Review: Mad Alpha Blocker: Revenge of the Fluzzles (Sony PSP/PS3)

Mad Blocker Alpha: Revenge of the Fluzzles
Publisher: Open Emotion Studios
Developer: Open Emotion Studios
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 04/19/2011

I haven’t reviewed a Mini since March, and that was the excellent Pix’N Love Rush. That game is currently sitting as my favorite Mini I’ve ever played, and one of my top games for 2011. Needless to say, any subsequent Mini was going to have some pretty big shoes to fill.

Enter Mad Blocker Alpha: Revenge of the Fluzzles. The name alone gets one’s brain working. What kind of game is this? What the heck is a Fluzzle? Just who are they seeking revenge against? A quick search online got me some answers. The game is a puzzle game in the same vein of classics such as Tetris and Columns. Things fall from the sky, you rearrange them, and make groups to clear blocks and score points. That was all I needed to know. I was sold. I quickly threw my hat in and got the code.

A little information before we get into things. MBA is actually a sequel to an early 2010 flash title that was the developer’s first. That game, simply titled Mad Blocker, is available for free online and is worth checking out. This game offers more modes, art, and a fleshed out story. The developer is making the next step, and this game is on the forefront of their push.

Sadly, if you’ll look at the release date, you’ll see that they kind of got screwed. The game came out right before the Great PSN Crash of 2011. It took well over a month for PSN to get back up, and even longer for the PSN Store to get its act together. Considering that sales for almost every game out there are very front loaded, one can’t help feel sorry for this indie developer who got screwed because Sony didn’t have very good security and a group of jerks out there decided to take advantage.

Anyways, let’s get down to the game. Is this yet another Mini that players should grab as soon as possible, or is this another EXAMPLE. Twin Blades? I really didn’t like Twin Blades.

Story/Modes

Yes, there is a story to this puzzle game. The Fluzzles, as it turns out, are weird little creatures who can morph into various shapes. They enjoy morphing and goofing around, but when creatures called Mokes start strip mining their land in order to boost profits, it’s up to them to put a stop to it. Turns out, if they morph into blocks and get together, they can resurrect the legendary beast known as the Great Buhmba. They can rejuvenate the land and save the day, but at a risk. If they stay too long in their block form, they get stuck that way permanently. So, it’s just like Animorphs, except with an environmentalist tinge.

I can’t imagine anyone caring too much about the plot per se. Beyond the beginning, there are only a small handful of sequences, each hand drawn illustrations that clue you in to your progress. After the final boss is defeated, the game kind of ends. It’s amusing that there is a story to the game, but it isn’t anything that will push you forward as you play. It’s just there, and gave the developer a reason to come up with some interesting art.

As far as modes go, you have three different play types to fool around with. For starters, you have the main story. This mode contains all of the “cut-scenes” and about fifteen or so different levels. Each level has a specific challenge for you to complete. You’ll have to score a certain amount of points, make a certain number of combos, reach a score in a time limit, and even defeat a boss. The inclusion of level specific objectives sets this game apart from many comparable titles. In Tetris, you just play. Here, you have goals. I like it.

The second mode of play, Endless Mode, is basic for this kind of game: you play until you lose and try to rack up as high a score as you possibly can. There are no time limits or objectives. All you need to do is play. After you’ve beaten the story, this will be the bulk of your time spent playing the game.

Finally, you have Tower Mode. This is an odd one. Rather than trying to clear blocks, you’ll be trying to top out. The goal is to NOT make groups so that your stack gets as high as possible. The very power-ups that saved you time and again in other modes are now your enemies. Bombs clear out huge sections of work, causing you to curse. This mode is definitely interesting. I’m not sure I like it, however. There are multiple difficulties, and on easy you can just hold down and win. On hard, those power-ups come more frequently and the pieces you get are designed to get combos. I give the developers credit for making something new, but I don’t’ think too many people will be able to get into this.

For a Mini, the game is packing plenty of content. Too many puzzle games just give you the basic mechanic and nothing else. At the very least, MBA is trying to do something new while still offering the classic game modes. If it had a multiplayer option, I’d call it the most fully featured Mini I’d ever seen. As it is, the game is still high on the list.

Graphics

If any of you reading this happen to be knowledgeable of Yu-Gi-Oh, the art seems to come from the same vein as the Ojamas. The Fluzzles are a bizarre looking bunch that nonetheless somehow manage to ooze with charm. Ooze is the right word, as they are some ugly looking dudes. There are four different Fluzzles. You have the angry red Fluzzle, the sad blue Fluzzle, the happy pink Fluzzle, and the rather surprised looking yellow Fluzzle. (How many times can YOU use “Fluzzle” in a sentence?) Outside of the hand-drawn art used as cut-scenes, these dudes are just colored blocks with almost disturbing expressions.

