STAFF REVIEW of Tricky Towers (Xbox One)

Saturday, October 14, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Tricky Towers Box art Tetris is one of the most well-known games of all time. Its classic gameplay is as simplistic as it gets, and it has spawned countless iterations and knock offs, all trying to slightly modify the gameplay just enough for it to be different and fresh. Needless to say, when a Tetris-like game releases, I usually don’t take much notice, as we’ve seen it all before. That’s what shocked me about Tricky Towers though, it actually did change things up just enough to be interesting and capture my attention.

Tricky Towers is a byproduct of mashing up classic Tetris and Jenga. Jenga is all about building your tower as high as you can without it toppling while managing the constant fight against gravity. In Tricky Towers, instead of standard Jenga blocks you have the tetromino pieces we’ve come to expect from any Tetris game. The idea is very simple but it works, so not only are you trying to interlock tetromino pieces, but you also need to be mindful of the weight and placement of each piece, as gravity is a factor in your game.

Tricky Towers boasts itself as a multiplayer focused title, not something you see often in many smaller indie games, so it’s a very welcome addition. There is a single player component as well, should you want to relax and play at your own pace. The premise of Tricky Towers is simple: Build up your tower and try and topple your opponent’s, or challenge yourself in the puzzle mode, attempting to use every piece you're given without tipping your tower over.

Naturally, I started to play Tricky Towers simply as a Tetris clone, but there’s a few factors that differentiate itself as a simple knock off. The biggest mechanic you’ll need to become accustomed to is the movement of the pieces. In standard Tetris, each piece is made up of a formation of 1x1 blocks to create its shape, and when you move left or right, your pieces move 1 block exactly. Tricky Towers has half movements, so when you tap left on the D-Pad or the Left Stick, your piece will actually move half a block over. While this means you can make very precise and minor movements, you’re also going to make countless mistakes as you'll be slightly off when placing your pieces due to this. It’s not impossible to learn, but something you’ll constantly have to remember.

There’s a decent amount of gameplay to be had, even when playing solo, as the game has 50 increasingly difficult levels to tackle in Trial mode. There’s an endless mode to challenge you too, seeing how tall you can build your tower before it inevitably comes crashing down. Puzzle, Race, and Survival modes are the three included modes that will each offer a slightly different experience with widely different strategies. Single player is great if you’re just looking for a few minutes of gameplay, as completing a certain amount of levels will unlock the next tier of difficulty and more stages to complete.

Race mode is my personal favorite. This mode is simple in concept, as you simply need to beat your opponent to the finish line above. Different strategies are completely viable here; do you build slow and wide, making a sturdy base while slowly building upwards, or do you risk balancing pieces and soar towards the finish line, hoping your tower doesn’t come crashing down? Playing against the AI is one thing, but playing against another player makes it much more challenging and entertaining.

To make things more interesting there are power-ups that you’ll gain from reaching certain threshold heights. These power-ups give you an option of being helpful to yourself, or detrimental against your opponent, so you need to quickly weigh which option is better in that certain moment. Do you place an unmovable piece on your tower, creating an anchor-like base to build from, or do you use it against your opponent, causing one of his pieces grow 5 times in size, surely to make his tower crash. These moments are incredibly satisfying, especially once you see the chaos that ensues on your opponent’s tower.

There’s more than a dozen different powers to use, each of which have a very specific strategy. As you get near the finish line you'll find the match becomes very chaotic, as you not only need to build your tower high enough to reach the finish, you also need your tower to be stable enough to cross and stay up for more than 3 seconds. Do you take more time and build something structurally sound or risk it and hope that it’ll stand for a simple 3 seconds for the win? Using your power-ups at these times is a great way to start fights between friends!

Survival mode gives you a specific amount of bricks that need to be placed to win, but you only have three lives, which you lose each time a block falls into the abyss. The first few levels of Survival aren't too bad, as you’re not racing against an opponent, so you can be more deliberate with your placements, but eventually these stages become very challenging. Later levels eventually throw distractions at you, like smoke clouds that block your view, usually causing you to misplace your brick placement rather then putting it where you intended, or random pieces growing to 5 times the size, throwing off your perfect build. There are even Survival stages later on where every piece is locked, preventing you from any rotating, so there’s plenty of challenge to be had in this mode.

Puzzle Mode starts with a predefined platform, challenging you with placing every piece you’re given without any falling into the pit. Oh, but the most difficult thing about this mode is that there’s a laser above the platform, so every piece played must not fall and touch the laser, or you lose. You’ll need to figure out how to interlock each piece just perfectly to complete these levels, for as far as I can tell, there’s only one solution to each of these puzzle levels. They are designed quite well, and you feel a sense of satisfaction when you finally figure out the exact placement of each piece, but expect to be stumped on specific levels for quite some time before you figure out the solution.

Lastly, there’s Endless mode. Here you can attempt to build your tower forever, but every 15 seconds or so a new wave occurs, applying a modifier in attempt to make your tower come crashing down. Some of these modifiers will cause your blocks to fall incredibly fast, become huge pieces, lock the rotation and more. This mode is quite addictive, though a tough modifier will put your skills to the test.

All of the modes can be played across multiplayer as well, locally or online, which was a shock to see included. Up to 4 players can compete against one another, making for some chaotic gameplay. You’re able to choose your mode, difficulty, and number of rounds in a tournament. The only problem I found while playing online was that you have to completely back out to the main menu if you want to change the game mode or settings, prompting re-invites to all of your friends. Lastly, and somewhat unfortunately, there’s absolutely no one playing this online, as I’ve been unable to find a single random game every time I’ve tried, so unless you plan on playing local couch co-op, don’t expect there to be a community online playing.

I enjoyed seeing the online leaderboards, allowing one to see how they stack up against the competition. While the whole game is accessible, there are microtransactions in place in the form of skins for your pieces and character skins. Granted, these aren’t game changing, but it would have been nice to have been able to work towards these unlocks organically within the game itself.

Multiplayer is where Tricky Tower shines, causing some hilarity at the best of times, and anger directed towards your friends the other times. Sure, you’ll get frustrated now and then, as it’s sometimes hard to recover from a misplaced block, but that’s where the challenge comes for this game. Tricky Tower is quite 'tricky' to get the hang of, as it takes some time learning, and remembering, the ‘half’ moves the blocks make, and that these same blocks aren’t locked in place once they land. At the end of the day Tricky Towers can be an enjoyable experience, especially if you’re craving some Tetris-like gameplay with a unique twist.

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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