Publisher: Slapdash Games
Developer: Slapdash Games
Release Date: March 26, 2008
Falling block puzzle games are dime a dozen. Tetris set the form, and hundreds of imitators of varying quality have arisen over the years, borrowing mechanics from one another and trying to take the puzzle genre in interesting new directions. This tradition has transcended pretty much every console since the NES, and it produces a very large fandom of dedicated players. One of the genre's directions in recent years is letting the player take more direct control over the pace. TiQal takes after Bejeweled's slow, casual pace, with elements of Lumines thrown in to produce a rather unusual combination: a game that gets truly manic while playing with fairly old-school mechanics.
The basic rules of TiQal should sound familiar: Drop puzzle pieces to form squares of one color. The more squares you form, the better, as you advance through the game's levels by scoring. The similarities to Lumines, at least superficially, end there. The wall of tiles comes up from the bottom, and you can drop puzzle pieces at your leisure, although you may not change its path in mid-drop. Three colors of pieces result from the tiles, which come in a variety of shapes; anywhere from two to seven tiles may be involved in a single drop, and these pieces stick to each other by color, creating overhangs and gaps as a rule. Most unusually, power-ups will float up from the bottom of your screen, to be caught with the panel that holds your current tile, offering a fairly wide array of predictable, yet surprisingly varied effects.
Unfortunately, the details of play basically end there. A mere five minutes of play, and you will understand the entire game, no matter how many new power-ups or different shapes get added. New items add only the tiniest of wrinkles to TiQal, padding the gameplay length by stalling for time. Aside from the changing backdrops, the only other variant is the shape of the wall — how wide it is, and whether or not different stone blocks shift the shape of the bottom layer. The title quickly exhausts its possibilities in both of these areas, eliminating any semblance of gameplay variety, increasing difficulty, or any challenge at all. The core puzzle mechanics just don't hold up well under any level of examination; they're quickly mastered and too easily broken wide open, especially when power-up effects will clear just about any problem you'll encounter. Even if you manage to screw up, the title is startlingly generous with extra lives to prevent a "game over" from occurring.
TiQal's premise fails to draw attention, and once your attention starts to stray elsewhere, you realize how little there is to the game. You are allowed the single-player scenario, and two-player co-op over Xbox Live, and that is it. The single-player consists of completing stages by clearing pieces off the board. There is a nominal story line, as your character progresses through different Mayan temples and the jungle paths between them, hoping to collect different symbols that he then sacrifices at a series of temples in the ultimate hope of saving his village (which is rather obviously burning to the ground, even if the text doesn't say as much). Whether you're facing a totem to prove your worth or traveling down the many paths, though, it will always be the same thing. With no semblance of plot justification, a wall of tiles needs to be cleared, and you need to do so repetitively until the game decides you've cleared enough to progress. There's a score bonus for remaining tiles on the board when this occurs, and you are additionally rewarded with thoroughly uninteresting facts about different Mesoamerican civilizations.
The story is told through four lines of text before (and occasionally after) each stage — never more and rarely less. The backdrop for each level also advances the story before play begins, and they feature some very odd takes on traditional Mesoamerican art styles to produce something that manages to look exceptionally unrealistic, without coming across as if this were the intent of the art design. The end result is that the plot is the most boring I have seen in any video game in years.
There really is not much to TiQal. If you play the demo for five minutes, you've pretty much mastered all there is to the game. The achievements are fairly simplistic, the actual gameplay quickly becomes boring, and the poor graphics and story provide no motivation for you to continue play. Slapdash Games has put together a, well, slapdash effort, possibly Xbox Live Arcade's weakest puzzle game to date.