PEGBRJE: Tumblebox and Widget Satchel

Sorry little cube, we’re in for a rough one.

Tumblebox is a puzzling platformer-lite title made by indie dev Enzo Gray, a sixteen (!!!!!!!) year old who has made five titles in PICO-8 while my most exciting thing at that age was getting my driver’s license. Regardless, we’re here to discuss this title, and it follows a small box who simply wishes to traverse to the green portal to move on to the next level.

Tumblebox features the simple premise of platforming towards the end with the arrow keys, doing the standard platforming things; jumping, moving, generally not falling in to spike traps, the works. Where things get funky is shortly after learning the basics, the game decides to inform players that the little cube isn’t the only thing we have control of, as we also have gravity to work with. This is interestingly controlled by ESDF, and will automatically alter which way gravity faces and alters the orientation of our little friend so that players can tell which way is down. This also changes how utilize the arrow keys, for unlike other titles I’ve played with this mechanic it changes which button becomes jump to the opposite direction of gravity. So if -> is gravity, the left arrow key is now jump with up/down being, well, up and down. This may take some getting used to depending on the styles of platforming controls one may be used to, but shortly there’ll be maneuvering and jumping with no issue. Well, until the actual mechanic that uses the gravity kicks in.

See, the reason for gravity manipulation is that players need to trigger walls to disappear through coloured boxes. These walls disallow the cube to traverse through but allow for everything else, meaning that we need to get those boxes on their respective colour; except we can’t exactly push them, meaning gravity is the only thing we have going for us. Much of the game will be spent less platforming and more figuring out where to place the cube before manipulating gravity so that the player doesn’t get skewered by spikes or stuck between two walls as both result in an immediate restart. It reminded me of the puzzles in which players have no control of their box and must only use singular movements to set up, only now with the extra complication that the cube can in fact move, but needs to not get caught in sticky situations.

It’s not particularly long, but Tumblebox shows off its chops immediately and dares players to solve it just as fast. There’s no timer, mind you, so there’s no actual pressure to finish quickly; only to actually reach the end to be greeted by a transitional square face to the next level. It wants you to see how many kinds of solutions you can come up with, or even just how you might solve the simple problem of getting from one place to another. If you have an hour or two to sink in to a puzzling time, then this might be what you’re looking for.

Honestly I just sat here destroying stuff.

Widget Satchel is a platforming adventure created by Noble Robot, the solo studio project created by Mark LaCroix out of the United States. As the titular protagonist Sprocket the ferret, players will escape their pen and wreak havoc on the space ship of the future, collecting items and destroying everything while weaving through the ship to find the shuttle bay. Let the exploration commence.

After being introduced to the humans running the ship, Sprocket steals the satchel of one clueless human and begins to collect items called ‘Widgets’ that have been scattered throughout the ship due to (presumably) a lack of cleanliness. Sprocket doesn’t help the situation much as players will effectively destroy everything and anything as they platform through the ship, dropping TVs, setting off explosive material, and generally being a loose cannon of an animal. Many players may recognize the openness of the platforming as quite Metroidvania-esque, as there are dozens of pathways that could be taken while exploring, with some being blocked off by abilities or features that the player may be missing. Many of these pathways allow for the collection of more Widgets, finding new feats or uncovering the greatest collectable in different coloured socks to wear while galivanting about.

But what about those Widgets, what are they for? Upgrades, dear players, upgrades. At the end of every floor players will find fabricator rooms that allows for these widgets being carried to turn in to different item called ‘Doohickeys’ (this spaceship is very professional). These Doohickeys are upgrades as well, allowing for players to alter how they explore and what they can interact with. They are all priced out differently, with easier ones such as a wrench that can beat up robots and boots that just let players soar by increasing their jump height. Here’s the twist, however, that causes Widget Satchel’s gameplay to become much more varied depending on playstyle: widgets way down Sprocket. Our little ferret cannot carry that much, and upon reaching certain thresholds will be unable to jump as high as before which can lead to some serious issues traversing the map. Some trap doors will even have labels on them for weight restrictions, informing players that they may be too heavy to reach a platform or heavy enough to cause a platform to collapse. Thing is, those widgets are necessary to unlocking those upgrades, so players need to make a decision. Should one go the route of freedom, forgoing all widgets to ensure the best jumps possible and exploring places difficult to achieve, or slug through the lower reaches of each floor to carry as much as possible to the fabricator? Robots are also the only way to lose inventory if they run in to Sprocket, which can add extra strain on exploring as the only way to get those widgets back is to attack the robots — only robots cannot die, and just come back moments later.

Widget Satchel is a fantastic example of a specific mechanic balancing out the entirety of a game’s gameplay, creating a natural sense of risk vs reward. Players want to hoard their widgets, but know that being Ample weight means that their jump height is awful in comparison to before and that levels might be more difficult to maneuver. The rewards of being able to acquire new Doohickeys that can change how players approach each level is fantastic, but ultimately will vary depending on how each individual player wants to play. For me the consistent lowering of jump height infuriated me so I stopped caring about widgets, jumping freely without remorse. However you play, Widget Satchel will allow for your Metroidvania-esque dreams to come true as you and Sprocket return to many areas of the map at any time by simply turning around and looking for them while causing mayhem where ever you go. The mayhem points don’t seem to matter, but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying. If you enjoy titles about exploration and chaos, this might be exactly what you’re wanting to try out.

Link

Game Dev who decided to take on the monumental task of giving an overview of all 59 pages in the bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. We keep going.