• Alexei Pajitnov has a lot to answer for. This Xbox Live Arcade puzzler owes a great deal to Tetris but has enough little crinkles and quirks of its own.

    By now you’ll know the score with this type of game. Tiqal works like Tetris in reverse, in that you have a grid of pre-laid blocks, with more blocks dropped in from the top of the screen. The idea is to make a cluster of 4 blocks of the same colour / design, rather than matching up columns or rows. Each cluster of 4 blocks you place together will eventually collapse and clear a section of the grid. Laying multiple blocks together in clusters will give you massive combination scores before the collapse timer eventually runs out and your blocks are destroyed.

    Tiqal

    If you let blocks creep too close to the top of the screen, you will lose a life and the vast grid of blocks will retract a little bit. Do this three times and your Tiqal adventure is over.

    Each level of the game represents a tiny piece of a story quest. You have been chosen to make an epic journey to appease the gods with various offerings at different temples and pyramids. With 120 levels, there’s quite a lot of puzzling action to get your teeth into. Every time you “close down” a particular area of the map, you make progress on your quest and start to unlock different block shapes, new power-ups and other goodies to help you on your way.

    The powerups in Tiqal are quite cool and do different things depending on how you deploy them. For instance, the Jaguar Strike will eliminate all blocks of a particular colour / design which can clear huge swathes of the grid at once. The Spears of Mixcoatl destroy a random selection of columns, and the Gift of Tohil is like a cluster bomb. When dropped, it explodes, shattering any blocks in the vicinity.

    There are many more to unlock – 14 in total – so keep an eye out for them floating up from the bottom centre of the screen, and catch them in your block deployment basket to activate them.

    As the game progresses, the different block designs that start to appear can really make matters quite complex. The larger blocks are quite difficult to deploy and clear successfully, and bear in mind you don’t have that nice Tetris-style ability to slide blocks into place once deployed. You can drop them vertically and that’s about it. The key to Tiqal is keeping an eye out for single blocks that can complete a cluster of 2 x 2. Building those clusters is the secret to big scoring.

    The game should appeal to young players, with mini history lessons provided during between-level interludes (for instance, did you know that Cacao beans were used as monetary units by the Aztecs? You do now!)

    The game plays quite nicely but I found the block manipulation a tad clunky, perhaps needing a little more polish. It seemed all too easy to accidentally drop blocks in the wrong place but you can at least rotate blocks clockwise and counter-clockwise in order to make them fit into a cluster better.

    Bonus rounds turned out to be quite good fun because the aim is to make the biggest cluster of a single block type as possible, the more blocks you pile in there together, the bigger the bonus at the end of the round. You can earn bonus “Hearts of Ix Chel” this way and when you’ve collected them all – well I won’t spoil it for you but the game’s fantastically generous with its achievements, put it that way.

    The question to ask is “does XBLA need yet another block-dropping puzzler” – and I guess the answer is “It does so long as people keep buying them”. For my 800 points, there are far better puzzlers available on Live. At half the price it might’ve made a good addition but the few quirks it has on offer really aren’t enough to make it outstanding.

    Some of the multiplayer modes are a neat idea, with players able to play co-op through the quest mode, and a face-off for points mode also being available. There are online leaderboards too, naturally – so you can measure your scores against those of your friends. The title does get old very quickly though, and despite the difficulty curve being nice and gentle, sometimes it feels like the whole game lacks the pace and freneticism of something like, say, Poker Smash.

    Slapdash games have produced a pleasing enough title, one that might have rabid Tetris fans foaming at the mouth in anticipation but in all honesty it’s really nothing new or novel, and nothing you haven’t seen a thousand times before.

    Imagine if the Russian father of the mighty Tetris had been born in Peru, and had spent most of his life grubbing around Aztec and Incan pyramids. If he had, then perhaps Tiqal would’ve been the end result.

    Score: 5/10

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