A puzzle game that you have to pay for? And it’s not on a phone? It’s okay, Tumblestone is good enough to pay actual money for and play on your couch, especially with friends.
What Is It?
Tumblestone is a match-three puzzle game. You control a character that slides along the bottom of a wall of blocks, and your goal is to clear the wall by shooting three consecutive blocks of the same color. Unlike many “puzzle” games, the challenges in Tumblestone truly are crafted puzzles. There are right ways and wrong ways to clear each one, and one wrong move often leads to failure.
When you start a new game of Tumblestone, you’re dropped directly into the first puzzle. No instructions, no tutorials. In some games, that would be a ridiculous oversight, but in this game, it speaks volumes about the intelligence of its design. It doesn’t need a tutorial. Even when new mechanics are introduced, their visual designs alone clearly demonstrate how they work.
The central skill you need to employ is foresight. Sometimes that means figuring out which three blocks will be accessible after you clear the three right in front of you, but more often it means looking four or five moves ahead and working backwards. At first, this may feel like guessing, but after enough puzzling experience, it becomes deliberate and very satisfying.
(Colorblind gamers like myself: Don’t worry, the colors are easily distinguishable, and if you have any trouble, there’s a colorblind mode. The blocks are also differentiated by individual faces.)
Why Should I Care?
The core mechanic in Tumblestone creates a certain brain rhythm—a momentum that builds as you begin to see exactly how the rest of the puzzle will play out—that feels wonderful when you can pull it off. At a certain point in most puzzles, the path forward simply reveals itself to you, and you start shooting blocks at a super fast pace until they’re all gone. This feeling of momentum is fantastic.
The robust story mode gradually introduces puzzle modifiers that elevate Tumblestone beyond its simple mechanics. The most basic is a shot blocker: an impenetrable stone block that can only be cleared once all of the blocks below it are eliminated. It’s a simple modifier that doesn’t change the strategy too much, but a more advanced version is quickly introduced that shows just how varied the gameplay can be. Rather than static shot blockers, the advanced version alternates between transparent and solid every time you shoot, so you need to plan out your shots to avoid being blocked. When two or three of these blockers are thrown in, it forces you to plan several steps ahead. Like the base rules, this takes some time to learn, but after awhile, it becomes second nature and even more satisfying.
There are eleven modifiers in total, and many of them are used in tandem in the story mode. The modifiers are varied and smartly designed, and they change up the feel of the game enough to keep it interesting throughout the story mode.
However, like many puzzles games, getting stuck can be maddening, and Tumblestone gets very difficult. I found that taking a break and coming back to a puzzle the next day allowed me to quickly solve it, even after beating my head against it to no avail the day before. Luckily you can earn a skip token once per world, so skidding to a stop at a tough puzzle doesn’t always force you to quit altogether. It’s a little disappointing that Tumblestone isn’t releasing on any handheld or mobile platforms, because it seems like the perfect game to pick up and play a few levels at a time to avoid this kind of problem.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
The reason it is on PC and consoles is because it’s a fantastic multiplayer experience. Up to four players (local, online, or AI) compete side-by-side to complete puzzles first. What can be a very slow, deliberate solo experience turns into a frantic race in multiplayer. All of the modifiers that you’ve unlocked in the story mode are available in multiplayer, as well as a random modifier of the day that lets you use one that you haven’t unlocked yet.
The other single player modes offer tweaks to the basic mechanics, such as a constantly falling infinite wall of blocks or an infinite series of structured puzzles similar to the story levels. These can be a fun distraction, but the real meat of the game is in the story mode and multiplayer.
Tumblestone is snappy, polished, and smartly designed. The basic mechanics are iterated on within this one game more than they would be in most sequels, and there’s enough content in the story mode alone to last weeks or months in short play sessions, let alone the replayability of the multiplayer mode. In a world with nearly endless free-to-play match-three games on mobile devices, Tumblestone completely justifies itself as a premium game on consoles.