Slam Bolt Scrappers preview: Build those blocks up

It's difficult to convey the sheer terror and chaos I experienced in the first few minutes of the Slam Bolt Scrappers PAX demo. Though the Firehose Games reps told me how to play, it wasn't preparation enough for the actual game, a combination puzzler/brawler/strategy title that is one of the most unique blends of genres I've ever played. The learning curve was, um, kinda steep!
If you've never played Tetris or Super Puzzle Fighter before, you're going to be immediately lost. Heck, I've been playing those games (and other puzzlers) for my entire life and even I didn't get Slam Bolt Scrappers right away. Eventually, it clicked -- and that's when things got good.

Back at E3, we played the battle portion of the game (which I also played, but won't go into here), but the new PAX build had something a bit more co-operative: a boss battle against a giant mech.

Now, I didn't have to physically attack the boss much (just hit it a few times to knock down its shields) before coming to the realization that this game is more about my organizational skills than combat prowess. Basically, it goes like this: you fly around a game board with your character and beat up these colored monsters that drop down from the sky at regular intervals. Once you beat up a particular monster, it yields a colored block or power-up corresponding to its own color -- these blocks appear in traditional Tetris shapes. Once you retrieve ample blocks, you manually fly to the spot on the game board you want to place it and insert it.

Building bigger rectangular or square-shaped blocks -- think: Super Puzzle Fighter 2 -- will activate weapons whose power and potency correspond to their size on the game board. The red blocks fire missiles, the purple blocks fire lasers and the blue blocks are shields. The key is to surround your best and biggest blocks with large chunks of blue blocks, which will then act as a barrier. So, for example, I had a pretty humongous red block that was firing missiles like crazy at the robot, so I then started working on putting blue blocks around it, shielding it from attack.

Whether you're playing against the CPU or another human, your game grid will be under constant attack. Those creatures that drop down from the top will try to bust up your blocks, enemies will launch drills that target your biggest formations and white, snow-like blocks will fill up empty spaces on your grid at regular intervals. It's a lot to worry about.

But that's the fun of it, worrying about your structure, trying to take down the shields of the boss so your tower can damage him, and making sure you've got empty spots to build. All of these things combined together to make one incredibly frenetic and fast experience, which isn't altogether common in puzzlers. It's tough balancing your own strategy and reacting to the things you can't control in the game, but it was the kind of challenge that really felt rewarding when everything worked.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.