Review: NekoBuro: Cats Block
When asked what I think about NekoBuro: Cats Block on a recent podcast, I joked that it’s “not as good as Tetris.” After letting the game settle for a short while (I beat it a little over a week ago), I realize why I said that. It’s almost exactly the sentiment I have when I think about Columns for the Sega Genesis, which looks like a strikingly similar game to NekoBuro. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare any puzzle game to Tetris. The thing is, if you’re a scorechasing puzzle game, you’ve either got to do something better, faster, or different than Tetris. NekoBuro succeeds in its differences.
First of all, NekoBuro: Cats Block has a plot. The game’s wacky story is told through still frames, dialogue boxes, and various cat meows. A girl, Rino, finds a stray box-shaped cat and brings it home. The cat turns out to be Totan, an alien life form that runs on electric waves. Playing through the Story Mode, you’ll work to rescue five of Totan’s alien square cat friends through the girl’s television. The entire game is poorly translated from its Japanese origin, but that’s the most sense of the story I can make. It’s ridiculous, which may actually be part of its allure. (I know I chuckled a few times reading the cats’ biographies.) Story Mode is spread over five different worlds that change only in their color schemes and level of difficulty. Admittedly, certain levels are pretty tough. Each level requires you to meet specific expectations to clear it. The expectations range from simply clearing 20 blocks of each color to detonating two clear-all blocks within a strict time limit.
The gameplay in NekoBuro is much like that in the aforementioned Columns. What sets the feline puzzler apart is the fact that it’s played from an isometric point of view. In other words, imagine a head-on 2D playfield (think Tetris) then push the top left corner back so that the bottom right corner rotates towards you. It’s a unique perspective in this type of game, but at first I was really worried that it would get in the way of the core gameplay. Luckily, it’s not too obtrusive. Beside for its perspective, NekoBuro is essentially a match-3 game, albeit a brightly colorful one. You’re matching square-shaped cats based on their colors in either vertical, horizontal, or diagonal lines. They drop in groups of three from the top of the field, slowly at first, and you can rotate the order of cats in two directions by pressing either X or O. At first you’ll only have three different colors to grapple with, but the game ramps up to include six colors at once.
In addition to typical match-3 puzzling, there’s a tiered powerup storing and applying mechanic that further sets NekoBuro apart. Matching cats fills a meter in the bottom-right corner that can fill up several times. Pressing the L or R button will net a powerup based on what level the meter is at. With a powerup in tow, you can decide when to apply it to the first cat in your line of three in order to get it onto the field. The first powerup, for example, is a green leaf that clears an entire horizontal line. The last one, a rainbow cube, will clear all blocks if you can manage to set it off. It adds a level of strategy that’s welcome in an otherwise non-stellar game. There’s a risk/reward balance to holding onto a powerup for too long. I’ve filled up a board and narrowly cleared it with a few well-placed detonations. I’ve also done the opposite – tried to pull some Hail-Mary type puzzle moves only to reach an early Game Over.
Playing the game unlocks furniture and toys to use in Totan’s base (Rino’s apartment). There are some Tamagotchi-type simulation things you can do in between playing the main game. It’s a bit of fun to pick up the cats or toss a ball around, but it grows old pretty quickly. The audio is another aspect of the game that grows old pretty quickly. While I didn’t really mind the constant meowing (others might), the background music loops are short and shoddily looped in a way that their breaks are jarringly noticeable. In the end, NekoBuro: Cats Block is a cutesy, colorful match-3 puzzle game with only a couple of slightly interesting properties. I can think of a handful of better puzzle games on the PSN, but if you’ve got a soft spot for cats or poorly translated Japanese games, you may want to give this one a go.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Powerup storage/application system
- Cats are pretty cute
What I Dislike:
- Isometric match-3 is not the best type of match-3
- Survival Mode lacks a leaderboard
- Short audio loops get repetitive