Release Date: 1 March 2019
Price: $19.99 / £15.79
Reviewed by Nathan Ellingsworth
Since the days of Tetris on the GameBoy, Nintendo consoles and puzzle games have gone together like a red capsule and another red capsule in Dr Mario’s surgery. We’ve seen the big N themselves throw their IP at different types of puzzle games with so many fantastic franchises born out of these over the years. Incoming to the Switch is the puzzle platformer Treasure Stack, a title that pays homage to the great and good of the puzzle pile, while also trying to open a whole new chest of ideas.
While it takes from a few titles, the main influence on display is the NES classic Wario’s Woods. Like that title, you control a character in the play field, who has to scramble over blocks to match them up. Where this game differs however, is in equipiing you with a grappling hook to pull falling chests towards you, which must then be placed next to their corresponding key in order to bust free the treasure hidden within.
Treasure Stack manages to pull from it’s inspiration well, but still feels quick enough to play like a 2019 video game, with the movement of your character feeling fluid and tight so any mistakes are entirely of your own making.
The chain-forming style of gameplay here gets complicated quickly, with combos built up by preparing coloured chests so they fall onto their corresponding key, stacking up even more points. In Solo mode you’re facing the adversity of an occasional drop of junk blocks, that can be blocked if you chain enough combos in time. But in versus, building combos stacks these junk blocks against your opponent so it soon pays to play tactically and deliver a painful drop when they least need it.
In terms of solo play, there is a mode for single players on offer here, but it’s ultimately rather shallow. The only option you have is an endless mode pitting you against your own skills to try and survive as long as you can. This mode also happens to be the only way you can unlock the game’s expansive list of playable characters and grapples. Based on different pop culture references and some really fun nods to other films and games, these unlockable extras are a huge injection of personality into this game and are a blast to unlock - but having them tied behind a single repetitive mode is a real shame. Different modes would have been a great reason to dip in and play the odd game to unlock items, but as it is it’s still enjoyable albeit in shorter bursts.
A friend with chests and all the rest
Bulking up the menu options is local and online multiplayer, which both add another blast of excitement to this title. The particular brand of frantic puzzle play on offer here is easy to pick up and understand, so getting friends to play with you is easy - but mastering it will take time. This is where online came in for me, I only managed a couple of games as I was playing pre-release, but I can only assume I got pitted against one of the developers as I got royally destroyed. However, that pressure to quickly plan and execute combos to build up junk for my opponent as well as bring up the score was by far the most fun I had with the game. Testing my skills against others - and taking part in upcoming tournaments as well - should provide a lot of engaging challenge and longevity to the game.
As mentioned earlier, the available costumes and grapple hooks add a lot of personality, as does the distinctive pixel art style the developers have gone for. Chibi versions of recognisable heroes and mythical creatures are fun to unlock and play with, as are the grapples, and certainly help to reward your time spent. Playing online, I found myself looking at my opponent’s equipped items with envy, spurring me on to push even further so I could add that gear to my own arsenal.
Treasure Stack absolutely has game feel locked down, but a couple of key drawback are stopping it from unlocking it’s potential. Despite the game taking place almost entirely in a thin vertical rectangle during matches, there is no TATE mode option on Switch, which feels like glaring omission. Also of note is a lack of colour-blind options to help distinguish between chests for people who will struggle, a simple palette swap to different items would be an easy solution to this. The single music track played during matches quickly grated on me, and certainly didn’t reach the lofty heights of the Tetris theme which I still think is a bop after 30 years.
Finally, as mentioned, the lack of variety in modes is really frustrating, as is the fact that as far as I can tell online play doesn’t carry over experience like single player to help with obtaining new items. There is so much fun stuff to unlock and play with, so having a single mode that quickly runs dry being the only way to access it is a real shame. Some sort of challenge missions or adventure mode would have been a fantastic way to further play with the charming personality of this game, and better showcase the impeccable puzzler that lies at the game’s core.
Make no mistake, Treasure Stack is a true jewel of a puzzle game, with charm pouring out of every moment. It nails the feel it’s shooting for perfectly, and the cast of ridiculous unlockables are icing on the cake. I just wish that cake came in a few different flavours, as I got pretty tired of the repetitive single player mode by the end.
Pros & Cons
+ Puzzle platforming feels fantastic
+ Huge variety of fun items to unlock
+ Local and online multiplayer a blast
- Lack of single player variety
- Some glaring options omissions
- Only one way to unlock items