Dabado Puzzles is a very difficult puzzle game that takes its inspiration from the classic Tetris, but provides a completely different approach to block stacking.
The objective in every level is to place the blocks in a configuration that allows you to reach certain spots. While in Tetris the goal is to fill up lines to the full, in Dabado Puzzles you’ll have to spread them out as much as possible (keeping them connected and on top of each other), and extend your construction in all directions. What you obtain in the end is not a wall of tiles, but a branching structure, very much resembling a tree, like so:
This is however easier said than done. Each level starts with a specific configuration in the number of blocks and shapes available – this is always the same, no matter how many times you try a level, but the order in which they fall will always be random (aside from some specific restrictions). The player is challenged to find an optimal way to place these blocks on a grid-like structure of which certain spots give points, while others represent collectibles or items needed to unlock the next level.
The game uses two main types of currencies : light – which is needed in vast amounts in order to reach the next level, and buttons – rare spawns that you can collect and exchange for bonuses / perks / light restoration. Lastly, some of these spots on the grid (very few though) can add a couple of random blocks to your stash given that your construction reaches them, thus providing you with a few more moves.
Considering that the level setup is always the same, Dabado Puzzles is more or less a “find-the-developer-solution” kind of game. It’s a game in which you’ll have to try a level several times until you find the correct way (or the “expected way”) to approach it. After that, you’ll have to try it again to reach a different stage inside the level. And after that, you’ll have to retry it several dozens of times more, in order to gather the necessary light to progress to the next level. And ultimately, you’ll have to try it a few times more to gather the items needed to unlock the next level.
For reference, in order to reach the next objective, you’ll often need 50 – 70 light points (sometimes more) and assuming you usually get 1 – 3 points for completing a level, that easily puts the number of repetitions between 25 and 70 times for each stage, depending on how well you play. Obtaining more than 3 points is also doable, especially after the first major update to the game (Sep 2021) that introduced the concept of symmetry: by creating symmetrical constructions, one can stack up the points fairly easily, and in some levels getting a 6 score in a matter of seconds is also possible now. However, this newly added feature also has its caveats: in order to make proper use of it, one has to unlock a certain ability first (being able to choose the shape of the next block) which also requires a lot of prior grinding.
Frankly, the game is a complete grindfest and while I normally don’t mind the grinding aspect of a game, in Dabado Puzzles, I approached degrees of frustration. Most of the time the reward for completing a level was not satisfactory enough and the sheer amount of time and work needed to reach the next level (plus, more or less the same kind of work because of the strict block setup for each level) was off-putting.
The fact that the block order is random would imply some sort of liberty in reaching a solution and the need to develop a strategy more or less, but in practice it all boils down to applying the same recipe for solving a level, with some minimal changes between two separate tries due to the random order of falling blocks. But for one specific level, you’ll always have to go for this and that first, start building in this and that area and expand in this and that direction. Some of these tries will fail, not because the recipe is wrong (once you discover it, it’s as good as it gets), but because you’ll end up getting the right block at the wrong time. Some blocks will thus be stripped of any usefulness, and that will affect your chances to win. There is a power-up you can buy from the shop that allows you to pick a different block during a level, and which can be used twice per level – this helps, but it certainly does not ensure your victory or make it substantially easier.
In my opinion, a flawed mechanic is that after you complete the victory condition (usually grabbing a key item located in the center of the level, and which is mandatory for level completion, regardless of any other factors), you are not able to spend your remaining blocks and expand your construction further, to reach other items as well. The idea behind this is that you have to plan ahead your construction based on the blocks you are given, and grab the key as the last item before the end of the level, but in practice the blocks that you’d want to use for that come much earlier and as a consequence they will have to be used for other purposes, leaving the end part of the level somewhat uncovered.
If you manage to gather all the scroll segments that spawn inside a level you unlock a scroll that describes in detail a meditation technique – perhaps good to try if you’re not a patient person by nature and you’re in need of something to calm down before attempting the next stage. Apart from these scrolls, there are other types of collectibles but all have extremely rare spawn values. Some of them unlock new locations on the map that give you some instant bonuses, other (mysterious boxes) even contain other collectibles that spawn inside the same level after the first one is picked up, making it almost impossible for you to get all because you won’t have enough blocks to reach them – unless you discover that one specific arrangement of blocks that manages to reach all these in one go (fortunately, the box spawns again if you place the first block at a specific location, allowing you to try different setups).
Gathering all 10 scrolls and completing all the levels will unlock corresponding achievements, but there are a couple of missable achievements too. It’s pretty difficult to estimate how much time one would need for a 100% completion, since there are bonus levels as well and play styles differ, but I’d place it somewhere between 20-40h.
In terms of presentation, Dabado Puzzles’s hand-drawn art style impresses through the original block shapes and the color palette. It’s a beautiful game, filled with nature sounds – birds chirping, river flowing, generating a refreshing and a spiritual ambiance. I also loved the meditative soundtrack and the mystic drawings used during levels. These bring a bit of relaxation in an otherwise borderline stressful gameplay.
At the end of Sep 2021, the game received a major update that is targeted mostly at end-game players, with the addition of new quests and NPCs, plus the new symmetry mechanic described above, which can substantially speed up the light gain by stacking up on bonus points while creating symmetrical constructions (yet its prerequisites are still difficult to unlock).
A second major update (Feb 2022) took the game several steps further in a positive direction by dropping the penalty of losing light when failing a level. This redesign not only decreases the time needed to gather enough light for the next level, but it also improves the chance to find those rare collectible (special items that spawn usually based on the positioning of the base block). Repeatedly trying to find the right position that triggers them used to be an almost impossible process because of the constant light penalty, but now you can restart a level as many times you want, until you find the right spot.
The same update addresses another issue that could in some situations halt the player’s progress: considering that unlocking future levels requires gathering artifacts from some special additional levels (which are substantially more difficult than the classic ones), there was a high chance that the player was unable to solve them, being stuck without any way to skip them and thus preventing them to experience the end-game content. This has been improved by the addition of a special item in the shop (its price is also very accessible) that allows the player to automatically solve a level, with a maximum of 5 usages per game.
Dabado Puzzles is a brilliant idea made frustratingly difficult by the cruel RNG. It needs just a few parameter tweaks for me to call it a great game. As it is now, I can recommend it only to people who don’t mind doing the same thing over and over again for a few hours straight and to those who have enough patience to try a level many times until they reach some sort of progress. The target audience for the game consists of people who enjoy finicky pre-planning of moves, trial & error, and ultimately those who don’t give up in front of difficult games – I’d go as far as in calling Dabado Puzzles “the Dark Souls of the puzzle genre”. Overall, I enjoyed the gameplay but my experience would have been much better without the unnecessary grinding aspect. It would be great if the game had an alternative difficulty mode (an easier one), so that more people can enjoy it.