Push block puzzle games are probably one of the first types of puzzles I’ve ever encountered. I don’t mean just as video games, because we were pushing tiles around on little plastic toys before I even saw one made digitally. And while the exact mechanics might be a little difference, the basic premise is the same: push blocks until they’re in the right place. As with most of these games, you can’t pull the blocks: only push. Despite the ubiquitousness of this type of puzzle mechanic, there have been some strokes of brilliance applied. Perhaps the best recent example is Baba is You, and that’s a pretty high bar to meet. Crew 167: The Grand Block Odyssey even has its own name to live up to.
It doesn’t take much of a setup to get someone pushing around digital blocks, but Crew 167 takes the odyssey part of its name seriously. You wake up on a spaceship, your memory hazed, and your very senses unreliable. It’s not long before blocks start to appear in the various rooms of the ships. And like a compulsion, your troubled mind won’t let you pass on to the next room until a series of puzzles had been finished. Eventually, with your AI companion, you will learn how you traveled from Source after environmental collapse to found a new home and give your crew a chance.
Unfortunately, Crew 167 suffers from presentation issues. The animations are clunky, the voice acting is flat and unemotional, and the graphics are poor. Even the story is uninteresting, and the conceit of block puzzles representing compulsory mental health issues may have worked if they were presented in a way that was more organic. But that doesn’t really matter if the puzzles are worth it, and as I mentioned, there are some strokes of genius, but nothing comes close to the brilliance of something like Baba is You’s high watermark.
The puzzles in Crew 167: The Grand Block Odyssey are good. In fact, they’re a great collection of interesting variations on the pushing block mechanic. And while the puzzles can be challenging (of course, with any puzzle game that depends on the solver), they’re never quite so challenging as to feel impossible. They’re headscratchers that make manage to make you feel like a genius when solved, but they’re not quite so impenetrable as other similar puzzle games, something I’ve run into frequently. And the puzzles themselves are a mix of timed challenges, color coordination, and even blocks that are linked in movement.
While the presentation in Crew 167 isn’t the best, I did appreciate solving puzzles in an environment that wasn’t just a grey background. And the environments themselves never made the puzzles confusing, though they were rarely beyond passably interesting. There was one particular set of puzzles that utilized a screen “glitch” mechanic, that was basically a screen wobble. That instantly caused me motion sickness, and despite reducing the setting in the options, it was still uncomfortable—and since it was at random times, it was hard to anticipate. This was the first time I’ve ever come close to motion sickness from a game with an isometric perspective.
Crew 167: The Grand Block Odyssey is a passable puzzle game. Its puzzles are an interesting mix of mechanics that never made me feel too stumped, while making me occasionally feel like a genius. That’s a hard balance to maintain. Unfortunately, the presentation suffers in every department, from the graphics and art style to the voice acting and story.
Crew 167: The Grand Block Odyssey leaves Early Access for its full release on Steam on April 8th.
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