While the lack of information when first playing the game is confusing and has the potential to turn people off, I think if you stick with it the game is quite enjoyable in small spurts.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that a game is free-to-play? For most people probably a casual mobile or web based game that has the player grinding through boring sections or having to pay money to get to the fun stuff. That’s exactly what would have went through my mind a year or so ago. But these days free-to-play games have proven themselves to be great titles with little barrier to entry, with many having the ability to be enjoyed without ever laying down a dime. Now the Vita is home to one of those games: Treasures of Montezuma Blitz (ToMB).
ToMB is a match 3 game with a 1 minute time limit put into a free-to-play model. Anyone who has played a Bejeweled title or other similar match three games should easily catch on to the in game controls and the game does offer pop up tips to explain everything in-game when you play the first couple of times (which can also be viewed later in the options menu). You have a board that is filled with tiles of seven different colors and you must match at least three of the same color by swapping tiles with the touch screen. Each game lasts only a minute so you have to be pretty quick to make the most matches you can, and if you are really quick you can activate the Score Frenzy mode which doubles the score for each match that you make for a limited time. Along with the touch screen there are a few modes that can be activated in game that utilizes the back touch. Knockout Mode is started by matching 6 tokens at once and allows you to use the back touch to break any tile on the screen, which can be a lot of fun. You can take your time with this mode and try to break certain blocks to set up large combos or go crazy (like I do) and just tap away and watch your score increase. The second is Dark Mode which is started if both the Knockout and Score Frenzy Modes are activated in the same game. In Dark Mode your screen is obscured by dark clouds that hamper what you see and you must use the back touch to light up the game field. While this does make it a lot harder to match you do get an additional 20 seconds added to your time.
Since ToMB is a free-to-play title the game is available to download 100% free, though there are ways to spend your hard earned money with the life and crystal systems. Thankfully the game explains these systems right up front so you know how it all works… oh wait nope nope sorry must have been thinking about a different game. Here lies the major problem with ToMB, you are basically just thrown into the game without teaching you how the life, crystal, leveling, or tournament systems work. There are almost no resources in game that explain these and since two of them can deal with money this is a major problem and can lead to a very negative experience for first time users when the game prompts them to visit the PlayStation Store to continue playing. The game may offer a no boundaries entry making it easy to pick up but a negative experience can make it even easier for someone to put it back down.
How the free-top-play model works with ToMB is that you start with five lives which allow you to play five matches. Once those five lives are gone you can either wait five minutes to get a life back (25 minutes to get all lives back) or pay $0.99 to get a life refill. If you try to play once your lives are gone a prompt will appear that tells you that you can wait for lives to replenish, although it doesn’t tell you how long, or you can refill them now which will bring you to the PlayStation store to buy the life refill. Along with lives you also have crystals which act as your currency in the game. These are used to buy bonuses and totems early (more info on these below) and are also used to apply these bonuses and totems in game. Each bonus/totem has a fee associated with them in order to be used, so having the bonuses/totems equipped before you enter a level will automatically take the cost from your crystal pool. If you don’t notice this the first few times you play you could easily run out of crystals before you know it. If you try to play a game with equips that cost more than your crystal pool you will be blocked from playing and prompted to buy more crystals from the PS store which are a bit costly ranging from $2.99 for 3000 to $19.99 for 100,000. You can easily still play without buying crystals though since you can just unequip your bonuses/totems, but this is not mentioned anywhere in game. There are a few different ways to obtain crystals freely: to slowly collect them in game by matching blocks with crystals in them (which will also increase your in game score multiplier), gaining levels, and through the Free Daily Scratch. You obtain a new daily scratch ticket each day that allows you to scratch 3 out of 9 squares with symbols under them. Each combination of symbols will win you between 200-100,000 crystals. You can also share a fifth of your winnings with your friends through Near. What is great about this is that it gives your friends extra crystals but does not affect your winnings at all; you still get the same amount that you won.
After each round you play you will gain experience based on your overall score and each level you gain will get you a crystal bonus and unlock new bonuses and totems. Starting off you will gain levels slowly but once you start unlocking and using bonuses/totems you will be able to get higher scores easier and therefore start gaining levels faster. To use the bonus abilities in game you must match 4 or more tokens which will create a bonus block somewhere on the field. Creating a match with the bonus block will activate it. There are 6 different bonuses available that range from blowing up adjacent tokens to destroying 2-thirds of tokens that match its color. There are seven different totems, one for each color, and to activate them you must complete two matches in a row of the same color. While this might sound easy it can be quite difficult at times to do. The totems trigger such effects as destroying all tokens that contain crystals to adding additional time. This is one of my favourite aspects of the game, trying to come up the best selection of bonuses and totems to get those high scores without burning through my crystal stash too quickly.
With a game like this it’s all about trying to compete with your friend’s so I was happy to see the game included weekly tournaments. Each week a new tournament starts for everyone to get the highest score out of your friends list. At the end of the week the top 3 are rewarded medals (gold, silver, bronze) and a new tournament starts. Unfortunately besides the ability to prove that you can achieve a better score than your friends the medals don’t actually give you anything. It would have been nice to get a crystal bonus or something for coming in first. Also I would have liked to have your overall top score saved somewhere, because with each new week your score is reset to zero.
For a game that is all about playing for short periods of time one thing I did not like was the loading times. When you start up the game the time it takes to load and log into the servers can be upwards of 50 seconds. For a game that is all about pick up and play that initial loading time can be almost as long as playing a match. This can be mitigated by not shutting the game down and just putting your Vita into sleep mode till the next time you play, but this also blocks you from playing any other game. Also make sure you are signed in to PSN the first time you play. If you cannot access the servers when you first boot up the game you will be unable to save your progress.
While this isn’t a game that you can sit down and play for hours on end (without spending massive amounts of money) the game can be quite addictive. Knowing that you get a new scratch ticket each day has me booting up the game at least once a day but usually if I have a few spare minutes it has been my go to game. If Near is any indication it’s safe to assume the same with my friends. Since the game has released a good 90% or more of the notifications in my friend’s activities have been ToMB. While the lack of information when first playing the game was confusing and has the potential to turn people off, I think if you stick with it the game is quite enjoyable in those small spurts. Now excuse me while I go and enjoy another five minutes of match 3 fun.
A copy of this game was downloaded for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation Vita version of the game.
What I Like:
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