Remember Wario’s Woods? No? I don’t blame you. Released as the final officially-licensed NES game in 1994 (and released on the SNES later that year), this puzzle game felt like it got lost in the shuffle even at the time. Despite being a fan of Nintendo games and puzzle games, this one slipped through my fingers for reasons that elude me.
Not to say that it’s bad. Its core gameplay concept is actually rather interesting. Instead of taking direct control of the pieces as they fall down the well, you controlled a character inside the well who had to pick up, move, and drop the pieces in order to create sets and clear blocks. Haven’t really seen any games try that concept since.
Decades later, Treasure Stacker by indie studio PIXELAKES builds on the concept. Does this modern take prove that gaming shouldn’t have abandoned the idea when it did?
You play as a character standing at the bottom of the tower. From the top, pairs of treasures and keys in different combinations are dropped from the top. Treasures are cleared when paired with matching-coloured keys. It’s up to you to grab, carry, and drop the blocks in the right spots.
Beyond the core concept of moving a character in a well, there are many mechanical differences between Treasure Stacker and Wario’s Woods. Keys can clear any group of like-coloured treasures as long as every block is touching along the sides. Wario’s Woods was less forgiving, only clearing blocks when users create horizontal or vertical lines of three-or-more. Your hero in treasure tracker can jump, giving you some vertical mobility. However, it pales in comparison to Toad’s ability to run the full height of blocks. You also get access to a cool-looking grappling hook, allowing you to quickly pull down pieces you’re confident in placing.
As an avid player of falling block puzzle games and platformers, I thought that grasping the game’s mechanics would be second nature. Nope. There’s a lot of nuance in your character’s actions that require some practice, from understanding how to rearrange groups of treasure to create the desired results, to understanding how to escape block wells of your own design, to wrestling with persistent junk blocks that appear at regular intervals. Jumping right into the game’s solo mode on normal difficulty proved to be a mistake for me, as it quickly crushed me before understanding what I was trying to do.
After working through the tutorial, I recommend playing the game’s Zen mode to start. Running at a steady speed throughout while lacking the power-ups and junk blocks of the standard solo mode, it’s a great way to get a feel for the game. From there, work your way up the difficulty curve.
At any level, it requires a lot of mental gymnastics. But with some practice, it becomes quite thrilling to maneuver your way around the board and clear out treasures. Definitely grabbed me to the point where “one more time” became a flat-out lie.
Where it falters is in its feature set. The main game’s difficulty makes it such that the core experience is over in about five minutes. Certainly addicting, but I wish there was more to the single-player experience beyond the main game and Zen mode. The game uses unlockable characters and grappling hooks as an incentive to keep playing, but it’s not a strong enough progression for this specific game. I think that adding the ability to play head-to-head against the CPU would have gone a long way towards its longevity, especially if it were tied to a ladder or campaign.
Multiplayer is a great addition with one major caveat. Up to four players can play head-to-head locally. 1v1 online play is also available in ranked, casual, and private match varieties. During these times in particular, having the online option be fantastic. However, I was unable to test it due to the online community being nonexistent. Had a great time playing against my one friend who had the game, but it’s essentially impossible to match against a stranger.
Treasure Stack builds on the gameplay concepts of Wario’s Woods in some really interesting ways. Its matching system is a bit more generous. Jumping is a cool way of moving around the board. Also, the grappling hook looks cool and rewards fast players by cooling the heat off of your junk blocks faster. There’s a dynamism to it that feels unusually freeform for this style of game. Unfortunately, its paltry list of gameplay modes and a lack of an online community really hurt its shelf life. This puzzler is here for a good time, but not necessarily a long time.
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