Review: Treasures of Montezuma - PS Vita

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Developer: Alawar Games

Treasures of Montezuma Blitz is kind of like Bejewelled.  If Bejewelled were the straight-A student with perfect attendance, TOM Blitz would be the delinquent huffing glue under the bleachers who only makes it to class about 15% of the time.   But, in spite of a cold reception at it's launch, it has a number of things going for it, with just a few negatives to keep in mind.

Price: Free-ish

Alawar originally got a lot of grief over their distribution model.  Basically, TOM:B is free on PSN to download and free to play, up to a point.  You get five lives.  A life gets regenerated every few minutes.  Since each game is usually under 2 minutes, this means that while playing the first five lives, you can usually get a couple more as the timer ticks.  After that, you have two options… buy more lives (for real cash) or wait for some to regenerate.  If you look at this as a game you want to play for an hour, you’re going to be mighty upset by this.  It’s much more helpful if you look at it as a 10 minute game.  You get 10 minutes for free, with no hassles.  When you’re out of lives, put it down or go play something else.  Come back in half an hour and your five lives should be waiting for you.  So, how much does this REALLY cost?  For most people, nothing!  I’ve played since release day and haven’t given them a penny… although I’ve been tempted once or twice when I was on a really good streak.

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Gameplay

TOM:B is surprisingly lively.  Speed is the most important thing here.  Find those matches and make them quick. At the start, gameplay is fairly short and relatively tame (although still fast).  You match three runes by sliding them around one at a time, the runes disappear and you get points.  The remaining runes fall to fill in the spaces, rinse, repeat.  Where it’s a little different than many other match-three games is that there’s a split second delay before the runes fall.  If you can make another match, you delay the fall again.  Each time you can make a match fast enough, you add to your combo count.  Create enough combos and you can rack up ridiculous points.

As you continue playing over time, you gain experience and level up.  Leveling rewards include crystals, refreshing your lives and tokens or bonuses (more about crystals in a minute).  Tokens correspond to rune colors.  Use a green token and then make two green matches in a row and it’ll do something to the rest of the board.  Bonuses are modifiers that are added to random runes.  A rune will frequently pop up with a stack of dynamite on it, or a magnifying glass, or a shimmering color field.  If you eliminate one of these by making a match, its effect kicks in.  Sometimes the effect is to blow up a bunch of stuff around it.  Others will give you indicators to show you what matches are available so you don’t have to hunt for them.  All of these last a few seconds.

Crystals are earned or bought and are used to “rent” bonuses and tokens.  A bonus may cost you 50 crystals.  Every round you play without that bonus, you get 50 crystals deducted from your “bank”.  Don’t want to pay it?  Don’t have 50 crystals?  Don’t use the bonus.  Of course, this is another one of their ways to earn money off you.  Once you’re out of crystals, you have the option of buying more, but it’s not at all necessary.  You can also earn crystals by eliminating runes that contain crystals during gameplay, placing highly on the weekly scores, in a daily “scratch card” game or through near.

TOM:B makes pretty good use of the Vita.  Not only is this a good use of the touch screen, but it also uses the gyros and the rear touch.  You can tilt the Vita and the runes will then fall in the direction you tilted.  This isn’t necessary most of the time, but can get you out of a jam if you have a bunch of strange runes that are in the way and you need them to fall somewhere other than the usual direction (I use this almost exclusively for trying to get “locked” runes out of the way).  If you manage to eliminate six runes in one move, you’ll activate “kickout” mode.   You can use the rear touch to knock out runes without matching them (also great for breaking locks).  There are a few others that use the rear touch, but they’re never irritating and it’s usually a bonus few seconds after the round would normally end, so it shouldn’t impede your regular play at all.

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Competition

The competition is where it’s at!  For me, TOM:B is a weekly score chase and can be as addictive as Super Stardust or Zen Pinball.  All of your friends are listed on the start and end screens with their current level and weekly high score.  At the end of the week (usually Sunday nights), everyone is rewarded with crystals depending on where they are on their list and the scores are reset.  Everyone gets something, but a ton of crystals can be had by being in the top 3 if you have a lot of friends.

Near is the other source of large amounts of crystals and it’s integration is fairly decent.  If you get crystals for anything other than leveling up, you’re given the option of sharing them.  You don’t lose any crystals, but a percentage of whatever your reward was is offered up to near friends.  Since this costs you nothing, you should do it at least once a day on the days you play.  Convince your friends to do the same, as you can occasionally get thousands of sharable crystals and you’d like others to return the favor.

There are other modes, tokens and bonuses that can affect the gameplay in major ways for short periods, but they’re all fairly well described in the game.  Read the help before playing otherwise you’ll freak out when something happens and have no idea what to do about it.  There are also other things that can modify the runes… locks, extra combo points, etc.  You’ll figure out most of them as you go.

Conclusion

In short, if you like match-three games, you’ll probably like TOM:B as long as you can handle the speed and don’t mind putting it down for a bit when you’re out of lives.  If you don’t like match-three games, this probably won’t change your opinion.  Treasures of Montezuma Blitz is free to play, well implemented and a fairly small download.  If you made it through this review, you should probably give it a shot.

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