. A colourblind mode has also thoughtfully been put in place for those who need a bit of a helping hand in distinguishing between the hues.
Overall though, if you’re looking for a rather lovely match-3’er that brings proper puzzles to the table, attempting to do something slightly differently in the process, then it’s most definitely one for you, especially as a free Xbox Games With Gold title. Just be aware of that paid content if you want to check out the Arcade mode.