For as weird as the Fluzzles look, the Mokes do their best to out-weird them. You see the big behemoths in the background via those hand-drawn illustrations I keep talking about. They are some freaky looking creatures with big heads, big eyes, and some disturbing looking teeth. I’d call it a caricature of corporate goons, but considering that the heroes don’t look much better, I’m afraid of what that means for everyone else.

Overall, the art in the game is simply weird. It may not give the best first impression, but it still finds a way to be interesting and amusing enough to leave a positive impression. I’m not sure I’d want any of it hanging on my wall, but it’s cool nonetheless.

In terms of the rest of the game, the graphics are a major wash. The Fluzzles switch between two animations, and are basically just colored blocks. The backgrounds are static and don’t change as you play. Effects are extremely minimal. There’s pretty much only the effect of blocks disappearing. There isn’t even a proper explosion when a bomb goes off. The closest thing to action you get is a spinning slot machine in the upper right hand corner, and even still, it doesn’t look impressive.

It all boils down to the art style. You’ll either love it or hate it, and the rest of the package is so bare-bones as to leave the game seemingly almost unfinished from a graphical standpoint. Some more effects would certainly have gone a long way. As it is, the game isn’t going to wow anyone here.

Audio

The big thing to talk about here is the music. On the default setting, the music is cranked up and the effects toned down. The issue here is that the music is almost as polarizing as the art style. I found some tunes good, others annoying, and yet others simply unremarkable. Basically, it seems to be slightly jazzed up elevator music. The biggest crime is that you can’t chose your own tune when playing Endless Mode. I really didn’t care to hear the main theme played on loop for ten minutes. I desperately searched for a way to change the song in the options, but it wasn’t to be.

As far as audio effects? They’re even more bare-bones than the visual package. Apart from a couple of clicking sounds in the menu, the only sound you’re ever going to hear is the “pop” of blocks disappearing. It’s the same sound every time and there are no special sounds for bombs or any of the other power-ups.

This is one game you can safely play with the sound off.

Gameplay

If you’ve ever played a classic puzzle game, you’ll feel right at home with this title. Blocks fall from the top of the screen, you rearrange them, and drop them where you want. The goal is to get four or more blocks of the same color touching, which will cause them to disappear, dropping any blocks that were on top of them and scoring you points. You can easily set up combos by clearing multiple colors at once or by, say, clearing a row of blue blocks in order to drop a red block onto some of its buddies. The next configuration of blocks you’ll get is shown on the left side of the screen, as is the score. It’s basic stuff that most gamers have spent countless hours doing on many other games.

One of the biggest changes here is that you can only cycle the blocks in your group of three. You can’t rotate them. From a strategical point of view, this is pretty huge and changes the way you look at the game. You can’t pull the old Tetris trick of building large stacks with an open slot just dying for a straight piece. Instead, you need to focus and pay attention to where all of those colored blocks are stacking up. If you are dead set on building up red pieces in a corner, you’re also putting blocks in the next two blocks over, and those colors might not be matching. Whoops. Which method of play is better is open for debate, but it definitely gives MBA its own feel.

I mentioned the slot machine earlier. This mechanic actually handles the power-ups. When you create a chain, the slot spins and may or may not give you one of three power-ups. You can get a bomb that goes off after a time delay, a statue that crushes an entire column below it, or a special that takes out every block of a single color. Each of these come in handy in certain situations, and the nifty thing is that you’re not forced to use the power-up when the slot machine spins. Instead, it stores up to three and keeps them ready for you to use. Each item is assigned a face button, and you call whichever one you want. Just be forewarned that you can’t carry more than three, so any subsequent chains will not produce an item. This is a pretty nifty system that adds a significant amount of depth.

It’s rare that a puzzle game stands out from the pack. At first, I didn’t think that MBA would, but I’ve since relented. The slot system combined with the inability to rotate your pieces makes this game play very differently from other games of its ilk. Can it stand on the shoulders of the true classics? Perhaps not, but any puzzle fan should have an absolute blast with it.

Replayability

The disappointment here is that the story mode has absolutely no replay value. With no high scores to beat or new challenges to conquer, one play through is all it takes to see everything the game has to offer here. If you want replay value, you have to look to the other modes.

Endless Mode has a classic replay value that will appeal to puzzle fans. Besting your own high score is a drive that pushes many to spend hours on end playing games like this, and the mode here has enough going for it to tap into that same drive. I still go back and play Tetris, Lumines, and Dr. Mario because those games are fun and I have a high score to topple. This game is certainly going to be a new staple on my memory card and will likely be something I go back to every once and a while.

Tower Mode is a toss up. I wasn’t a fan, and I can’t see myself going back to it very often except on rare occasions. If you end up liking it, that gives you two modes you can go back to. Both of these modes have options where you can tweak the starting difficulty and speed. This makes for a slightly customizable experience that works. After all, puzzle gamers have spent countless hours where we start off on the highest level and see how far we can get. It’s just fun.

