So what’s worse than blocks everywhere, inconveniently arranged in piles that desperately need to be reorganized while more rain down endlessly from above? Being trapped in the well with the pieces, avoiding being squished while doing it. Super Puzzle Platformer Deluxe plops a little yellow guy (henceforth referred to as Yellow-guy) in a well made up of colored blocks with more dropping in from above, requiring him to shoot them away to survive as long as possible.
It’s a simple enough premise that rapidly gets hectic. The well is eight blocks wide, and there are three colors of blocks. They fall randomly from the top, usually one at a time, and the trick to a good score is to clear out large color clusters. You can only shoot left or right, but blocks underfoot can be cleared if a like-colored block is sitting on top of it. Blocks take a few shots to clear, and the larger the interconnected mass the more shooting it takes. The reward for a single block is a grand total of one point, but larger masses increase in value semi-exponentially, so with a little bit of careful harvesting to allow the right colors to connect you can earn a couple thousand points in a single epic clearance.
Nice as a good point harvest is, you’ll probably spend more time chasing after the bouncing chips left behind. The little gold triangles fill up the experience bar when collected, boosting Yellow-guy’s stats up to a maximum of level 4. There’s a bit of give and take, however, because getting squished by a falling block knocks a full level off Yellow-guy’s experience. Higher levels yield a stronger attack, lessening the number of shots required to clear out the larger combos. When blocks are raining from the sky and missile launchers are throwing homing one-hit death your way, every little bit of speed helps.
While fairly resilient against blocks falling on his head, Yellow-guy dies instantly from any other damage. Fall to the spiked floor, get hit by a fireball, laser, or missile, have a hazard block drop on his head, it’s all instant death. Hazard blocks act as wild cards, so destroying any connecting block will remove it from the board. Destroying it when it’s been buried by a block cascade and the monster it released is wandering around the top of the pile, however, may take a bit of scrambling, especially when it’s joined by other hazards. The well is eight blocks wide, which feels like plenty until hazards start piling up.
Each new attempt starts fairly slow, until Yellow-guy gathers enough chips to gain his first level, at which point hazard blocks join the mix. By then, however, a little careful play should have the start of some good sized combos available, which earn a floating invincibility star when collected. While stars can be earned, the gems that fuel progress show up a bit more randomly. Collecting enough gems in an environment and you’ll open up different characters with new abilities, new environments, and themed challenge levels. The characters are all varied enough that using one over the other can completely change the approach to the game. The Ninja is fast and has a double-jump, and is all about mobility, while the starting Cape has a high jump plus slowed descent. The rocketman has the highest jump in the game, but it’s slow, while Hachimaki’s jump is comparatively short and only has a one-block attack range, but it’s very strong and is as fast as you can hit the button. The net result is a ridiculously high level of replayability that can easily see a couple hours fly by before you even notice they’re gone.
Super Puzzle Platformer Deluxe is an excellent variation on the block-clearing puzzle genre. Unlike similar titles (Hello Kitty’s Cube Frenzy, anyone?) you don’t have any control over the falling blocks, but you do get to decide which ones stay and which get removed, to a point. The lack of a vertical attack means you need to be careful about what goes where, but with a bit of strategy the random nature of the falling blocks brings a much smaller level of chance than you’d think. Planning a few moves in advance while keeping an eye on the coming obstacles and hoping the wrong block won’t fall in the wrong spot, all while moving to collect the gold chips left behind by the destruction, makes for an incredibly fun round of puzzle platforming. Super Puzzle Platformer Deluxe packs a ton of great run/jump/shoot/puzzle action in its arcade shell, and is easily one of the best Tetris-style games to show up in a very long time.