It is such a pleasure to stumble on a genuinely fantastic puzzle game. While the truly great examples of the genre are more usually the pure puzzlers, the likes of the exquisite Tametsi or Hexcells, it’s more rare for such excellence to appear in third-person puzzles. And when it does, such games are usually astonishingly hard. Too hard for the likes of me, anyway. Games like Stephen’s Sausage Roll, or She Remembered Caterpillars, which are undeniably works of brilliance, but ones where I can’t get off the third level. But enter Stuffo The Puzzle Bot, a 2D platform puzzler that’s utterly ingenious, fiendishly tricky, but still enormously approachable.
I’m not entirely sure if it’s the law that a great third-person puzzle game must be given a terrible name, but I’m struggling to think of an exception. Anyway, with that acknowledged, we can get on with celebrating absolutely everything else about Stuffo. And look, I’m going to ask for you to be strong here, and stick with me past the next sentence, because it’s not what you think: This is a game about moving blocks around to reach a goal. NO WAIT COME BACK! It’s not Sokoban! Not even a bit! I promise!
In fact, this is much more interesting. Each 2D pixel level presents you with a small selection of platforms and walls, a goal to reach, and usually two-to-four moveable blocks. By picking them up and arranging them anywhere on the screen with a green background, you need to fathom a route, often collecting an “atom” from the level on your way.
Blocks are of different types, beginning as simple platforms, but later becoming as complicated as teleportation gates, ones that emit jets of water that push other blocks and even you, and hydraulic blocks that extend to two spaces if available. Your character can climb one tile high, and place a block in any orthogonal direction from the tile you’re in, and that’s your deal. Get to puzzling.
Now, this isn’t an original concept, but I’ve never encountered the conceit done this well. Usually with such puzzles, I find myself either going through inevitable motions, or utterly overwhelmed and unwilling to start experimenting. But in Stuffo, these puzzles are so well-crafted that you just know the answer is right in front of you, achievable, only just out of reach. And that’s compelling stuff.
It helps that levels are kept small, and the numbers of moveable blocks (at least almost halfway through, where I’m currently at, having completed 33 levels) kept manageable. The game never feels unwieldy, never creates that peculiar sense of agoraphobia that such puzzlers can too often lead to. You know the feeling? When there are too many options, too many different things to try, so you don’t want to do anything? Whatever that is, Stuffo doesn’t do it!
The presentation is lovely, too. Nice scratchy pixels, lovely water effects, and some excellent music to score the hours of play. It’s also worth knowing that, for when you’re absolutely stuck, Joe Plays Puzzle Games has scratched his head through it all too. (I love that watching someone else struggling to solve a puzzle is sometimes all the distance I need to have the revelation I require to solve it for myself!)
My meagre attempt at a criticism is that there’s no variation in the colour schemes or tiles for the levels, but honestly, if I weren’t thinking about illustrating a review with a variety of screenshots, I’d likely not have cared at all.
This is something really special, the work of solo Finnish developer Antti Tiihonen (one of the creators of the mighty Legend Of Grimrock), and for $10, you’d be a loony not to get this. Stuffo captures that perfect sweet spot of puzzle difficulty, where you’ll sit and stare bemused at the screen for minutes at a time, but always with a solution within your reach.