For a Mini, this game certainly has some potential longevity to it.

Balance

The story mode is pretty easy. Most levels don’t have a time limit and don’t get harder as they go along. Heck, I was being stupid when I first picked up the game. I didn’t read the directions and thus didn’t know to use the shoulder buttons to cycle through blocks. Instead, I just dropped them as is. Even with me being an idiot in this regard, I made it through levels with no problem. The only times I failed were when I was first faced with a time limit, as I hadn’t yet figured out my strategy for quickly getting combos out there. Once I got that out of the way, I never lost another timed mission. I did lose a couple of times where I got too zealous and buried myself in blocks, but these were gaffes on my part and not because the game was hard.

The other two modes have a classic difficulty curve. As you play, the blocks fall faster and faster. If you can’t react equally as fast, you’re going to get buried and top out fast. The scores you get for clearing a few blocks are minimal, with the score exponentially increasing when you get chains going. It is the quintessential risk/reward system that makes puzzlers fun.

One thing I should note: I fear for the lack of skill of other players I’ve seen. One guy I was reading said that his friend was taunting him with a score of thirty thousand and that he was desperate to catch up. I scored well over this mark on my first attempt while half asleep. Either I’m that good, or some people are that bad. I will say that this game is nicely balanced in that there are different milestones for different players, meaning players with any amount of skill can have fun competing with each other. (Although not with multiplayer unfortunately.)

Originality

There are three things going for this game that help it stand out from the crowd.

Firstly, I’ve never seen any puzzle game where a mode’s goal was for you to top out. The fact that Tower Mode even exists gets this game some points. I could be wrong about this being a new thing, and if I am, someone tell me. I’d love to see more takes on the concept. As for now, color me impressed.

Secondly, the slot machine is pretty cool. Slot machines in and of themselves aren’t anything new. Square Enix loves them. However, there is a difference between the crappy kinds found in Final Fantasy VII and its PSP prequel and the nifty one here. Power-ups in puzzle games are supposed to be rare, and this machine keeps that tradition solid while not being too stingy.

Thirdly, the ability to store and use these power-ups at will is a nice touch. I know some versions of Tetris allow you to store a block, but not three that you can pick and choose from. This sets MBA apart and was yet another nice touch.

On the surface, MBA appears to be just another puzzle game. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll find it has all kinds of tricks up its sleeve.

Addictiveness

The hallmark of a truly great puzzle game is its ability to suck you in and keep you playing for far longer than you had originally intended. MBA definitely has a bit of that going for it. For example, I started playing around with the game just to listen to all of the music for a bit. I told myself that I was just going to listen to a tune or two and move on. However, I ended up playing through most of the levels I had just wanted to test out. Then, I couldn’t stop myself from goofing around with Endless Mode. That’s a very good sign.

The big downer here is Tower Mode. Once again, I just didn’t feel it. For as much as I’m praising this mode for its originality, I really just couldn’t get into it. Perhaps my brain considers the mode to be an abomination or something, I don’t know. However, if one mode falls short, the whole of the game suffers a little for it.

Appeal Factor

Puzzle fanatics are likely to have played the original Mad Blocker in one of its forms. If not, I can see several people giving the free version a try online. However, only this version has all of the modes and options. Once again, the best version of a game is available only as a Mini. That gives this game some props right there.

For a mere four dollars, this game certainly has some appeal. Quality puzzle titles are rare, with the market flooded by cheap copies and wannabes. I can say with certainty that this game is worth the money and stands miles above Fish Tank, another Mini puzzler I’ve reviewed. If you’re looking for a new puzzle game to put on your PSP, this is a great option.

Miscellaneous

Well once again, there isn’t much to talk about in the miscellaneous section. I’ve pretty much covered everything about the game, and all there is left to do is to organize my thoughts and figure out a score for this bad boy.

What we have here is a game that doesn’t necessarily make the best first impression. It seems at first to be nothing more than a clone of far better games that came before it. However, the inclusion of a goal-based story mode and a few unique features definitely give it wings to fly above its station. This is one of the rare but awesome cases where someone makes a great game instead of some shallow, money grubbing piece of crap. I’m looking forward to what these guys do next.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Good
Graphics: Below Average
Audio: Mediocre
Gameplay: Very Good
Replayability: Enjoyable
Balance: Good
Originality: Very Good
Addictiveness: Enjoyable
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Enjoyable
Final Score: Enjoyable Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

For those looking for a fun new puzzle game for the PSP (or PS3), Mad Blocker Alpha: Revenge of the Fluzzles is just the ticket. It takes a basic, popular style of puzzling and then adds a few twists of its own to create fun little title that puzzle fanatics will greatly appreciate. At the low price of four dollars, this game is easy to recommend. I’m very interested to see what these guys come up with next.

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