I often reflect on which genre of game has taken up most of my time, and the humble puzzler has to be right up there near the top.
I simply cannot resist the combination of the pick up and play, one more go elements. Chuck in some online competitive play to top things off and you’ve got yourself a hit, in my humble opinion. Enter Treasure Stack, which has my wish list firmly in its crosshairs.
The game is basically a falling block puzzler, quite similar to Tetris. There is a dash of platforming mixed into the action, as you control your little character who is right in the thick of things as the blocks are falling all around them. These blocks consist of different coloured chests, keys and special power-ups which fall in pairs from random positions at the top of the screen. You have to place the correct coloured key with the matching chests to unlock and therefore clear them.
There are numerous power-ups to throw in, and these turn out to be invaluable. These include anvils, which clear the entire column of blocks they sit on, and bombs which rid a 3×3 radius from where they are detonated. However, things are complicated by pesky demon runes, which can only be cleared by using power-ups or by matching a chest and key combination right next door to them. Demon runes will build on the left of your screen, and you can slow their impending arrival by clearing blocks as quickly as possible.
As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, if the stack of blocks reaches the top of the screen, it’s game over. Also at the top of the screen you’ll see a combo multiplier which builds as you clear blocks, up to a maximum of five, as well as a running total of how many blocks you manage to clear before you are overrun. So far, very puzzly. “But what about that little character?”, I hear you ask. Well, that’s where the platforming element comes in.
To move blocks and create matches, you use your character to manipulate them, instead of you personally moving the blocks directly in the traditional way. This is done by using your grapple, latching onto the blocks and pulling them down. You can also lift and run with one block at a time, to help organise your stacks more efficiently.
The left thumbstick is used to move around, and A will make you jump. Hitting X will let you pick up and then place blocks where you like. If you get buried under blocks you can pick them up and place them back underneath you to effectively dig your way to the top of the pile; all done via a press of X and down on the stick. Pushing up on the stick and hitting X together will grapple blocks and pull them down onto your existing pile. That’s all there is to it.
The controls work well on the whole, but it can be very difficult to remain accurate when the action gets frantic, and this can bring things to a premature end. The main problem is found in selecting where to place your blocks; you’ll sometimes skip over where you want to place them, and lose valuable seconds trying to correct yourself.
Treasure Stack consists of three modes of play: Solo, Local Multiplayer and Online Multiplayer. When I was reading the game’s synopsis I became a little confused, as the developer, PIXELAKES, mentioned a “Challenge Mode”, which I could not find. Only later did I realise they were referring to “Solo Play”, which works more like an endless or survival mode, doubling up as a practice arena for multiplayer battles. It might just be me, but I was expecting a series of levels set under specific conditions when I hear of a “Challenge Mode”, but that sadly is not the case.
It must be said that this game is all about the multiplayer, although there are some benefits to playing solo. As you play this single-player mode you’ll earn XP, which will award you loot crates when you level up. You’ll unlock characters and grapples through these, of which there are over 100 to collect, however the differences are purely cosmetic. There’s zero tactical advantage to switching between them, which seems like a missed opportunity to add some depth to the puzzling action.
Another oversight is the chance to flesh out and show off the character and grapple designs; instead the retro inspired pixelated visuals make quite a few of them blend into generic looking clones. Treasure Stack’s graphical style is very much all about the pixels, and in the main game that works fine, however on the first loading screen you get a glimpse of some excellent character designs. Why we couldn’t see that in the game’s “Collections” menu in viewing gallery style, is a mystery to me. As a result, there’s no real incentive to grind away in Solo to unlock these collectables, and once you’re comfortable with the controls it’ll only be the multiplayer modes that will keep you playing. As mentioned, the pixelated style of the game looks good enough, all wrapped up in a medieval skin, but it doesn’t ever go far enough to really impress. However, the game sounds great; its musical style landing somewhere between The Legend of Zelda and Game of Thrones.
Thankfully, things are definitely more exciting when you’re playing a human opponent in Treasure Stack.
As you’d expect, the more chests you are clearing on your side, the quicker demon runes will appear on the enemy’s screen. As these runes are tricky to clear, the quicker you are at matching combos, the easier the path to victory. The game supports four way local multiplayer as well as online play, with the latter consisting of three modes: “Season”, “Casual” and “Private”. “Casual” is your standard random 1v1 worldwide matchmaking whereas “Private” allows you to setup your own games with friends online. “Seasons” meanwhile are time restricted affairs where you’ll have the chance to earn specific rewards as you play, with your stats tracked for the duration of each one. The first season went live on Treasure Stack’s launch day, 1st March 2019, however, sadly, whilst writing this review I have been unable to find an opponent in the Season mode, which doesn’t bode well for the game’s online aspirations, just a few days after launch. I have however had a slightly better hit rate in “Casual” mode, but there’s still a way to go here. However, after a few weeks, hopefully the online element of Treasure Stack will have found its footing, and indeed some more players.
Treasure Stack on Xbox One currently costs £16.74 on the Xbox Store, but this, for me, is it’s major issue. That is expensive for what it is, and without a speedy and seamless online mode, there isn’t a lot of game here for your money at all. This makes it very difficult for me to recommend to rush out and buy and that is where the “Catch-22” lies, as it needs more players to support an efficient online experience.
All in all though, Treasure Stack is fun, and despite similarities to other puzzlers feels new and fresh enough to be worthy of your time. This said, it doesn’t quite have that magic formula and feels very light in terms of content, which won’t keep you entertained for long. Currently, the game really struggles to justify its price tag, but has potential to be a fun online puzzler in the future.