The most fascinating puzzle games combine familiar block matching mechanics with features normally found in other genres. Take Puzzle Fighter and Puzzle & Dragons, for example. The first mishmashes traditional puzzle gameplay with fighting games and the latter with RPG features. Gunhouse by Necrosoft is another crossover, this time incorporating elements from tower defense games. The end result is hard to learn but fun to master.
The main campaign of the game is divided into ten days, each with three levels. You are tasked with guarding a house of orphans from a continuous assault of tanks, robots, penguins, and ice cream trucks. I still have no idea why they were coming after me, but there was no way I was going to let them kidnap these orphans. Fortunately, this is no ordinary house; it’s a gunhouse, and you can equip it with firepower to vanquish your foes. And by firepower, I mean gumball machines, igloos that shoot out icebergs, and magical engines that spit out deadly skulls. It’s wacky.
Gameplay is split into two phases: puzzle and tower defense. The puzzle phase is arguably more important because it’s when you load up the firearms for your gunhouse. You achieve this by forming large squares and rectangles out of smaller blocks on a vertical 6x3 grid. It’s easier said than done, as the mechanics have a steep learning curve. You can move any row of blocks left or right either one, two, or three spaces. Doing so will force columns to fall. By matching blocks of the same color into 4x4 shapes, you combine them to form a large square. Then you swipe that square left or right to load your gunhouse with a unique firearm.
It starts out confusing, and the strict 18 second time limit per puzzle phase doesn’t do you any favors. There were times when I couldn’t keep up with the frantic pace and got assaulted by the enemy. For the first third of the campaign, I had troubles reliably making matches, but then it suddenly hit me. This game rewards practice and patience, and as I played, I began to notice the patterns. Once I got the hang of the game, it was hard to put down. Gunhouse doesn’t tinker with tried-and-true puzzle mechanics, so it’s understandably tough to learn. At the same time, its unorthodox approach to the norm is why it stands out in the genre. It’s the same way I felt when I first played games like Tetris and Dr. Mario. I simply wish there was a place to practice outside the campaign.
The second phase – the tower defense portion – plays out like a reward for puzzles well solved. For every large square or rectangle you were able to load into the house during the first phase, you are rewarded with a weapon for the second. For this segment, strategy all but goes out the window, and you are free to unleash your attacks. I usually just fired every gun at once to bombard the screen. Here, the adrenaline is up and you can gratify yourself by eliminating everything in your way.
It’s this back-and-forth between puzzles and mass attacks that makes Gunhouse work. Tower defense segments are excellent culminations to your puzzle-solving. The best part is that everything you do in the puzzle mode directly correlates to the enemy attack phase. For instance, the symbol on the blocks matter. Each offers a different weapon, be it a boomerang, beach ball, or dragon fire. Likewise, it matters whether you load a block on the left side or right side. On the left, guns fire straight at foes, while the right side is equipped with special attacks that decimate the field at the touch of a button. The size and exact positioning of each block is also crucial, leading to more powerful guns. You are rewarded for creating the biggest rectangles possible, and it’s invigorating to strive for that perfect match.
The biggest drawback is that you are never told which block is dropping next, which makes it hard to plan ahead. It makes it difficult to prepare any strategy, like which guns you want to prioritize. On that note, the tower defense could also have been expanded upon. As it is now, victory depends on your performance in the puzzle portion, and the actual defense is pretty mindless. Perhaps more strategic elements, like aiming your fire, could have been incorporated to spice it up.
The progression and pacing are excellent. Between each day, you reap rewards by purchasing new weapons, upgrades, and armor at the store. Although the game steadily rose in difficulty, I always felt prepared, thanks to my souped-up gunhouse. I also felt comfortable making purchases knowing that I could readily refund a purchase I no longer needed. Although the campaign ends on the tenth day, you get more missions and could theoretically keep playing for much longer, though the adrenaline rush wanes over time. The only other mode is a hardcore, in which you play every level in a row with no second chances for death. It’s a nice challenge that actually incorporates score, but the overall package is lacking once you finish the campaign.
It’s probably obvious, but the touch screen is optimal for this game. It’s possible to grow proficient in using button controls, but swiping the blocks left and right with my finger felt much more natural. Of course, this means you’ll likely play this in the handheld mode. Still, the graphical performance never falters, no matter how much you fill the screen with raining deadly skulls. The colorful, cartoonish art and fluid animation are impressive, no matter how you play. The energetic mix of jazz and synth tunes not only fit the wacky nature, but were also pleasant to listen to on their own.
Gunhouse is truly something else. It’s an unorthodox genre crossover with an equally unconventional puzzle mechanic. It takes a while to learn, but the payoff is worth it. It’s unfortunate that the game is fairly expensive on the Nintendo Switch compared to its much more competitively priced mobile version. Nonetheless, those looking for a different puzzle experience may feel welcome in the Gunhouse.
I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!