TENS! Review

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch

Also available on PC
TENS! Review

TENS! is a peculiar puzzle game marketed as a hybrid of Sudoku and Tetris, where number-based puzzles meet block-dropping gameplay. In each level, your aim is simple: place dice into the 5x5 grid, make their faces add up to ten in any row or column, and clear enough lines to win! Featuring a 70-level Adventure Mode, a dedicated Endless Mode, and local multiplayer for two, TENS! has a little bit of everything for players to enjoy, and on Nintendo Switch, is perfect for both handheld and docked gaming.

Professor Ostrowl introduces you to the core mechanics of TENS! at the beginning of Adventure Mode, taking you through how to place your dice, how to rotate them to suit your strategy, and how to earn extra points by clearing multiple lines or setting off a chain reaction of lines clearing. You have three dice sets to choose from at any one time, and can place them in any order, after which a new set of three will appear. The loose narrative of Adventure Mode sees you learning the game of TENS! in order to challenge Lady Desetine, the reigning champion, to take the crown for yourself. To get to her, you must conquer a myriad of puzzles and fellow challengers, with each of the 70 levels acting as a stepping stone towards your end goal.

With 70 different levels in the adventure to conquer, you've got your work cut out for you.

Initially, the target scores for earning three stars in each level are more than reasonable, but these numbers soon start to climb as you progress and the difficulty increases. Special tiles - such as a fiery tile that burns through any die placed on it, or a portal that transports the die that touches it to a random place on the board - begin to appear more frequently and in greater numbers, meaning that you have to tread carefully when using your dice and think about your next moves. In many of these levels, exceeding the target value of ten can actually be beneficial, as this allows you to set up for much larger combos when specific dice are cleared from the board. Particularly towards the end of the story, though, the number of special tiles in a level feels overwhelming and unnecessary. A challenge is always welcome but, eventually, it feels tiresome due to the need to plan for every outcome of every die. Contrary to popular belief, there really can be too much of a good thing.

At regular intervals in your adventure, you'll encounter a Boss Battle, where you must fill enough of your opponent's board with junk tiles that they can no longer take their turn to get the win. These levels are much faster-paced and intensive, requiring you to make snap decisions about where to place your dice without the luxury of time, and are graciously devoid of special tiles that the regular levels involve. Though you might encounter the same opponents a few times on your journey to reach the gardens of Lady Desetine, no two battles are the same, as the difficulty increases with each one you complete. Particularly towards the end of the adventure, the difficulty spikes dramatically, and you'll find yourself trying to fill the rapidly shrinking lines you once would have avoided in the hope of making some room on your board for more dice.

Each puzzle takes place in a 5x5 grid, but many have special tiles waiting to thwart (or assist!) you.

As you beat each opponent, they become usable as playable in the campaign and multiplayer mode, which gives a nice variety and diversity to the gameplay experience offered. Additionally, as you increase your player level, more and more designs are unlocked for your dice, so you can pick one that suits you and works best for your brain. My personal favourite is the patchwork design, as I find this easy to look at and read, though the numerical design is also useful when I'm tired and struggling to count the dots of a die face. Disappointingly, though, some of the colour schemes and designs are poorly thought out, and this makes them unpleasant to use at particular points of the adventure. As much as I understand the intended appeal of gemstone-coloured dice, in reality, it just isn't practical, and these will never see use in my playthroughs.

The control scheme of TENS! is worthy of praise, as this is both intuitive and highly accessible. Dice are moved with the left joystick, can be rotated with Y and X or the left and right triggers respectively as desired, and are placed by tapping A. You can cancel placing a die with B if needed, and the pause menu is mapped to both and -, meaning it is easily within reach no matter which hand is dominant. This ensures that gameplay is fun and fluid, and is not impeded by slow reactivity or complex inputs. The UI of the game is easy-to-read despite the colourful backdrops and unique level environments, and these cheerful graphics make for an experience suitable for children and adults alike.

Multiplayer sees you fighting to dump the most junk tiles onto your opponent's board.

Though there are many good things to say about TENS!, a few factors disappointed me - the first being the end of Adventure Mode. Beating Lady Desetine was extremely underwhelming, with little but a "well done" to signal it, and collecting all 150 stars was also unrewarded. This made all of my efforts feel a little wasteful, as nothing changed to signify my completion of the mode. Additionally, the soundtrack is both limited and repetitive, and this lack of variety meant that after a while, I exchanged the game audio for one of my Spotify playlists. While the game was enjoyable without it, a more varied soundtrack would certainly have enhanced the experience and made it even more pleasant and fun. Endless Mode is without increasing difficulty or additional mechanics, making it dull to spend an extended period playing, and the multiplayer - while fun in a limited capacity - is devoid of unique levels or the more complex mechanics. The fact that both players get identical dice at each turn means that it is easy to mirror each other's tactics, and the overall challenge becomes almost exclusively about the speed the players place their dice rather than the quality or complexity of the puzzles.

As puzzle games go, TENS! is highly replayable and its twist on well-known formats makes it suitable for a wide audience. Once you've finished Adventure Mode with every level at three stars, you might be left wondering what to do next, but you can always hop into the Endless Mode and multiplayer if you fancy challenging yourself, or testing your skills against friends and family. Despite its flaws, I'd recommend the game to anyone who enjoys mathematical puzzles and Tetris, as it is enjoyable both in short bursts and longer play sessions. The versatility of the Nintendo Switch also means you can easily take the game anywhere, and enjoy it on the move or in your home, alone or with others.

Overall

TENS! has simple controls, a unique combination of puzzle elements, and a challenging difficulty curve - but its lack of varied multiplayer makes it a very brief experience unless played sporadically. If you're mathematically-minded, don't mind listening to the same soundtracks over and over again, and don't care for the loose narrative linking the puzzles together, then TENS! will win you over.

7

out of 10

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