Review: Blok Drop U

An interesting debut effort from a one-man indie studio, but it’s not enough to carry the sparse game design.

By Jake Shapiro. Posted 03/06/2014 10:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Intriguing core game design, and it's only $1.99!
Poison Mushroom for...
A bare-bones experience. Not even a save function? Really?

Games researcher Jesper Juul writes in his book A Casual Revolution about “juicy” game design. The way he puts it,

“A juicy interface is one that gives excessive amounts of feedback for all of your actions– particle effects (you can’t have too many), halos, sounds, things that glow, bounces, echoes, and so on. Juicy interfaces are usually incredibly satisfying, and it is one of the things that PopCap excel at creating. Juicy interfaces are generally quite addictive, in the positive sense.”

I can’t help but think Pittsburgh developer RCMADIAX could’ve used a bit more juice in its debut game, Blok Drop U. The Wii U eShop indie title is a physics-based puzzle game where you destroy gray blocks to guide your red square safely to the ground. And that’s about it. Blok Drop U has a minimalist art style with no bells or whistles. No scoring, no leaderboards, no feedback for the player. The game’s electronic music is decent until you realize it’s just a single song that plays over and over through the entire game, which is exacerbated by the fact that there are no sound effects in the game at all. There’s also no way to save your progress; Blok Drop U is split into three sets of ten levels (with more coming down the road as free DLC), and if you want to stop playing and come back to the game later, you’ll have to start the entire section over again, just like in the good ol’ NES days.

It’s a bummer, because with a bit more juicy design, Blok Drop U could be a great little game. The puzzles can be frustratingly difficult, but there’s a Jenga-like catharsis when you finally figure one out and all the blocks fall how you want them to. Blok Drop U has a nice mix of strategic puzzle gameplay (planning out which blocks to destroy in what order) and lightning-fast twitch gameplay (quickly destroying blocks in mid-fall to change the trajectory of your red square).

The game is played entirely on the GamePad, with the stylus used to destroy blocks on the touchscreen. The gameplay is shown on your television, but while the graphics look crisp on the GamePad, its resolution is muddy and awkward when blown up to TV screen size. Clearly the developer had the GamePad in mind first and foremost.

Blok Drop U reminds me of another intentionally-misspelled block-physics-based puzzle game: EA’s Boom Blox on Wii. While Boom Blox is full of juicy game design choices, Blok Drop U is a bare-bones experience. But Boom Blox was also the pet project of Steven Spielberg and a major publisher. Blok Drop U was programmed entirely by one guy in HTML5 code, and it only costs $1.99. For two bucks, you’re more likely to get your money’s worth out of Blok Drop U. It’s unfair to stack this game up against $60 AAA titles.

Budget pricing provides a moral quandary: is a $2 game only required to be 1/30th as fun as a $60 big-budget title? If so, Blok Drop U is a success. It doesn’t quite live up to its premise, but many fans are still pitching in their two bucks for the downloadable eShop title to tell Nintendo there’s a market for independent games on Wii U. I fully support that! But I still can’t in good faith recommend a game with no sound effects or even any save function. Blok Drop U has a nice nugget of potential that I’d love to see fully realized in future games from RCMADIAX, but this one doesn’t quite nail it. It’s still great to see more indie games on Nintendo consoles, though, and I look forward to what we see next. Maybe even an improved 3DS version of Blok Drop once Nintendo brings the HTML5 framework to its portable system?

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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