The trick to a good sequel, if Hollywood is to be believed, is gravity. Think of The Godfather: Part II, Empire Strikes Back, The Dark Knight, Toy Story 2 - all of them take well known formulas and inject them full of betrayal, death, dark family secrets and evil prospectors (er, that one only applies to Toy Story 2). Fallblox, Intelligent Systems' sequel to the sublime Pullblox also opts for gravity, albeit of the 'apple on head' kind, and less of the "I am your father" variety. Although your mentor is called Papa Blox...
As the title cleverly infers, Fallblox is Pullblox with added falling. Where in the previous game puzzle blocks protruded from the back wall, here they stack into a central tower waiting for our sumo block-botherer to come and heave some sense into them.
The aim is still to build a staircase to an out-of-reach victim (birds this time round) but the climb is much more complicated: blocks can be freely moved in four directions and higher blocks require a lower block for support.
For the first hour or so, you wonder if Intelligent Systems might have muddied the purity of the original. Pullblox's single wall of blocks meant solutions had to be staring you in the face; Fallblox's freedom of movement grants multiple angles of attack and with it, multiple angles of failure. And with gravity in play the pile refuses to stand still. Pushing away a base block changes the shape and makeup entirely, calling for the kind of advanced forward planning that didn't come in until Pullblox's later levels.
That Intelligent Systems makes it work is down to their uncanny ability to subliminally train players through play. In much the same way as the best Zelda dungeons introduce basic rules before asking us to extrapolate them in logical ways, so Fallblox teaches you to use taller blocks to sweep up smaller blocks or use lower blocks to catch and transport higher blocks before giving us puzzles that use a mix of both. In a couple of hours you're shunting blocks like a, er, pro block shunter.
And the added murkiness of that initial objective means the eventual light bulb moment is all the more brighter. Pulling out a block only to see a tower tumble into a perfect stairway or taking a few steps to the right and seeing abstract shapes align as safe passage is an empowering moment. We imagine this is how Leo must feel when his Inception plans come together, albeit without the risk of his nutbar wife going stab crazy on us. If anything, it makes some Pullblox puzzles look like crude trial and error in comparison.
And like the original, the game escalates quickly with the introduction of floating cloud blocks, doorways (basically front-facing versions of Pullblox's ladders) and arrow blocks. These last ones are brilliant fun: mechanised bricks that move in a given direction when Mallo jumps on their chunky buttons. On paper, the idea of levels moving under your feet is enough to induce cold sweats, but as with everything else in Fallblox, it's expertly drip-fed until you're riding the blocks like a pro. Seeing these solutions crank into place is particularly satisfying.
The major downside is that this is a slighter package than the original, for slightly more money (£7.19 to £5.40). 100 core puzzles are bolstered by 90 training stages (lighter challenges, but worth doing) and some bonus high concept stages. Ultimately, you'll be through Fallblox faster than you were with Pullblox, though it's arguable there's less repetition than in the previous game. If it helps you feel more comfortable about the price hike, call it 'leaner' instead of 'smaller'.
And, if Pullblox was anything to go by, the end of the packaged puzzles is only the beginning, as swarms of fans will no doubt take to the impressive level creator to keep the content rolling out. With the core rules being that much deeper, we can foresee people pushing user-generated content further than before. We're already eyeing the ONM forums waiting for our next batch of devious reader DLC.
Fundamentally, we're just overjoyed to have more 'blox in our lives. Pullblox was such a perfectly formed diamond that we never expected to see a sequel.
Evolving a puzzle game is always notoriously difficult. When Alexey Pajitnov attempted to better Tetris he gave the world Hatris, aka: Tetris made out of hats. Fallbox avoids a millinery misstep and extends the formula in logical, satisfying ways. Here's hoping the series calls it a day before going a bit The Godfather: Part III, eh?
Fallblox is one of the best 3DS eShop games.