Gum+ is a puzzle game where you can discover firsthand the difficulties inherent in being made entirely out of gum. The goal of every level is to push around blocks and fill in gaps to reach the exit, but your spatial logic will be pushed to its limits as the protagonist sticks to every block it touches and even the most simple of tasks can prove to be surprisingly difficult.
It’s astonishing just how much of a difference a single twist can make to an otherwise fairly standard block-pushing formula. The protagonist, an animated pile of gum known only as the Gum Person, is on a quest to find its creator, a mage who went missing after a magical experiment went awry. The only ability the Gum Person has at its disposal is to stick to and move blocks, a skill which it may be too proficient at for its own good. In gameplay terms, this means that stepping on a tile next to a movable block will cause that block to become stuck to you whether you it to or not until you either use it to fill in a gap or scrape it off on another surface. Like in most sokoban games, you’re still pushing around blocks to make a path to the exit, but this change to the rule of how and when you push blocks comes with some significant ramifications which completely change how you approach puzzles.
The sticky nature of Gum+ severely reduces flexibility in some ways while allowing for far more freedom in others. On the limiting side of things, you now not only need to pay attention to which tiles you place blocks on, but also to which tiles you personally are stepping on. Carelessly stepping next to a block from the wrong side can result in failure if you drag it into the wrong gap or if you simply have no way of scraping it off and it ends up blocking the exit. As the number of tiles you can safely step on without actively affecting parts of the puzzle is low, nearly every move you make carries some degree of consequence with it and figuring out where you definitely can’t safely step is just as important as figuring out where you can. On the other hand, your ability to manipulate blocks is certainly far more impressive than that of the average sokoban protagonist. You may not be able to rotate blocks, but you can move around up to four blocks at once, one for each side. Even more importantly, you can freely and easily push and pull blocks in any direction once they are stuck to you, allowing you plenty of freedom when it comes to positional manipulation; you don’t even need to worry about blocks being stuck in corners unless a puzzle solution requires you to grab them from a certain side.
The nature of the blocks themselves is also different from usual. Their are no enemies to worry about here nor are there any special types of blocks which behave differently. Instead, variety this time around comes from the shapes of the blocks. There are plenty of single-tile blocks to be found, but there are also many blocks which take up two or three tiles, squares which take up huge portions of the screen, lines which leave little room to move around, zig-zagging blocks, L-shaped blocks, and countless more in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Regardless of its size, a block can be moved by touching any part of it and you’ll need to learn to utilize walls to reposition yourself along the side of a block and to use the large and oddly shaped blocks themselves to push around other blocks which you either can’t reach or can’t properly manipulate on your own. Blocks with bizarre shapes are especially important to the gameplay as they make it more difficult to determine which blocks are needed where when creating paths across large gaps and each twist in a block’s shape creates new options to consider when deciding on the best location from which to attach yourself to a block.
The rules may be simple, but there is more depth to the structure than you might expect. The game is divided into nine ‘worlds’, each of which consists of a single screen filled with level nodes. Completing a level will draw a path to the next level in the set, but this path often branches to give you a choice between two or more levels. While you may not have to complete every level in the game, you also don’t have complete freedom either as each of the first four worlds has a specific final level which must be solved before you can progress to the next screen. Surprisingly, this structure changes after the fourth world (likely because this is where most of the new content in this ‘plus’ version of the game is located) as you gain access to a hub area from which you can freely move between the fifth, sixth, and seventh worlds as well as the previous four. The eighth world, the final area, and an optional ninth world are also accessible from this hub, but they are locked behind gates which require you to accumulate 50, 100, and 150 trophies respectively. These trophies, in turn, are sometimes earned simply by clearly levels, but every level also has a Gold, Silver, and Bronze goal to aim for based on the number of moves you take in order to clear it and each of these goals rewards you with one trophy. There are a total of 300 trophies in the game, so the bonus world takes some effort to unlock, but the other two gates are easy enough to gain access to without worrying too much about your move counter.
You may have a good amount of freedom in determining the shape of your journey through Gum+, but your journey won’t be an easy one no matter which path you choose. The first world only has a handful of levels, all of which are designed to familiarize players with the mechanics, and even the second world is fairly straightforward, but the game takes off its gloves and stops pulling its punches from the moment you step into the forest of World 3. Like Hanano Puzzle there is a deceptive sense of simplicity here. Each level fits within a single screen and often the solution will appear to be in plain sight. You just need to push that block out of the way and then grab that other block and use it to fill in a gap and then you’re free to walk into the exit. Except, you can’t. Inevitably, you’ll start to push a block only to realize that you can’t move it without also bumping into something else along the way or you’ll use a block to start filling in a gap only to realize that the next block you need to complete your makeshift bridge can’t possibly be used without falling into a pit yourself. Solutions almost always involve thinking outside of the box as nearly every level demands players to manipulate blocks in ways other than what a first glance would suggest. Later levels further up the difficulty with introduction of crumbling floor tiles, bombs which can be pushed to destroy a single block tile, and stationary razor blades which destroy any blocks pushed into them. There were times when I would stare at my monitor for minutes on end while completely baffled by what a puzzle was asking me to do and other times still where I would struggle in vain for upwards of an hour trying to solve a single level, but I enjoyed every second of my time with this game because the challenge makes it all the more satisfying when the moment of epiphany at last arrives and you finally see the one option you’ve been overlooking the entire time.
On top of the finely crafted nature of the puzzles themselves, there is a good amount of polish here in general. You can instantly restart or exit a level at any point with the push of a button, but what really saves this game from ever feeling overly frustration is the presence of an undo button which can be held down to rewind time. There is no limit to just how far back you can rewind and this button will get plenty of use regardless of if you’re simply trying to solve a puzzle and pushed a block into the wrong position or if you’re aiming for a trophy and accidentally took some unnecessary steps. Added to the list of useful buttons, you can also hold X to show the grid to make it easier to see individual spaces and holding Z makes both the Gum Person and the blocks turn into outlines to easily check for hidden gaps and crumbling tiles. Your ability to freely move around on the map between levels isn’t just for show either as there are several secrets to find hidden within the world itself. The story is simplistic and certainly not the main focus, but it’s entertaining and both it and the accompanying cutscenes have more to them than I was expecting. If you’re somehow looking for even more content than what the base game provides, a level editor has also been included. Aesthetically, the soundtrack is solid and ranges from upbeat to providing an otherworldly atmosphere. The spritework is simplistic, but the black and white color scheme goes a long way towards giving the game a sense of stylistic identity and quite a bit of work went into making sure the game didn’t become visually repetitive as the main screen of each world has a unique theme and the levels themselves have various appearances ranging from ancient ruins to peaceful ponds. The only issue I ran into during my journey through this game came when I was going back through levels to earn more trophies as flags mark cleared levels, but the only way to see if you have collected every trophy in a level is to step on the level’s node, which can lead to a fair amount of walking around; some sort of additional visual indicator for levels where the Gold goal has already been hit, such as in the form of a different type of flag, would have made backtracking less time consuming.
Gum+ is a wonderfully challenging and all-around excellent puzzle game. I would hesitate to recommend it those who are entirely new to the block-pushing puzzle game genre and those who are looking for a more casual and relaxing puzzle experience due to the high degree of difficulty found throughout most of the game, but otherwise it gets a very strong recommendation from me for puzzle game fans, especially since its current rather low price of $3.99 is easily worth the many, many hours you will get out of solving its dozens of cruel and clever puzzles even without taking into account all the trophies to aim for and the level editor.