App of the Day: Block Quest

It's Tetris with monsters!

Cheap design teams have been cloning Tetris for years - there's just been an interesting court case regarding a prominent copycat, in fact - but more interesting developers have also been experimenting with it. Whether they're just changing the dimensions of the well and altering the shapes of the blocks or going so far as to add new power-ups and meddle with the basic rules, you don't have to hunt around the internet for too long to see Alexei Pajitnov's evergreen classic getting a bit of a workout.

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Block Quest doesn't exclusively stick to tetronimoes, including both bigger and smaller pieces.

Android owners already have Doptrix to mess about with when they're in the mood for a Tetris variant, and now they've got Block Quest, too. Block Quest is rough around the edges and saddled with a rather naff UI, but there's something completely brilliant lurking at its core - something that could really start to shine after a few more updates from the developer, perhaps.

The elevator pitch is brilliant: imagine Tetris spliced together with a dungeon crawler. It's simple, really. The pieces you're arranging in the well aren't blocks so much as sections of floor tiles, and you're stringing them together to create a complex environment for your auto-roving adventurer to navigate. Red edges on a block mean that it will count as a doorway, connecting two pieces when you set it in place, while the squares themselves might be filled with monsters to battle, crystals to heal you, or - finally! Yes! - the stairs down to the next level.

Your hero gains experience as he wanders around hacking away at baddies, and he gains loot every time an entire line is joined together and he then explores it on foot, greying it out as he goes. If he fights too much and heals too little, he'll die, and if the blocks pile up and reach the top of the screen, he'll be trapped within the dungeon, and then it's back to the beginning.

The idea's instantly brilliant, in other words, but the implementation takes a little getting used to. For starters, there's a bit too much clutter surrounding the basic dungeon-crawling, with a shrine you can visit to load up on perks, for example, or occasional bursts of lore and narrative that mainly serve to slow the whole thing down.

More importantly, the controls are fiddly and annoying, with a twitchy selection of taps, holds and swipes employed to rotate pieces, reposition them, and speed them up on their way to the bottom. It just feels wrong: it can be a bit too difficult to move pieces across the screen when time's running out, and it can be far too easy to accidentally nudge an element into a new configuration just before you send it to the ground.

The game's got so much of the complicated stuff right that it's weird to discover it hasn't yet nailed the basics, then. I'm still sticking with it, however: I want to see if there are refinements and updates on the way, and if the developer ever gets to the core of the experience and focuses in on the stuff that's going to make it brilliant. Tetris with loot? Tetris with monsters? Both of these ideas deserve further development. At the moment, though, while Block Quest is captivating in theory, it's yet to set the touchscreen itself alight.

App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.

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