You know what’s missing from most block-pushing puzzle games? Spinning blades of death. Whether they’re aimed at the player, or the designer for making another block-pushing puzzle game, I’m not fussed. But I’m pleased to report the absolutely bizarre and very good Cardful Planning, sports exactly these, along with spikes, arrows and fireballs.
It’s fantastic how incongruous it immediately feels. In Cardful Planning you play as a playing card, moving by flipping over and over across a flat grid, trying to land face up on top of other plus or minus cards to change your face value to that of the exit. That’s a game right there. That would have done it. But it doesn’t rest on those laurels, instead deciding to make it into a completely barmy obstacle course against a barrage of ridiculous attacks.
This is then all made even better by the batshit decision to present it all in super-low-res pixels, monochrome but for splashes of 8-bit colour, and occasionally bursts of colour from barrages of arrow attacks. You can defend yourself against incoming missiles with draggable blocks, or use the blocks to slide yourself along without flipping over – an essential trick for landing the right way up on those vital value-changing spaces.
As you progress through its collections of levels, you gain different suits, which grant different abilities. Clubs are the basic starting point, but get to Diamonds and you can glide a row or column without flipping over – essential for correctly lining yourself up with exits, and indeed dodging a burst of fireballs erupting from a nearby wall.
It’s great! It’s like playing Sudoku but someone’s chasing you with a baseball bat. Or sitting down to solve a crossword and discovering there’s lava rising from the kitchen floor. I want all my puzzle games to have a mode like this! I love solving a Campixu puzzle, but every now and then I’d like to try to do it while dodging cannon fire.
New grids constantly surprise with fields of rising and falling spikes to dodge, while disembodied bows fire arrows at you when you stay too still. And yet, despite all this, the game is totally cool with your dying. Getting hit, spiked, burnt, etc, doesn’t reset the puzzle, just puts your card back at the starting point – everything you’ve completed so far (pushing a block onto a button, changing your face value, whatever) remains. Unless you don’t want it to! There’s a mode for that, where failure means an instant restart, and crikey that’s for the hardcore.
There’s also a “Chill” mode which removes death counters and timers, and lets you solve the puzzles without feeling judged. The middle mode, confusingly called Speedrun, is what I played, where you get leaderboard ranks for your time, and it notes your numbers of deaths.
This is from solo developer Walk Home Games (or “James”, who, incidentally, says on his website is available for porting games to Switch and mobile), and I’m stunned just how well it’s put together. I’ve never seen anyone take a tile-based puzzle game and then add copious lethality. I think if it were described to me, I’d suggest that perhaps actually no, stop being silly. But man, this really works! It’s a ton of fun.