Treasure Stack – The Switch Island Review
There’s treasure here but how does it stack?
I will either go deep into puzzle games and play them endlessly until my fingers need surgery – Tetris, Mr Driller – or bounce off them almost immediately. Unfortunately, Treasure Stack has landed squarely in the second camp despite a colourful array of reasons why it shouldn’t be.
I’ve just checked and I’m astonished to find that the developer of Treasure Stack, PIXELAKES, didn’t also create No Heroes Here, because the design similarities are uncanny. But they definitely didn’t because that great co-op title was developed by Mad Mimic Interactive. Both games feature very nicely designed medieval pixel art.
Treasure Stack is unique, but perhaps only to me, as it looks to be in the vein of indie devs creating games to fill niches left by absent franchises (WarGroove is Advance Wars, Blossom Tales is 2D Zelda, Axiom Verge is Metroid, Bloodstained is Castlevania, etc). It’s a ploy that works well, with fanboys and fangirls clamouring to get their sticky fingers all over anything that’s close-enough to beloved titles. Sales figures show this works a treat too. And Treasure Stack follows this trend by basically bringing Wario’s Woods to Switch. (Wario’s Wood is interesting, by the way – and this may come up in a future Mario Or Smario, so pay attention – for being the first game where Toad is the main hero.) But anyhow, in Treasure Stacks, you play not as a mushroom but as one of four normal looking characters, with lots of other weird and wonderful unlockable ones, including a dog (that is super cute).
If you’ve played Wario’s Woods, you’ll know it’s a different take on a puzzle game (see video below). It’s kind-of a puz-form but with the emphasis heavily on puzzling and less on platforming; there are no levels or worlds to progress through, for instance. Instead of controlling the blocks directly, you control a character who can run and jump and move the blocks. In Treasure Stack it’s no different, except this time the job is to match coloured keys to coloured treasure chests, which clears both. The grappling hook is a neat feature, which does the job of the fast drop in Tetris. The game does an excellent job of taking you through how to play the game, with a speedy but thorough little tutorial. I appreciated this because a lot of puzzlers drop you in the deep end.
Initially, having to jump around inside the classic puzzler rectangle, moving blocks and taking names, feels fresh and fun, but sadly very quickly I became a little annoyed, even though I was enjoying what was here. I think the character is slightly too large for the workable space. A larger puzzle space would be welcome or perhaps provide a variety to choose from. However, the core play is certainly engaging and fun, making you feel smart finding the techniques and tricks to employ.
Mostly I was disappointed by how limited and humdrum the single player content is. It feels like the whole experience has been set-up for multiplayer, and specifically online multiplayer. I tried to play the multiplayer three times to see if there was anyone online to match against, but sadly never managed to find anyone. So, I can’t comment on how well that side of the game all works. Being mostly an online experience, the game probably just isn’t for me, because I will always prefer to play a puzzle game against myself, as masturbatory as that sounds.
Another grievance I have is that the game jumps you back to the main menu after you finish an attempt. With puzzle games like this, there should be an instant restart, to encourage the ‘just one more go’ feeling. I think this design choice is again due to the multiplayer focus of the game, where the solo mode feels like an afterthought or a training area.
Overall, it’s difficult to recommend Treasure Stack, even though it’s fun and characterful. If you have someone you know who would play this with you, then possibly. Or, if the game is successful and you hear that the online matchmaking becomes easier and more likely, and if this is your cup of tea, then definitely try it. It would be awesome if Nintendo were to partner with these devs to create a follow-up to Tetris 99 for their online platform, as that game has been very successful despite being very barebones. Would a Treasure Stack 99 or a Wario’s Woods 99 work? With that sort of online platform, perhaps this game could take its very solid core structure and become an online phenomenon. Ultimately, though, that isn’t what’s on offer here.