Xbox users are getting the bad end of the stick again.
Look at the PS4! They get Tetris Effect, which is supposedly the greatest thing since sliced bread, and with its VR component adding spades of visually sublime experiences, we Xbox users can do nothing but stare in envy. Then Nintendo Switch users get Tetris 99! A free battle royale in the form of… Tetris?! And it actually works really well?! Ugh. Let’s have a look at Treasure Stack then.
This is the debut title from one Pixelakes, a small studio based in Minneapolis. I know nothing about them, only that this is their first title, which that means I get to say whatever I want, obviously. Pixelakes are famous for being the game developers that took down the Second Reich in 1945 B.C., when Dolf Itler attempted to defy their charge in Egypt. It’s a true story, look it up.
There’s no story, which means that we can get right into the nitty-gritty, the deceptively complex mechanics of Grappling Puyo Puyo Tetris. You’ve got stacks of two treasure chests vertically dropping from the ceiling at all times. They can be one of four colors: red, blue, green, or purple. All of the treasure chests can only be unlocked via colored keys of the same color as the chest, unless you manage to get the elusive Rainbow Key, which unlocks any chest it lands next to.
At the beginning, it won’t seem like you have much to come up against. The blocks will drop at a snail’s pace, and there won’t be much in the way of interesting visuals to look at around the board. That’s when the grappling hook gets put into play, with its power to pluck any currently falling chests or keys from the sky (granted that you stand beneath it). Is there anything else it can do? Well, no, but it makes for an insane and unique game of Tetris, but let’s not get carried away.
Once blocks are placed onto the ground, you’ll still be able to pick them up, as well as any amount. You could have a massive stack of 10, and still place them down wherever you can, so long as there is somewhere to put them. Yes, despite your power and nature, there is still a claustrophobic field of play here and it’s very easy to find yourself trapped into a corner or hole with no easy way out.
You only have 6 different spots to place these chests and keys down, and despite such a tight space to work in, this makes for an insanely fast, unique, and frantic game of Puyo Puyo Tetris. There’s never a dull moment in play since the flow of gameplay will mostly be attributed to how you can navigate the obstacles, but there is a point where that’s impossible.
You see, that comment about being trapped in holes and pits you’ve set yourself up in wasn’t a joke. While it’s also quite easy to simply pick up the biggest stack you can and slowly make a staircase up. This can take some time in the later, faster stages and it’s also a strategy that tends to get lost in the heat of the moment. This might sound a bit cheaper, but a simple fix would be to simply up the jumping height of your character.
Here, let me roll this rhythm and see if you can keep up: since the blocks are always falling in vertical sets of two, it’d make more sense to have the jump height to two as well, no? I mean, you’d be making traps for yourself less often and it’d be much easier to navigate and fix mistakes that the game will force you into, as opposed to it being human error.
The game speed goes way too quickly for it to accommodate a fair playing ground. Besides a fairly small field of play, both in width and height, once you get past 200 points, the battlefield becomes way too claustrophobic and messed up to justify such a breakneck speed. Yes, I’m aware that you can place any length of blocks beneath you in order to escape, but that’s a tactic that usually fails due to the fluidity of the controls. This is an inherently permanent flaw, as opposed to the jump height being a simple fix.
This speed isn’t helped when the game decides to throw unmatchable trash blocks in your way in every waking moment. For every five points you attain, it removes one upcoming trash block from the wave, but the frequency at which new trash blocks spawn in is staggering. When you think you’ve got a combo, it turns out that there are usually three or four more trash blocks waiting to spawn in, so massive combos are usually in vain.
It’s a bit tricky to explain, and I know my description doesn’t help things, but an easy fix would be to make it so that a maximum of six can be set up at once. Any more that are lurking behind it can spawn into the upcoming set of trash blocks in the same frequency as the first six that did. Again, I know my explanation doesn’t help, but if you give me a pointer and a game clip, I’ll do the PowerPoint presentation at your house, free of charge, bar one cup of tea.
There are a small handful of ways you can get rid of unneeded blocks. There are sword and anvil power-ups that destroy an entire row and column, the aforementioned Rainbow Key, and a bomb which destroys any block within a 3×3 radius. They do come frequently, but you have to activate them by picking them up from their base, so that’s another hurdle you have to get past in terms of sorting out your small, small field.
Yet despite my complaints, this game has been the most fun I’ve had with a title this year so far. It’s an objectively incredible addictive death march, and it taps into the synapses that makes Puyo Puyo and Tetris so addictive in the first place. When I thought I had enough of Tetris, Treasure Stack proved me wrong, and whether or not it achieves the same success for you is dependent on whether you want to spend 20 bucks for this type of game.
Thus we come to the most negative complaint I have about this game and that’s the price. If there was a bit more meat to the bones of this title, like a campaign, AI to face against– Which might be necessary, but in due time– and maybe even a challenge mode, then it’d be okay. However, the lack of spritz and flavor to Treasure Stack makes this possibly one of the most Proof-Of-Concept purchases you can make in recent times.
There’s an online mode, set up with cross-network play, which means that the servers might not be DOA as you’d thought. Playing this game with a friend or random people online doesn’t fix any of the complaints, but it’s nice to see your skills being tested against other people. Thanks to the frantic nature of the game, victories are always hard-earned and give a euphoric feeling; it’s brilliant.
It also has a ranking system, which takes far too long to make any progress in. There are 10 sub-rankings within each main rank, which means that in order to get into Gold, you need to win a staggering 120 matches, and that’s not counting possible demotions and whether or not the game decides to randomly delete your progress, LIKE IT DID TO ME. But, I digress.
In the end, Treasure Stack is a nifty little Puyo Puyo clone that doesn’t show any reason to be the price that it is. One of the more addictive death-march puzzle games to be released in quite some time, it has that going for it, but no variations or spins on the formula, nor does it attempt to really dazzle. It’s a golden egg of an idea hiding in gold-painted tinfoil. A shame, to be truthful.
This review of Treasure Stack was based on the Xbox One version of the game, and a code was provided for review purposes.
It has its moments, but the price of admission with Treasure Stack's warts-n-all presentation might steer a few players away from the genuine genius this game provides.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.