Tetris is, to my mind, close to perfection. It’s also a game that can support an unfathomable amount of mutations. There’s the classic Game Boy Tetris, the annoying controls and T-Spin ticks of the arcade games, the frantic battles of Tetris 99, the blissfulness of the Tetris Effect, the mad energy of SEGA’s Puyo Puyo vs Tetris, and a whole lot more. Its name is synonymous with great feeling puzzling.
Evoking its name is a dangerous game. Everyone knows Tetris. Calling your game something-tris can be a great way to let people instantly know what to expect. But it can also be a curse. Everyone loves Tetris. And if you call your game something-tris, it had better not be a stupid game about hats.
There are ways in which Papertris lives up to its name. It’s a ‘well puzzler’ where the world looks like graph paper. The handmade, hand drawn and hand coloured aesthetic is lovely to look at. But it’s nothing like Tetris. What we have here, chums, is a new-fangled take on Columns.
In Papertris, stacks are formed from three coloured cubes which fall down the screen. They can be positioned, and the cubes shuffled, but – and most importantly – you cannot rotate them.
As you place more blocks, you’ll find that some cubes touch others of the same colour. Match three or more of the same hue, orthogonally, and those blocks will disappear. As you get further into the game, new colours are introduced, eventually resulting in juggling a dozen different colours.
Let’s pause here and consider what makes games like this satisfying. It’s the planning. You set up your grand plans, manipulate things in just the right way until there’s a big chain reaction and blocks disappear left right and centre. These games work because of the push and pull tension between setting up your plans and either watching them succeed, or come crashing down around you.
Papertris limits both its block stack shapes (all block stacks compromise three cubes in a straight, vertical line) and its movement options too much, to the point where I never felt I was in control. I didn’t once feel as if I was strategizing an inevitable block cascade. I was just kind of surviving, putting down blocks with minimal thought and with little reason to advance plan.
It tries to mix up the formula with a few tricks, though. There are ‘power cubes’ that have various effects. Unfortunately, these cubes are abstractly designed, so I kept forgetting what they did. Which wasn’t ideal when I was placing them at high speed. Some scramble all the cubes in your current column. Some randomize the colour of cube placed, others destroy loads of blocks at once. They’re a fine idea in theory, but they increase randomness and thinking on your toes, whereas I wanted an increase in strategy.
The other party trick Papertris has is its use of 3D. When you clear 500 blocks, the screen becomes deeper, opening new planes of play. Now your cubes disappear when three blocks match in any dimension. It’s an interesting addition, although one difficult to make use of, as you can only place a block in the current plane. It all adds up to something that doesn’t quite work. Its pace is a little too slow, its puzzling being gentle and pleasant, but never quite gripping.
It’s a shame because there’s clearly been some love spent on Papertris. It looks nicer than it needs to, and has Multiplayer, plus both Endless and Challenge modes with a decent number of challenges to keep you busy. It’s just a shame that the core mechanics feel a little…thin.
Published by Flynns Arcade, Papertris is out now on Switch and Steam. Developed by Paper_Games.