Holy crap, Treasure Stack is tough.
At a glance, it doesn’t look like it should be. Going by gameplay footage, it doesn’t look too dissimilar from a standard match-three puzzler. The difference is that instead of controlling the blocks as they fall, you instead control an avatar, who can catch falling blocks and move them to another area within reach. And on paper, that’s exactly everything that Treasure Stack is. But in practice, it’s so much more fiendish than it sounds.
There’s a lot to consider when playing Treasure Stack. To start with, you can’t just match three blocks of a colour and wait for them to disappear. Each standard block is a chest, and they come in four colours. But chests also have corresponding keys. A key needs to be matched with a group of chests of the same colour before they’ll clear off your screen. The trick to success in Treasure Stack is to chain clearing blocks as effectively as possible, without letting your score multiplier drop. Clear blocks too slowly and a line of black, unmatchable blocks will drop. As the game speeds up and blocks begin to fall more quickly, trying to keep up becomes a task only for the most seasoned players of the game.
Treasure Stack takes some getting used to. Not having direct control of where your blocks fall is unusual for a game of this type, so you need to make sure your avatar can reach all areas of your screen. Have a single column too high, and you’ll not be able to make the leap. You’re equipped with a grapple that lets you reach blocks as they fall, but you can only drop them into areas that you can reach. You can also pick up blocks that have already been laid – but it’s hard to do with any real degree of precision.
You can pick up an entire row of blocks, and dropping them will place your avatar on top, which can be handy if you’re trying to reach a high area. But trying to pick up only part of a column is tricky. If you can stand to the side of a column, you can jump, picking up only the section of the stack that you can reach. But as the game progresses and the game speeds up, it becomes almost impossible to keep on top of new, falling blocks.
For when things get a little too hairy, there are power-up blocks that randomly fall to help you clear some of your screen a little quicker. There’s a bomb, which will blow up blocks in its surrounding area, and an anvil, which will clear an entire column – providing you can get it to the top. There’s also a sword, that when placed down, will slash away the adjacent row. Perhaps the holy grail of Treasure Stack is the multi-coloured key, which will clear any colour it’s placed next to.
The only real strategy you can apply to Treasure Stack is to consistently group colours together. And since there are only ever four colours to fall in the game, initially it’s pretty easy. It means that when a key eventually falls, match it with the correct group of colours, and you can clear a good section of your screen. The problem is that keys fall at random, and you can often be waiting for a long time for the correct colour key to fall. And should black blocks fall – that can only be cleared by clearing adjacent blocks – they’ll likely get in the way of the nice, tidy piles of colours you’ve just made.
Treasure Stack, then, can get pretty frustrating. But once you’ve got the hang of the controls and have a good sorting strategy in place, it’s very easy to get sucked in. With a single round taking around ten minutes or less (depending how good you are, of course), it’s the type of game that you’ll find yourself saying “just one more go!” to. And before you know it, you’ll have lost two hours.
There is a single-player mode to Treasure Stack, but the main focus of the game is competitive multiplayer. It can be played either online or locally, with up to three other players. In multiplayer, the speed at which black blocks fall is dependent on how quickly other players chain matches. Equally, if you clear blocks in quick succession, you’ll queue up more black blocks to fall on your opponents’ screens, but also clear those that are queued up to fall on your own screen.
Playing against a real player adds a degree of urgency that’s missing from the single player mode. Matched with a player of a similar skill level, Treasure Stack makes for an exhilarating experience. Being able to see how well other players are doing compared to you keeps you on your toes, and sending a line of black blocks onto their screen is rather satisfying. Getting matched with someone at a much higher skill level than you, however, makes for a very short and frustrating game. Thankfully, developer Pixelakes says that when playing online, Treasure Stack utilises a “streamlined” matchmaking process that will actively aim to match players of similar skill levels.
The game features both casual online play and ranked seasons, which will undoubtedly be the focus of the game. Each season will last 30 days, during which time you can aim for the highest ranking possible. Playing in ranked mode will also net you exclusive customisation items for your avatar and grapple. There are dozens of designs to unlock, which you’ll also receive for playing through single player and standard multiplayer. They’re cosmetic-only, so won’t grant you any special skills in the game. But playing Treasure Stack as a bear, or a pixelated rendition of Superman, is at least entertaining.
The most annoying thing about Treasure Stack, considering the nature of its gameplay, is that there’s no ‘retry’ or ‘play again’ button. When you’ve finished a match, whether in single player or multiplayer, your only option is to go back to the main menu. When it’s the type of game that you want to continuously play, having to navigate the menu every time is a pain. It’s a minor gripe, but it seems like a very simple thing that would improve player satisfaction immensely.
Treasure Stack‘s unique twist on a familiar genre makes for addictive and engaging gameplay – but it’s not going to be for everyone. Getting to grips with the game’s quirks takes patience, and becoming good at the game will take a hell of a lot of practice. But once you get into the game’s rhythm, it’s hard to put down. Single-player mode sadly has limited appeal, so it’s in Treasure Stack‘s online options where the game’s future lies. There’ll always be local co-op, but the game will live or die based on how active its online playerbase is. The game supports crossplay, allowing players on all formats to play together, but only time will tell how its community pans out.