Puzzle games are a pound a penny on the handheld market. Does NekoBuro: Cats Block by F K Digital have what it takes to stick out in a highly saturated market?
The opening premise of this title is that cuboid cats from outer space have come to our world to enslave us. They soon realize that they can use their cuteness to get whatever they want. A young girl takes them in due to how adorable they are. They then start to plan their invasion from her living room. That’s pretty much all I cared to know as my brain kind of switched off. It was clearly a story not directed at someone my age. Fortunately the story is very superfluous and you can skip it if you wish.
The main meat of the game is the puzzle element. To a certain extent it bares very similar resemblance to the Sage Megadrive game Columns. By that I mean it’s a tri-cube chaining puzzle game. It uses random combinations of three cat blocks of varying colours in a column where you can flip the colours around. If you place three or more of the same colour cat blocks together in a straight or diagonal line they vanish. Where it varies is that for each row removed you gain energy for your power ups. When you get several lines in a row you get a chain. This gives you a lot more energy for your super meter. It also gives you a chance of free supers on falling columns of cube cats. When your super is ready you can take it and since you can store to you can upgrade another if you wish. Early game you won’t need to but later levels it adds an element of strategy. When ready you affix it to a cat with a quick press of the shoulder buttons then drop it on similar cats so they vanish and the special will activate.
I have to say this is where the game really impresses me. The specials are purposely designed to clear these polygon felines from the board. The first level power up removes all cats in a horizontal line. At level two you can remove a 3×3 square. You can dispose of a vertical line at the third level. Get to the fourth level and you can remove all cats of the same colour. If you do reach the fifth level you get a unique super, a cube that replaces a cat. Once placed, if it gets caught in the blast from another super it activates and clears the entire board. I have to say it’s extremely satisfying to get multiple different super chains in a row.
Each level has a specific challenge and these vary wildly. I never knew exactly what to expect or indeed how difficult it might be. Levels can be very easy and others can be punishingly hard. Some have timers that are counting down so it’s a race against time to complete an objective. Objectives are often get X amount of supers and use them or destroy X amount of certain coloured blocks. Alternatively, the clock can be used as a survival mode for an increased column drop speed challenge. Others have no timer and speed up column drop speed and add other obstacles. There can be grey blocks that fill up a lot of the drop zone area that can only be destroyed by getting 3 or more of a kind next to them. More annoying are the Super puzzle fighter counter inspired shadow cats that randomly drop with a drop timer. This timer slowly decreases and then they reveal their colour. This can cause lucky chains or really block you up. One of the tougher obstacles is the star cube that requires you to use a special to destroy it.
Over five zones the obstacles and variety of cat block colours increases. Even though the difficulty varies it still felt like it scaled correctly. If there is an issue I have it’s with the angle of the column drop zone. A few degrees, so I could be more over the board, would have helped. Due to the 3D nature of the visuals there are times where it’s not entirely clear which cats are near each other. When racing against time with a sped up drop rate this can be frustrating.
Ultimately this game isn’t anything truly genre defining nor is it the longest game and it has no real replay value. Outside of the puzzle element it’s entirely superfluous. The story doesn’t matter and the collectibles are fairly throwaway, as they don’t really add to the game. However, what it does it does very well. The sounds and visuals are strong and it plays solidly. The difficulty, even though fairly random, still scales well overall. The game is feels very rewarding when racking up chains and compels you to play more. The power up system is very well implemented giving strategic choice over the later levels. If you can ignore the cutesy non-essential filler there’s a comprehensive puzzle game that delivers where it really counts. It takes the more addictive elements from popular puzzle franchises and combines them with finesse.
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