When you think of a classic puzzle game, what do you think of? Go ahead and try it. I would bet a small sum that you thought of Tetris. It’s as ubiquitous for puzzle games as Mario is to platform games. Over the years there have been a lot of unique spins on the classic formula: Tetris Plus had you escorting an archeologist and trying to clear the block puzzles before he was crushed by spikes; Magical Tetris Challenge introduced five-block pieces; and let’s not forget the more outlandish spinoffs like Tetrisphere and Wetrix. In the same vein of these Tetris variants, Tricky Towers on the Nintendo Switch is another take on the old school formula and it works remarkably well.
Tricky Towers is a party game that supports up to four players. Unlike traditional Tetris, it uses a physics-based system. As you build upwards, your tower may fall and collapse if there isn’t enough support for a block. You have to make sure that your blocks are firmly supported underneath by a flat foundation. The more jagged your tower is, the more precariously teetering it will be. You cannot clear lines either. Your goal is to build quickly, but also sturdily enough to allow for a proper balance. As you get higher and higher, this gets more difficult. At the highest of elevations, one block placed just a little too far on either side of the tower may cause the whole thing to come crashing down.
There are three primary modes: survival, race, and puzzle. While they vary in intensity and the cut-throatness of their competition, they are all fun and accomplish what they set out to do. Survival pits you against your opponents in and endless mode. Blocks will continue to fall from the sky with the goal of outlasting your opponents. Each time your tower falls, you lose one heart (you don’t lose more than one heart if the whole heap of blocks fall at once). If you lose three hearts, you’re out. Since you’re not able to clear blocks, there are no garbage blocks to punish your rivals. Instead, you will be granted spells as you play. If you get your tower higher than the others at a quicker pace, you will be awarded spells. If you go slower and play more safely, you are still granted spells but they will be doled out at a significantly slower rate. This makes for an interesting risk/reward system. Do you build your tower higher and quicker to get spells faster at the expense of your tower being a bit more unstable? It’s a good system, but unlike traditional Tetris, it doesn’t reward skillful play as much. The reward is more indirect. I’m okay with this, though, since the spells are just so much fun.
Whenever you earn a spell, you will randomly be assigned with two options: one light spell and one dark spell. Each spell is assigned to a separate button, and you can only use one of them. So, if you choose to use the light spell, the dark spell will vanish, and vice versa. Light spells assist you in various ways. Sometimes they will make a small island appear to give you an extra building platform, or give you a sturdy block to help reinforce your tower with, to name a few of numerous options. Dark spells, in turn, will harm your opponents. They do things like obscuring the vision of their tower for a short while, dropping large objects like pianos on their tower that are hard to balance, and a myriad of other effects. It’s all good fun and I enjoyed the choice.
Race mode has you competing to get to the top of the screen first. You can fall off the tower as many times as you wish without penalty. The first player to the top wins. This is less intense than survival but still good fun. Using spells in Race feels less mean, as a lightning bolt that zaps away their foundation will not be nearly as punishing as it is in survival mode where it’s three strikes and you’re out. There’s always the possibility of quickly building your way back up.
Puzzle mode is interesting. It has a slower pace and focuses on squeezing in as many blocks on your tower as possible below a certain cutoff point. As soon as you go over that point, you’re out. If your blocks fall off the stage, as a punishment your play area will shrink a bit. Once all players are out, the game adds up the amount of blocks each player managed to squeeze in. The player with the most blocks wins. This requires a more creative style of play with more logical thinking, as you have to come up with various engineering solutions. Only light spells are available in the puzzle mode.
Match customization options exist as well, but they aren’t very deep. You can set the number of rounds played and the difficulty of the levels. Harder difficulties will introduce elements like weather that will significantly increase the challenge. It’s a bit upsetting that there aren’t handicap options. I would love to play the game with my mother or other loved ones who aren’t very skilled at games. Everyone loves Tetris, and most of those players would appreciate this variant as well. A handicap system that makes blocks drop quicker would have worked just fine. Or maybe give the handicapped players spells at twice the rate. There are many ways this could have worked.
As far as single player content goes, you’re essentially limited to various forms of endless and trials modes which just serve as a series of one-off challenges. Some of them can be tricky, especially the ones that focus on the puzzle mode gameplay. Overall, they don’t have very many compelling options. There’s no story mode, which is a real shame since the wizards are cute, the world is colorful, and the trials mode already sort of introduces antagonist wizards who are only there to ruin your day on certain stages. It would have been so easy to string together a simple little narrative to tie it all together. But this isn’t much of a complaint. It would have just been nice to have something like that.
The graphics are cute and the sound effects work well enough. Wizards’ adorable little grunts and the heavy thuds of quickly falling blocks are nice, but the music is quite poor. The entire soundtrack consists of only a handful of tunes, which sound like cheesy sound effects from children’s Halloween specials. None of this ruins the game whatsoever, but it does knock it down a peg. DLC options are available, but all of them are simply cosmetic. You can purchase new skins for your blocks, new wizards to play as, and even a suite of characters from other indie games (seeing Octodad was quite a surprise). With so many cameos, I can just bet that Shovel Knight will be added in a future DLC-pack.
My biggest complaint is the lack of variety. With only three modes of play, there isn’t a whole lot to draw you back in. When compared to another recent Tetris outing, Puyo Puyo Tetris, the amount of gameplay variety is startlingly lacking. I feel like even three more modes would have greatly increased the value of this game. I can think of a few right now. What about a cooperative or 2v2 mode where both player/teams are working together on the same tower but have to get in one another’s way? How about a mode where you can place cannons that can shoot at one another’s towers and when you take enough damage it will knock it over? The options are endless and having only three at the moment is very disappointing.
Perhaps I am asking too much of this quirky little indie game. It doesn’t come from any major company like Sega. The developers have taken the Tetris formula and worked it in a brand new way. It’s fun and cute, but it does grow old more quickly than it should. Overall, the lack of additional gameplay modes keeps this good party game from being a great party game. Even just two more modes would have been just the right amount to keep it from going stale so quickly.