Ever wondered what would happen if gaming grandaddy Tetris decided it didn’t want to spend the rest of its days dropping blocky shapes down an endless chute? Where would it go next? Try its hand as a first-person shooter perhaps? No, too predictable. A fighting game cameo? No, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has already reached full capacity.
Okay, let’s not stray too far from the game design nest. How about a puzzle title with some platforming elements thrown in for good measure? Maybe turn those falling shapes into blocks that can transform at will, bridging gaps and making seemingly inaccessible areas... well, accessible. That’s the basic premise of Tetra’s Escape, the next game from one-person French developer, ABX Game Studios.
It all starts off innocently enough. You play on a 2.5D plane, embodying the cuboid form of a titular tetra. The basic grey/brown variant can move left and right with the left analog stick, but it doesn’t have the power to jump. That might sound shocking for a platformer, but the little fella isn’t without its skills. It, and every other tetra in the game, can climb by pressing ‘A’ next to a ledge. The only caveat is it can only climb an obstacle that’s one block high.
Each short level has a different layout, with three stars to collect on the way. Collecting all three stars also reveals a gold cup, but this item only appears once all three stars are in your possession and will drop at random. Sometimes you’ll be close enough to grab it and jump into the colourful portal that serves as your endpoint, but sometimes it’ll be locked behind a high ledge you’ve already crossed or beneath a shape you’ve just made. So expect this final collectable to frustrate you more often than not.
So this is where the Tetris DNA comes in. Different coloured versions possess the power to transform themselves into a specific shape (known as tetromino) at will with a press of ‘Y’. You can use ‘L’ and ‘R’ to shift the angle of the shape, but you can’t lay it down through scenery or another tetra, so you have to start thinking how best to apply each tetra at your disposal. As soon as you make that transformation permanent (by pressing ‘A’), you can’t change back, so sabotaging your own run is all too easy.
There are 64 levels to beat, divided into a handful of worlds that gradually start to add in more tetras, and more complicated level designs, as you progress. The game’s difficulty curve can be a little erratic though, leaping back and forth between simple puzzles and far more devious conundrums. It’s likely a design decision to keep players on their toes, but in reality, it makes the whole experience a little too unpredictable for a casual puzzler.
However, there’s some brilliant variety to be had as you work your way through each world's set of puzzles. New tetras bring in vastly new abilities as well as shape transformations. There are powers that set off bombs that free up other tetras that were previously locked in shapes, thus freeing them up to be used again in the level, and ones that invert the gravity in that level, leading to even more obstacles to plan for. Considering you’re already thinking two or three moves ahead in terms of how best to use each character, it manages to add a satisfyingly challenging new dimension to later levels.
The game promises around seven hours of content, although you should be able to overcome its 64 levels in around four or five. Of course, if you’re chasing that bonus cup you’ll certainly get more out of it (and maybe a touch more on top of that if you want to chase down all of its in-game achievements), but there’s very little replay value once you’ve cracked its formula and beaten the last level in the final world.
The game’s presentation does feel a little cheap in places, and the soundtrack from Levi Bond (he of Inksplosion and Twin Robots: Ultimate Edition fame) certainly isn’t his best (it really starts to grate after the first hour or so), but thankfully the puzzle/platforming action within more than makes up for the drop in quality on the surface. And for less than £5/$5, it’s an absolute steal.
If you’re looking for a family-friendly puzzle/platformer that offers a mixture of quick satisfaction and gradually building difficulty, Tetra’s Escape will certainly appeal. Its soundtrack, graphical style and general presentation are a little rough around the edges, but look past those visual first impressions and you’ll find a cute little indie with puzzle chops that are more than skin deep.