Review: Pixel Blocked
Pixel Blocked is fantastic. You can go and read the rest of the review if you want (and I bet most of you will) but I know I've found the first puzzle game on Windows Phone that I really connect with. It may already be available for the Xbox Console and on the PC, but I've found it on Windows Phone, so it's Windows Phone Puzzle Game #1 in my mind! Here's why.
Version Reviewed: 188.8.131.52
Your goal is to fill the pattern of the game grid with pixel blocks by firing blocks in from your gun. These are generally batched in similarly shaped levels, so you have six variants of "stick man" to work through, before you reach the six levels made up of a bow-tie shape. Inside each 'six' there are subtle differences through the use of fixed blocks, magnets that will stop your blocks as they pass through the pixels, and fragile blocks which do count towards "filling" a pattern - but if they stop one of your fired blocks, they'll disappear and you get left with a gap.
I hope you can plan ahead, because you're going to need it.
You can spin the game grid round and you can fire pixels into any column from along the base. With just those two positional changes, you can fill every grid that is presented to you. Can, not will. Because there's a lot to think about, and if you start winging it and improvising with no planning then you'll never finish them successfully.
What I do like is that Pixel Blocked has got the difficulty curve just right. The early levels seem hard, and the difficulty feels consistent as you work through the game; but if you jump back to those early levels it's as if you can do them with your eyes shut. It's clear to me that whoever designed the puzzles has done an exceptionally good job.
Pixel Blocked has two different control methods. The first on offer is a simple "hot spot" approach with areas of the screen set to move your gun, rotate the board, and fire the blocks into the game grid. It works, and if that was all that was on offer I'd be okay with that - there's not much you can do with a touch screen. But you can swipe, which is the second control method, and the one I prefer. Up or down the screen rotates the grid, left and right swipes move the gun, and a tap of the screen fires a pixel block. Simple, easy to remember, and within moments you forget about concentrating on which move and you just do it automatically.
Neither is it just a matter of completing each grid - once that's accomplished you can go back to try and earn more medals for solving a level in a smaller number of moves, or in an insanely short amount of time. If this was an Xbox Live title, the medals and achievements would contribute to your gamer points, but as this is a standalone title it's just a nice way to keep you coming back to the game.
The final thing I love is the graphical style - it has captured that NES/8-bit feeling perfectly. That's not easy, and I suspect that it has taken more work to get the old school feeling than it would be to have modern 2012 level graphics. It works though. The game grid is clear and understandable, all the pieces and blocks are clearly different without looking childish, and the background images break up the screen while not being overpowering.
That's not to say that there aren't some modern touches in the UI, because there are. The "shake your phone to restart" is a wonderful touch, and if you do get a touch of frustration creeping in then you can push it out of your body while setting everything back to the starting point. If you watch the big, blocky graphics carefully then you'll see that the animations are not the same block style, they are moving fluidly, pixel by pixel (sic), and taking advantage of all the Windows Phone graphical power available.
And of course the control method of swiping your fingers is something that's perfectly suited to a modern smartphone.
Clearly this game is not for everyone - you need to be thinking many moves ahead, there needs to be lots of planning, and you need to appreciate the iterative approach of 'play a bit, make a mistake, start again, play a bit more'. If that describes you, then you're going to love Pixel Blocked and you should start setting aside a lot of time to work through the 180 levels.
In case you're wondering, that does describe me - my weekend is sorted. And I think a lot of you will be happy to join me.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at