I’ve played a number of arcade games in my time, on and off the box, and there are only a few things that an arcade game needs to fulfil its job and satisfy whoever plays it. TiQal meets the criteria to make it everything an arcade game should be.
TiQal is basically the Tetris of the future in an ancient Aztec theme (an interesting paradox). Now, for all the sceptics that are thinking “Been there, done that…”, it only takes one look at a screenshot to see that quite frankly you have not been there at all, because while this game has the same principle goal of Tetris (which is to form a solid continuous line of falling blocks using an array of differently shaped blocks) TiQal uses colour and pattern matching to remove the blocks from the screen.
Also, removing the blocks is not as boring as forming a line as you do in Tetris; in TiQal you group blocks to form solid combinations of squares and rectangles. The added beauty of this concept is that you get a short period in which you can add onto your stack of blocks to remove a huge chunk off the screen, and if you’re lucky enough to get the same coloured/patterned blocks you can form a giant mass of bonus points.
As you play through each level you unlock facts about the ancient Aztecs as a story narrative that is focused on your journey through the Aztec plains and pyramids in an attempt to save the village of TiQal. You come across roadblocks in the form of a puzzle in the story: cue gameplay. As you pass through each area that contains a small number or levels you unlock new and differently shaped blocks, some seemingly bigger than you think you can handle.
If you have ever played similar puzzle shape games and thought “if only I had a block shaped like this…”, well you may come across that shape yet and many more, but you will soon find that your dream block may prove to be the one block you could have done without when it comes to the crunch.
TiQal is very colourful and the backgrounds never look dull, nor do any two look alike, this makes gameplay a lot more pleasant when you consider you would almost always be looking at the same set-up if it weren’t for the changing block patterns/colours and backgrounds.
TiQal also very cleverly keeps you hooked by not having a "game over". The aim in TiQal is to gain as many points as you can by making the biggest block combo you can within a time limit represented by a dial at the bottom of your puzzle table. When the landed block mass is pushed up to the boundary where the new blocks fall from, you are fouled, and points are deducted as the blocks recede to give your n00b tendencies a chance without fouling again too soon.
To help you form combos and correct your mistakes in block placement the game has a number of power ups that are released from your block combos. They are extremely varied in number and ability. They can do anything from making a block mimic its surrounding blocks patterns, to summoning Aztec Spears to remove whole rows or columns from your block mass. There is even a power-up that removes all blocks of a similar colour/pattern; the Jaguar Strike!
Your score is collectively totalled at the end of every game, and you are even scored on the number of remaining blocks with more points for less blocks left behind, obviously. If you’re really good at TiQal, you’ll only need to complete the first few levels to hit a million points! Don’t get me wrong, these points are not easy to come by and it takes a TiQal master to carefully set up his combos and use the wide array of blocks to not get fouled. Boost your points in the bonus rounds you’ll come across, they also help you work on your combos.
While this game has a multiplayer capability, I only ventured into it once, it’s a great concept that more experienced players might enjoy but I am quite sure that like most arcade games, you only play to show off your scores to your friends list, easily done with the single player roller-coaster of fun.
All in all this game is extremely addictive, although I doubt the concept on its own, nor the screen shots will do it any justice. You will need to play the game to realize its potential and accept that TiQal is definitely one of Xbox Live Arcade's greatest games to date. Jump in!