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Review: Tetrobot and Co.

The reason for the lack of fanfare is because the devious designers know that avid puzzlers will supply their own delighted applause as they reach one “aha” moment after another.

Tetrobot and Co.

Tetrobot and Co. begins with little fanfare, just a few simple drawings to sketch out the plot. Rather than bogging things down with a complex narrative or so much as a tutorial, the game prefers to let its puzzles speak for themselves. It correctly assumes that the elegant puzzles are enough to draw in the avid gamer, and that the only reward a player needs for helping Maya and her microscopic Psychobot to repair one Tetrobot is the opportunity to fix another one. Story elements are relegated to journal entries, so that players can focus on progressing from merely absorbing and ejecting cubes across a horizontal plane to assembling them into often complex shapes.

It’s a streamlined concept, to be sure, and all of the platforming elements from Swing Swing Submarine’s prequel, Blocks That Matter, have been removed. (To move Psychobot, you simply click where you want him to go.) But streamlined doesn’t mean simple, and Tetrobot and Co., like Fez and Braid, continues to introduce new concepts right up to the Portal-riffing end: Spacebot’s interior is littered with teleportation rifts, some of which recognize Psychobot, some of which only transport cubes, and some of which can only be used by your slime-like foes.

The reason, then, for the lack of fanfare is because the devious designers know that avid puzzlers will supply their own delighted applause as they reach one “aha” moment after another. It’s one thing to realize that blocks made of the same material will adhere together and another to notice that shooting a laser through a Wood block will disintegrate it, or that a Steel block will carry an electrical current. As with the best puzzlers, mastering Tetrobot and Co. requires you to essentially learn a new language, using trial and error and deductive reasoning to figure out how to manipulate the 13 different types of cubes and the various hazards. The difference between this and, say, Rosetta Stone, is that Tetrobot and Co. never feels like work.

Part of that may be due to Morusque’s soothing soundtrack, as you can get stuck for hours without getting frustrated. But a great deal of credit goes toward the aesthetically pleasing design. Each new Tetrobot clearly introduces its obstacles and gives you firsthand experience with how they work, trusting you to remember these skills for later, more complicated challenges. Within Watabot, you’ll use the velocity of a cannon to splash through liquid barriers. Inside Puddinbot, you’ll note that cubes immediately adhere to its gelatinous walls. There are no hard-to-see blocks or secret pipes, just a series of obstacles that seem impossible right up until the point at which they become blindingly obvious.

Even the hints are cleverly integrated into the game. Each time you pick up a new type of cube, you can visit their Faceblox page and read their status updates. Sand, for instance, posts, “Whoa, it’s so hot that I’m going to turn to glass!” And, sure enough, sending a Sand block through a laser will turn it into a Glass block. Experimentation is recommended as well, and a robust rewinding tool allows you to take back as many moves as you want. Should you realize that you’ve improperly squished a creature (its adhesive goo splattered all over the wrong side of the murderous block), you won’t have to start from scratch. These are nice considerations, considering that some of the later levels can easily take a half-hour.

Save for the extremely rare glitch or two, nothing ever gets in the way of this pure, intellectual gameplay. Even after 50 levels, the puzzles still seem fresh and never tiresome. Blocks That Matter was an excellent game, and yet Tetrobot and Co. comes across as a huge improvement. Swing Swing Submarine has made a Game That Matters, or, at the very least, a game that will tickle your gray matter.

Developer: Swing Swing Submarine Publisher: Swing Swing Submarine Platform: PC Release Date: October 22, 2013 Buy: Game

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