The Tetris formula is one beloved by many arcade puzzle fans around the world – myself included. Many games have expanded on the traditional formula, introducing new quirky mechanics to keep the formula fresh. Alongside this formula, physics-based puzzle games have maintained popularity in the form of both flash games on the web and on other platforms. In 2009, developer WeirdBeard Games released a physics-based puzzler with Tetris elements called 99 Bricks. Seven years later, WeirdBeard released Tricky Towers, a game that expands on 99 Bricks’ tower-building premise by adding more modes and emphasizing competitive play. Does this new tower-building puzzler stack up? Let’s find out.
Upon playing your first round of Tricky Towers, you’ll immediately notice that the blocks falling from the top of the screen are extremely reminiscent of those found in Tetris. Similar still is that you are expected to interlock these falling blocks to create a study structure, free of gaps and instabilities. What you’ll notice, however, is that there are no walls to protect your bricks from falling. The built-in physics emphasise the need for quick but careful construction. Build a sloppy structure and, guaranteed, it will come crumbling down.
“Spells add a layer of interaction between players that makes a traditionally isolated building experience feel all the more connected”
Building your tower is not all you have to focus on, though. You play as a wizard and, while constructing your own tower, you will acquire light and dark spells to help yourself and harm your foes, respectively. For example, some light spells may remove the most recent block you placed or create a floating surface for you to start building anew. Dark spells may force your opponents to place a super-sized block or make it so their block falls at an excruciatingly slow pace. Spells add a layer of interaction between players that makes a traditionally isolated building experience feel all the more connected.
Three game modes are available in both single-player and multiplayer (local and online) modes: puzzle, race and survival. Puzzle mode provides you with predetermined blocks that you must fit in carefully without making contact with a laser hanging slightly above. Race is as you would expect; you must be the fastest at creating a tall enough tower to reach a hanging checkered line. In survival, players are given three lives to build a tower larger than those made by their opponents. If a brick falls, a life is lost. Each game mode is genuinely enjoyable, and having modes that require different speeds of play and forms of strategy is an excellent way to keep players coming back for more.
“Each game mode is genuinely enjoyable, and having modes that require different speeds of play and forms of strategy is an excellent way to keep players coming back for more”
It quickly becomes apparent that single-player is not the way that Tricky Towers is meant to be played. Playing alone feels lonely and sluggish, and it brings attention to some of the game’s flaws. For example, the music and sounds in single-player are largely repetitive and uninteresting. The difficulty spike in single-player is also jarring. Single-player does have one additional mode that is extremely alluring, however: Endless mode. Endless mode is as you would expect: place as many blocks as you can without having your tower crumble. While building your tower, you must endure frequent waves of modifiers that negatively impact your building prowess. These modifiers appear randomly, and while the randomness may irritate those trying to climb the leaderboards, they never stopped me from wanting to try just one more time.
I feel the need to emphasize this: this game is, without a doubt, meant to be played in multiplayer. Whether it’s with three friends on the couch or with strangers online, Tricky Towers is, in every way, better as a party game. Building your own tower feels instantly more chaotic as you glance over to see how your opponents are doing. Just as you get confident that you’ll take home the victory, one of your opponents casts dark magic to ruin your lead (and quite possibly your mood). I found myself playing for hours with complete strangers and, win or lose, I had an absolute blast. Rounds also often finish quickly enough so that early crumblers won’t have to wait long to get in on the next match. Gameplay also always felt goofy and light-hearted, which was likely due in part to the charming cartoony aesthetic. Colours are vivid and wizard characters look downright silly, adding to the feel-good nature that Tricky Towers exudes.
“Whether it’s with three friends on the couch or with strangers online, Tricky Towers is, in every way, better as a party game”
Tricky Towers is one of the free games available for PlayStation Plus in August 2016. If you’re a Plus member and you haven’t yet downloaded this fantastic party game, I highly recommend that you do so quickly. Even if you’re not a Plus member, this game is certainly worthwhile if you have some friends that fancy a solid physics-based puzzle game. WeirdBeard Games should be commended for creating such a simple, yet charming arcade puzzle game. Its single-player mode is useful for familiarising yourself with the game, but this is, undeniably, a multiplayer spectacle. Don’t take its cartoony appearance lightly; Tricky Towers could very well be the game that has you laughing and screaming with (or at) your friends for a long time to come.