Review: Zen Blocks

Another block puzzle game? What’s left for the genre to offer that’s fresh and new? It’s a valid question for sure. Zen Blocks by no means reinvents the wheel, but it does put enough of an interesting slant on things to merit attention from casual puzzle-solvers.

Zen Blocks is a block puzzler in which the goal is to–get this–connect at least four blocks of the same color, to clear them from the screen. What’s unique here is the design of the play area and the way you interact with it. The play board is set up as a 9 x 9 grid, minus the visible grid lines. Each side of the square is lined by nine nodes, clickable entry points for determining where blocks are placed and from what direction. Each level begins with an existing configuration of blocks in place for you to build matches from and clear away by launching single blocks, one at a time, onto the board from any of the 36 entry points. A launched block will attach itself only to the side of any block facing the direction from which it enters the screen. For example, if you place a block from a point on the right, the block will sweep from right to left across the entire line and add blocks of its color to the right side of existing blocks it contacts along that line. Otherwise it will pass right through without leaving any extra blocks behind.

From this base, the game provides three mode variations. The primary mode challenges you to a progressive sequence of puzzles that each need to be completed within a limited number of moves. Timed play starts you with a minute on a clock, and tasks you with clearing as many levels as possible before the timer ticks down to zero. Arcade mode falls somewhere in between, affording you 50 moves to start each level, while adding an element of urgency in the form of blocks that periodically and randomly spawn on the board. It’s a combination of needing to be fast and efficient with your moves yet always mindful of an unseen clock counting down to the next block being added.

Ultimately, though, the three modes feel far too similar to one another. Top high scores are saved locally for each mode, but Steamworks benefits like online leaderboards and achievements are currently not in place, hurting the long-term value.

Depending on the mode, additional turns or precious seconds on the clock can be earned by forming matches larger than four blocks. Contrary to the rules of most other puzzlers, blocks can be connected diagonally in addition to the direct contact points on all four sides. The only caveat is that blocks connected diagonally won’t trigger the match until another block is launched into direct contact with one of the squares in the cluster. The chosen entry point for each move dictates how each block connects with those already on the screen, so you always need to be aware of how a move is going to alter the board and potentially set up for future matches. There’s an underlying strategy to placing blocks that’s a little more thoughtful and nuanced than the average match-3 puzzle game.

Living up to its name, Zen Blocks succeeds at offering a relaxing, stress-free puzzle experience with a unique central mechanic that helps distinguish the game from other colored block or gem puzzlers. A blue minimalistic landscape of triangle mountains and changing seasons and weather effects sets a clean, soothing backdrop to calm the senses and put you in a Zen state of mind while playing. Overall, the game’s a decent way to kill time in five to ten minute blocks, but playing any longer than that in a sitting, the initial sense of relaxation becomes too casual and sleepy, making way for boredom to creep in. A lacking depth of challenge and variety prevents the game from developing that all-important one-more-try addiction a puzzle game needs to really hook you in over the long run.

TryIt

Pros:
+ Brings a different twist to match-4 puzzle solving
+ Relaxing, minimalistic vibe

Cons:
– Lacks challenge and urgency to hold your attention for more than a few minutes at a time
– Not enough meaningful variation between modes

Game Info:
Platform: PC/Mac
Publisher: Gazzapper Games
Developer: Gazzapper Games
Release Date: 12/4/2017
Genre: Puzzle
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1

Source: Steam code for Zen Blocks was provided to VGBlogger for review consideration by Gazzapper Games.

Buy From: Steam for $2.99.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!