Perhaps this year’s biggest publisher when it comes to the number of games released for the Playstation Vita, Ratalaika just launched TETRA’s Escape for the system. It’s a cross-buy, meaning you also get the PS4 version when you buy it. Don’t own a Playstation? You can get the game for Nintendo’s Switch or through Steam as well. This review, however, is solely based on the Vita version. It also happens to be Ratalaika’s best Vita release so far.
A puzzle game with minimal platforming elements, TETRA’s Escape is a refreshing change from Ratalaika’s last two Vita releases. Both InkSplosion and Super Destronauts DX were fun little arcade titles, but they had limited gameplay and replay value and you could unlock all the in-game trophies well within the scope of an hour. TETRA’s Escape doesn’t just mark a departure from the simple arcade shooter formula, it also has about five hours of solid gameplay in it – longer if you have trouble with some of the puzzles.
The gameplay in TETRA’s Escape is loosely based on – you probably guessed it – Tetris. Or, more precisely, Tetris shapes. You start every level with two or more cube-shaped characters, you can walk around and up and down ledges – but never across a gap. The aim is to reach the warp gate in order to get to the next level, but walking and your basic jump skill aren’t going to be enough. Instead, you’re able to make your little cubes transform into Tetris shapes that allow you to bridge gaps or form stairs for another cube. In most levels, only one of your characters will reach the finish – the others will sacrifice themselves by turning into shapes.
TETRA’s Escape has a very well designed learning curve. In the first few levels, your shapes come aligned the right way automatically. Then, in the next batch, you can (and have to) rotate them – and mirroring them follows a few levels later. Characters initially only transform into one shape as well, but you’re quickly introduced to characters where you have to choose which Tetris shape to morph them into. The complexity quickly grows and each of the eight worlds introduces something new, but it never becomes overwhelming.
What helps in this regard is that TETRA’s Escape has a built-in difficulty selector. Sounds vague, but what it boils down to is that reaching the finish generally isn’t that difficult to achieve – and there are often multiple ways of doing so. Collecting all three stars in a level and THEN reaching the finish line is another story, and might require you to think a little harder about your route. As if that wasn’t enough, picking up that third start also makes a small trophy appear. Sometimes easy to pick up by walking back, but many times it can’t be reached because you used your Tetris shapes in spots that make it impossible. In other words, even puzzles that you already beat often still have replay value. Even an early level might stump you for a bit when you’re unable to get that trophy at the end – here’s looking at you, level 2-8.
A solid puzzler in its own right, what makes TETRA’s Escape even better is its price tag. Despite 64 levels (eight worlds with eight levels each) with replay value for most of them, it can be bought for just five dollars/euros. It’s a steal for puzzle fans, even though visually it’s unremarkable and has a generic soundtrack. Well done Ratalaika, looking forward to what’s next!