While rushing around the PlayStation Experience in San Francisco this weekend, a game caught my eye that looked just like Tetris. Indeed I did a double-take, initially thinking that perhaps a new version of Tetris is coming to PlayStation 4 that I hadn't heard about. Upon further inspection, however, it turns out that the game, Tricky Towers from Netherlands-based developer Weirdbeard, does indeed look and play like Tetris at first glance, but it's not Tetris at all.
Basically, it's a tower-building game. Tetrads that are the same shape as the ones in Tetris fall from the sky, and the objective is to pile them on top of one another to create an edifice as quickly as possible. That sounds easy enough, right? Just a case of dropping pieces down the screen and building them up to win? Well, it's not – and here's where Tricky Towers' brilliant twist comes in.
The tetrads can indeed be positioned on top of one another in the usual Tetris fashion, and as you pile them up the game plays pretty much like Alexy Pajitnov's classic – except that lines don't disappear when you complete them. However, after a while you begin to realize that the pieces don't actually stick together like they do in Tetris – they're governed by gravity, so that if a piece is protruding too far from your column, or you don't match pieces together perfectly, they'll start to fall. This can create chain reactions that result in your tower destabilizing, and perhaps even falling apart completely if you manage to unbalance it. It's almost like a reverse game of Jenga using Tetris pieces.
Tricky Towers is primarily a multiplayer competitive game, and can be played by up to four players locally side-by-side, or online. The objective is to simply pile up your pieces as quickly as possible and be the first past the finish line some way up the screen. However, adding an extra dimension to the gameplay is your wizard who floats near your tower. As your heap of tetrads grows, you receive spells that can give you an advantage, perhaps by turning a piece of your tower into a solid mass that can defy gravity and be used as a base to build on. Sometimes you'll be awarded a spell that can be used against other players, for example, by adding a giant heavy tetrad into their rotation that's really difficult to position on their tower.
The gameplay is really simple, but it works very well, striking a perfect balance between making you want to rush into building your tower, but at the same time forcing you to carefully think about where you're putting your pieces to ensure that what you're building is solid enough so that it won't collapse as you near the finish line. In many respects, Tricky Towers reminds me of games like Super Puzzle Fighter and Bust-a-Move in the way that it plays: Simple, competitive gaming that has a certain je ne sais quoi about it that makes it maddeningly addictive and fun. I ended up putting quite a lot of time into the game at Weirdbeard's booth, challenging other players and having a blast while doing so.
As well as featuring a competitive multiplayer mode, Tricky Towers also has a single-player campaign, and a survival mode – although I didn't get the chance to play either at PlayStation Experience. Still, I'm looking forward to doing so when the game ships in March of 2016. Keep an eye out for a review around that time – I'll definitely be covering this neat little indie puzzler!