Please Note: I originally wrote this review for The Game Bolt. That version can be found here.
Tumblestone, the brand new puzzle game from the brains behind The Bridge, aims to bring the match-three puzzler back into our living rooms and away from our mobile phones. With a limited-run physical edition around the corner, The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild’s idea is noble, but the final product? Not so much.
Advertised as ‘the first original action-puzzle game of the past fifteen years’, Tumblestone clearly wants to be remembered as one of the finest puzzle games in years to come. This won’t happen. It’s a good puzzle game, but it is marred by some terrible design choices and a few gameplay issues.
The match-three formula is solid, it’s a skill-based game rather than luck as you don’t rely on getting the right colour piece at the right time. Every mistake you make is of your own doing. Instead, you shoot magic upwards a number of columns to get rid of a tumblestone, having to match three of the same colours before moving onto the next batch of three. The game encourages quick play (for multiplayer and single player races), but using the keyboard can feel a bit cumbersome. I opted to play the game using the mouse, meaning pointing at the column you want to fire up, and clicking to do so. The controls are very simple, making you wonder whether Tumblestone was a mobile phone game to begin with.
Tumblestone is not on mobile phones however. This is a proper lengthy home-console or PC experience. Playing through the single player campaign took me around 35 hours, which, combined with the multiplayer offerings means you get plenty of bang for your buck. The single player campaign is where you’ll learn all the variants of Tumblestone’s match-three gameplay, introducing you to a new gimmick in eleven of its twelve worlds.
Each world offers a new twist on the game’s formula and I found some to be much more frustrating than others. A small number of the gimmicks didn’t make sense to me at all, so getting through portions of the game became a real slog, especially when the longer stages came into play. For the majority of the game, finishing a stage means clearing the screen of tumblestones, but at least twice in every world you will come across a stage with multiple screens (usually four).
These stages are ridiculously difficult. In each stage you can restart quickly if you make a mistake, but in these marathon stages you have to go through each stage at once, meaning if you make a mistake in the final screen, you have to start again at screen one. Each screen in these stages is a tricky little bugger too. You can’t write down individual clues for each screen either because they are randomised. It became so infuriating at times that I had to take breaks from playing the game before I destroyed the keyboard or monitor.
The idea of the story mode is that it gets progressively harder, but I didn’t really find that. It’s more like each world starts off very easy, and gets ludicrously difficult towards the end. I’d enjoy the game for a while, and then hate it an hour later. But I still wanted to play it. There’s no worse feeling than being bested by a stage in a puzzle game so there is definitely an aspect of ‘just one more level’. For the levels you just can’t beat, there are limited skip tokens in the game, but who wants to use those?
Each world also introduces you to a new character. After beating a world, you unlock its character to use in multiplayer, which only visually affects the experience. The plot of the story mode revolves around these twelve characters, who are going on a quest to find the tumble crown in order to quell the incessant waves of tumblestones. Each character has their own idea of what’s going on and the dialogue between them all can be mildly amusing, but the plot is pretty thin.
The presentation of the plot however is incredibly dire. Character designs are terrible, the music is awful and the menus are uninspired; as a package it feels shoddy. The shockingly bad art does ruin the game, as story cutscenes can be a pain to click through. Despite the odd humorous line of dialogue, the story is throwaway and actually detracts from the gameplay, which is usually fine.
Tumblestone can be an enjoyable puzzle game, with some clever tricks up its sleeve. The fast-paced gameplay can make for some fun multiplayer too, but its single player can get ridiculously frustrating with some punishing moments. The presentation just drags the whole game down too, as it is not enjoyable in the slightest to look at or listen to.
Tumblestone is a strong puzzle game with some clever tricks up its sleeve, but with awful character design, terrible music, some infuriating stage design and a poor plot I can’t recommend it.