They did it: they made a new Wario’s Woods, and it’s cross-play multiplayer across Switch, Xbox, and Steam with Fortnite-inspired seasons.
Wario’s Woods might not be the most beloved Nintendo puzzle game, but it’s one that always resonated with me. Released in 1994 as a joint NES and SNES release, it’s a weird puzzle game where creatures and bombs drop while you control Toad in the puzzle field. Also Wario is purple and Birdo is in it. There are boss fights. It’s bizarre but also very fun.
I’ve long waited for someone to tackle Wario’s Woods in a modern context. The off-kilter version of a puzzle platformer seemed ripe for indie reinvention. At long last, someone did it. PIXELAKES, located in Minnesota, have brought Treasure Stack to Nintendo Switch. It feels similar in a lot of respects: you control a treasure hunter who must sort out falling treasure chests, matching the right colors to the right locks to get coin while avoiding filling up the screen.
In practice, it truly does feel play like an updated take on Wario’s Woods. Change the aesthetic, sprinkle in a grappling hook to more quickly grab blocks, and shake up with four-player multiplayer. The movement is freer. Toad was limited in his movements in Wario’s Woods, but the player characters here aren’t. It takes a little getting used to. A nice and active tutorial explains the basics excellently, but the depth and nuance takes some time to unfold as you quickly manage your treasure chests, setting up chain reactions to clear your screen and accumulate coins. Coins mark your score and also deal out garbage damage to competitors in multiplayer. They also unlock the various adorable pixel skins for characters and grappling hooks. My early favorite is a cute puppy and goofy-looking hand grappling hook. They don’t appear to actually change anything about your play other than let you personalize your look.
Developer PIXELAKES is made up of a variety of developers primarily with experience in web-based games. Dylan Zellmer brought them together to work on a more ambitious project. That’s how Treasure Stack was born. After GDC 2018, they were pointed in the direction of Nintendo’s Kirk Scott, who worked with them to seamlessly bring the project to Switch, as they were featured in the Nindies Summer Showcase. The game was supposed to launch in late 2018, but inexperience lead to the delay, according to Zellmer. He explained: “This is our team's first major foray into console development, and we decided to release simultaneously on Switch, Xbox, and Steam. A tall order for any team. When we realized that a December release would potentially not let us realize the quality standard we'd hoped for, we decided to delay to make it so.”
That three-system launch strategy is important. For better or worse, Treasure Stack is a more barebones offline game. I’ve had the game for a week and while I enjoy the mechanics, the solo play only leads to perfunctory pixelated unlocks without any kind of clear high score mechanic. The joy and magic is in the multiplayer. That seems deliberate as, according to Zellmer, they recognized the game’s “depth and competitive nature” and tried to focus on that. At the core are 30-day ranked seasons, starting when the game launches on March 1.
I’ll let Zellmer explain: “Simply put, you have 30-days to win games and boost your rank. There are four tiers that each contain 10 ranks. At the end of the season we'll award free skins to players based on their highest achieved rank in any given season. We plan to also add "themes" to the seasons, giving some of them a very different look and feel. We'll then make these themes, which include new skins, backgrounds, OST pieces etc. available as DLC for a low price point for anyone who wants to hang onto a specific one.”
Due to the focus on an online mode not active until its launch day, our review will take a little longer to come together. I’ll admit: I’ve got concerns. The sad offering in the single-player could be a misfire for a puzzle game. On the flipside, I’ve had fun with my dalliances with multiplayer so far. Having cross-play between Switch, Xbox, and Steam will hopefully provide a deeper playerbase to keep the seasons populated. It’s a risk, but if the competition clicks, it could be a dynamite complement to Tetris 99.
And maybe that complement could lead to Nintendo guest character appearances. It’s not likely, but hey, getting Toad back into his puzzle game form would be fun. Zellmer pointed out that pretty much any Nintendo character could fit, though he specifically called out Samus and Link. At least they have the grappling hook items to hang in this frantic puzzle cacophony.