Steel Minions, the game studio set up by Sheffield Hallam University, have released PieceFall – a 3D block tessellation puzzle game on the PS4. On the surface it might look familiar, and the influence of Tetris is pretty obvious, but get into the game and you’ll find something slightly different to test your spacial reasoning skills, as well as an appreciation for the double meaning of the name.
PieceFall’s background is an interesting one. Developed by students as part of Sony’s academic PlayStation First programme where they provide dev kit licenses on PS hardware for university degree courses, the title is the first to arrive on PlayStation 4. Created in a game studio environment that’s actually part of the syllabus, it’s self-published through the PSN, though there’s help from the team at Sony for the production process. This initiative to build experience and nurture talent means as gamers we’re always going to get something fresh and new, and knowing Sony’s track record with indie titles, we’re likely to get some intriguing prospects too.
Playing PieceFall is simple: there’s a hole in the ground that needs filling, blocks drop from the sky and need to fit into the shape perfectly to score you points and progress to the next puzzle. Easy, right? To begin with yes, later on no. See, the shapes can be rotated around any axis, not just clockwise or anti-clockwise; and the space that needs filling is horizontal whilst things drop vertically. Getting a block in the wrong place means the puzzle can’t be solved and you’ll be stuck with an irregular hole at the end. Likewise, dropping a block the wrong way up or on its side will mean a restart. All this forces you to have to be precise and able to think about where you’re placing everything in the time it takes for the piece to fall.
There are 4 areas to tackle, and each area is broken down into 12 puzzles, so 48 to challenge yourself with overall. There’s no penalty for failing a puzzle, and if you’re finding one too hard there’s a hint system that pops up with every 5 fails so that you’re never stuck for long. The change in perspective from side on 2D to 3D for this doesn’t take a lot of getting used to visually, but mentally I found myself really concentrating on positioning far more than I would with a more traditional interface. As you move through the stages the difficulty increases as you’d expect, with things becoming distinctly more taxing towards the end, though never too hard that you want to give up. Whilst there’s no huge reward mechanic in play to make you keep having one more go, the loading time is non-existent when you’re in stages, and because they never take more than a few seconds to solve when you figure them out, you’re always tempted to keep going until you’ve cracked them.
Visually the game looks great, it has a really nice tranquil vibe that encourages a measured approach to gameplay. PieceFall isn’t about the quickest time (even though there is a trophy for finishing it in under 10 minutes on expert mode), and it doesn’t ramp up the drop rate of the blocks. It sets the pace from the tutorial sections and keeps it even from that point onwards. Control and shape manipulation is responsive and easy as well, and the audio design and the music all complement the atmosphere and help create a neat little package. I’d recommend knocking your volume down a notch or two though, it’s one of the louder default settings I’ve heard in a while.
All in it’s a nice game to play. There’s not loads to it and it won’t take long to finish, certain things had to be dropped during the development process, but what you get is a complete, working game that provides a good distraction for those moments when you want something a bit more cerebral. It’s also only 99p at the moment, and you can’t argue with that price – I’ve spent £40 on games I’ve played for less time. My main reason for recommending it though is to support the PlayStation First programme, and the great work Sheffield Hallam are doing… go and pick it from the PSN now.