In case you weren't already aware, wombats produce cubic poo. The exact reasons why remain a scientific mystery, but it's important that you know that, because it's the premise of Hardhat Wombat, a new puzzling platformer from George Fan, best known as the creator of Plants vs Zombies.
In each level, you play as a wombat construction worker, tasked with building a specific structure out of their feces. Each placement is accompanied by a just-tasteful-enough combination of audio and animation to make the reality of what you're doing clear while managing not to gross you out at the same time. You'll start work on each blueprint with a stack of ten cubes ready to go, and success comes down to your ability to not only build according to the plans laid out for you without running out of poop, but also to clean up after yourself. It sounds simple, and I was prepared to have a relatively relaxing brain-teasing session, but it didn't take long before I started to discover the complexity lurking beneath the surface.
Hardhat Wombat splits its puzzles into several different formats. In many, you're just matching a blueprint, but in others, you have to make sure that you match that blueprint once you've detonated some TNT, meaning that you have to work out where your poop cubes will sit once the dust has settled. In others still, you have to build your way through a gauntlet, constructing bridges and stairs to complete your route. Each success earns you a thumb-up from your marsupial friend, and a badge to denote a "super crappy" job well done.
Those are some of my favorite levels, putting your wombat's gentle hops to use as you build your own platforms to traverse, offering a freedom that fully realizes the platforming alongside the puzzling. As long as you can reach something to stick your poop to and bounce up to your new platform, you can build whatever you like.
Sadly for me, that's not the case in the other levels. The TNT puzzles have given me particular problems - I've been struggling to envisage exactly where my poop sculptures need to start and end, and with just one chance to drop the plunger on the detonator, you need to be damn sure about where the poop is gonna fall once the explosives are gone.
All that cuts to the heart of Hardhat Wombat's puzzles, which demand that once you've built your structure, you need to remove everything else before you can complete the level. It's an idea demonstrated perfectly by an early puzzle in which your blueprint is just four blocks stacked on top of each other in a straight line. Easy, right? Except you can't jump four blocks high, so you have to build a poop-staircase to the top of the blueprint and work your way down. And if you're not careful, it's easy to find yourself trapped on the wrong side of your structure without enough 'fuel' to build your way back to safety.
That trickery only grows the further you get through the game. In later levels, your sandwiches are accompanied by bubblegum, with bubbles (from your mouth, thankfully) that float upwards until they hit an obstacle. To get them in the right place, you'll have to build your structure with a perfect-sized gap in just the right spot to allow you access before you brick the whole thing up once you're done. I lost track of the number of times I'd approach a spot, only to realize that I'd need to edit the entire structure, or come at the space from a whole new angle, if I wanted to place the block I had planned. By the time you factor in the subsequent clean-up effort, it's not long before Hardhat Wombat has you tripping over yourself to both construct and destruct your building efforts.
I'm definitely not a puzzle game expert, and I'm not ashamed to say I found myself somewhat stuck a bunch of times, but what kept me coming back was Hardhat Wombat's unique puzzling. The theme sure is something - short of a game about scarab beetles I can't imagine anything similar coming out any time soon - but the way it has you make a plan, and then account for the consequences of that plan as you scurry around breaking extraneous poop blocks apart makes this a genuinely brain-tickling puzzler.