Good puzzle games ease players into the mechanics and style of the game and slowly ramp up the difficulty until things become deviously hard. The best puzzle games ramp up this difficulty in such a way that no matter how hard the puzzles become, the player can always find the solution through the skills they have learned playing up to that point, so never feel stupid or that the game is unfair. Mallow Drops is amongst this upper echelon of puzzle games. It’s a mix of simple controls and logical but complex mechanics all wrapped up in an appealingly colourful art style.
The concept of the game is simplicity itself. You are a kiwi and have to collect your lost eggs and make your way to the level’s exit. This simple idea is complicated by the nature of the world. For starters, it rotates and gravity changes regularly. It’s also populated by some aggressive beasties (unlike actual New Zealand. unless you run into a particularly nasty weta).
Players use the WASD and arrow keys to move around the world, with the former flipping or rotating the level, and the latter sending the kiwi darting in whichever direction you press, stopping at the next obstacle. The levels start out very simply and take the place of a normal tutorial. Players learn by doing and soon flipping the levels and moving the kiwi becomes second nature. Then things get progressively more difficult. Add in some spiky death traps or roving critters and a simple level becomes infinitely more fiendish. Add sliding boxes, moving platforms, and the like, all of which can conceivably interfere with each other if you flip or rotate the wrong way. In short order, puzzles that start out relatively simple become seriously brain-bending, but thanks to the simplicity of the controls, things never feel unfair or out of reach. That said, you will find yourself dying or failing more and more often the more difficult things get, especially with the introduction of the predatory Wooly Jumpers and Dirty Underbears.
If difficult yet approachable puzzling isn’t your cup of tea, how does online bragging sound? Each level also serves as a time trial, not only giving players incentive to replay each level to beat their old times, but also to master levels so as to claim superiority over their friends and family. The game itself inspires you to play fast – the early stages are brief affairs, and by the time things get difficult you’re so used to solving the puzzles in the blink of an eye that you feel like a snail if you take your time.
Mallow Drops is an intelligent, charming and hugely enjoyable combination of platforming, sliding block puzzle, and special manipulation games like Fez. It’s the kind of game that could only come out of the indie scene and, for my money, is an absolute winner. The soundtrack is also especially good and catchy, but I may be somewhat biased as it is, in part, composed by PCPP regular Meghann O’Neill.
Don’t take my word for it, though – check it out yourself. You’ll be glad you did.