Review: Ketzal’s Corridors might be the most thrilling puzzler you’ve ever played

The 3DS eShop keeps serving up amazing Nintendo originals, and Ketzal’s Corridors is a gem. Pushmo now has serious competition for best original puzzle game on 3DS, though the only things the two have in common are quality and charm. Where Pushmo is sedate and serene, Ketzal’s Corridors provides an adrenaline-pumped thrill ride with no patience for dilly-dallying. Sharp reflexes and quick decision making will get you far in this wonderful, addictive game.

So, what exactly is this strange creation? Imagine a cross between Star Fox and Brain Age. In each main challenge, you guide one of several stone deities (each shaped like a puzzle cube piece) as it hurtles through an ancient temple on a quest to collect hearts. These hearts are tucked away in holes — holes in the walls rushing toward your face. You have mere seconds to quickly flip and pivot your stone mascot into a position which will allow it to slide through the hole, hopefully gathering hearts in the process. Smart controls make this task a joy, greatly helped by a friendly sound effect chiming the instant you’re lined up correctly, so you can hit the accelerator (L) and zip through to the next chamber. And you will want to zip whenever possible, because, yes, there’s a timer ticking down.

Nintendo has packed a lot of gameplay into this basic premise. With each wall, you have several options: you can try to spread-eagle the piece to match as much of the space as possible, thus scooping up maximum hearts, or — like me — you can panic and keep your deity rotated to present the skinniest silhouette possible, making it easier to survive, but seriously cutting down on your heart harvest. There are even daredevil “combos” available, utilizing multiple holes in one wall; if you can flip and move your piece to line up with each opening before slipping through (and we’re talking a time frame of about two seconds here), you’ll get full heart credit no matter which space you eventually pick for your exit point.

And, just to keep you on your toes, you’ll also be navigating around falling pillars, Thwomp-like stoneheads, rolling boulders and corridors that twist and distort like some M.C. Escher fever dream. This game has zero tolerance for hesitation; if you lose concentration and hover in uncertainty before an opening for — oh, say more than half a second — your little stone deity will fall down to the “failure” screen and offer you an immediate chance to give the run another shot. More likely than not, you’ll dive right in again — because this game’s a ton of fun.

As you travel along a Mario-esque map of the realm (yes, there’s a story), different paths appear. In addition to the main quest levels and “Boss” temples, you’ll unlock access to mini-games offering fun twists on the theme; my favorite has you matching silhouettes to climb a tower as quickly as possible. The game also offers mulitplayer in both wireless and local modes.

The first thing you see when starting this game up — even before the title — is a warning: take a break every thirty minutes. There’s a reason the warning gets such prominence: this is classic “just one more time” gaming you’ll find tough to set aside. Combining effective 3D with tight controls, gripping gameplay and Nintendo charm, Ketzal’s Corridors infuses the puzzle genre with a dash of white-knuckle excitement. With each passing week, the eShop becomes more and more synonymous with quality Nintendo originals; this is downloadable gaming done right.