A year after launching on the PC and PlayStation 4, Tricky Towers received a Xbox One release as well, along with an additional single-player mode. The game was also just recently added to the Nintendo Switch library. In Tricky Towers players assume the roles of mages trying to stack bricks Tetris-style as they cascade down the screen. The biggest differences being that there are no walls to help hold in your physics-enabled bricks, and the game (or your friends in multiplayer) can throw curve balls at you in the form of magic spells that affect or alter your bricks for better or worse.
Violence: In one game mode, called Survival, players start with three hearts. As they lose bricks, hearts will be deducted. Losing hearts causes your mage’s animation to stutter, and if you lose all of them or fail a level your mage will disappear in a poof of smoke.
Magic Use: Players employ “Light” and “Dark” spells to aid them in the game. Light spells only help the player, while Dark spells affect other players’ bricks. When you use a Dark spell on another player, their affected brick gets pulled up near the top of the screen by a dark column, then comes back down at normal speed.
Religious Icons: The spell that summons a platform often has a tombstone or cross on it.
Tricky Towers owes a lot of its ideas to Tetris, but to call it a knock-off or clone is far too dismissive. Tetris is easy in comparison. The bricks (called Tetrominos) still come in the usual 7 shapes and move faster and faster as the level progresses, but because there are no walls and the bricks respond to physics and gravity, everything becomes wildly different. You aren’t trying to fill rows to get rid of blocks, but now you might try to fill a row in order to stabilize the base of your increasingly tall tower. You can’t just drop a 4-long Tetromino on a ledge and expect it to stay put – it’ll topple over and might even bump other bricks free if your digital masonry isn’t up to par.
To aid themselves the player has at their disposal spells that strengthen or reinforce their tower, remove misplaced bricks, or even summon a platform upon which they can continue to bulid. The opposing players or NPCs can cause your bricks to randomly rotate on their way down, double in size, become slippery, or even have a balloon attached to them, slowing their descent to a crawl. These magic effects add both replayability and hilarity to the overall experience.
On the single-player side you have the choice of Trials mode or Endless mode. Trials pits you against an NPC in ever-increasingly difficult levels that test your mettle in the three game types: Survival, Race, and Puzzle. Survival gives you three hearts that you lose as bricks fail to stay in place; every time one or a large group of them fall you lose a heart, and losing all three hearts fails the level. Puzzle sees you trying to place a small number of bricks under a specific height, marked by a laser that zaps any Tetromino that dares to poke above the line. Lose any bricks, or get zapped, and you fail. In Race you attempt to reach a certain height before a timer runs out, lasting around a minute to 90 seconds.
The much-touted Xbox exclusive mode is an endless version of Race in which you build against a rising tide of water. The water only ever drops a minuscule amount when you hit the edge of a spell line. It also neither helps or hinders your structure, as I found out when one of my towers started to topple underneath the water, spelling doom for my high-score attempt.
Multiplayer is where the game truly shines. The three game modes are fun enough as it is, but the added human element knocks it up to 11. There is no greater joy in the game than winning a Race by the skin of your teeth, as your tower sways and threatens to topple. All players have to do is hold a brick up above the line for three seconds, no matter what direction or manner the brick is in, so it is possible to win while your tower is in reality, toppling to the ground. And the multiplayer games don’t usually end the way you expect them to. On more than one occasion I threw a Dark spell at my opponent only to hear across the couch, “Hey…thanks!” The spells are not only helpful, but act as a great equalizer. Even someone with little gaming experience has a chance thanks to spells like the one that summons a platform or turns your next brick into immovable rock.
Tricky Towers is a great example of retro-inspired gaming done right. While “old-school” might be en vogue right now, it’s great that there are still games that don’t just try to copy others’ past success, but are willing to try something new and different. The brick-laying, Tetromino – inspired puzzle genre has had many entries, but this one rises past emulation into a league of its own.
The Bottom Line
A fun take on the often-copied Tetris, Tricky Towers hits a lot of notes right. Players will be trying for "just one more round" and the magic spells keep the playing field level and interesting. While not a deep game, there is a lot to enjoy about Tricky Towers.