I feel like I’m starting off this review by just listing games but Ekstase is a merger of four very specific games. Lumines, Chime, Puyo Puyo and Tetris. It does so in a way that gives it its own identity whilst feeling like an indie homage to some of the best musical puzzle games out there.
Each game mode in Ekstase is available in two very specific modes. One is the Tetris nod where you can rotate shapes to connect blocks of the same colour in 2×2 squares or larger squares or rectangles. The other mode is what I’d call the Puyo mode. Here the shapes coming down the screen stay the same but you can rotate where the colours are on the shapes. Again, the same 2×2 or larger rule applies. This is a great positive for Ekstase as it means that both player bases can feel at home.
The Chime aspect comes from the fact that as you lay down blocks, there is a rhythmic line moving down the screen too. As it hits matches of blocks that you’ve lined up, they turn a different colour and will then be cleared when the line hits the bottom of the screen. Like Chime, you can continue to build on these blocks and spread the combo wider but it means the squares won’t clear when the line hits the bottom of the screen. This is a trick to really build on success but if you are in a tricky bind, this can cause you problems as you’ll want to avoid parts of the playing area in order for the blocks to clear. This tripped me up a few times when playing.
Lastly, as the speed and score increases, the colours and music will change ala Lumines. Where Ekstase does miss a trick though is that these stages are not then unlocked for specific play afterwards. This mutes the impact of the music and visual changes as they feel more like palette cleansers rather than true unlockables to discover. One key thing that Ekstase does too is that when you land a block, the shape doesn’t stay the same – it collapses. This means if there is no block directly underneath it, a block will fall until it hits something. Remembering this is key because when you get the occasional power up that will eliminate all blocks in a line for example, it can trigger new combos or ruin existing ones for you!
To make up for that Ekstase has ‘flow’ mode which keeps the music and colours changing for as long as you stay alive. As the speed intensifies, you’ll struggle to keep up. Thankfully you can choose to not level up in the practice mode so you can get used to things. interestingly, both the practice and time trial modes allow you to choose between two or three colours to play with in your game. I don’t believe I stayed alive long enough to trigger three colours in flow mode so this provided plenty of fun for local leaderboard challenges.
The last mode is the crazy difficult ’99’ mode. Here, you can have up to 99 blocks descend for a high score challenge but you have to do it to the beat of the music. The result is like Tetris had a lovechild with Crypt of the Necrodancer. Every time you move out of sync with the beat, it docks you 10 blocks thus bringing down your max score potential. This mode however suffered an issue where the beat scale at the bottom of the screen didn’t match the music and so I found it troublesome to play. At the time of review a patch to fix this is being queued for release and so this shouldn’t be an issue for players now but it was when reviewing the game and the score reflects this.
Whilst some may lament the lack of multiplayer options, I have to say I didn’t miss it too much. A bit like Tetris Effect on release and Mixolumia now, the idea is something quite different that focuses on single player immersion. I didn’t feel like Ekstase needed multiplayer personally. What I would like to see is more music variation and the ability to select them and the colour palettes for specific time trial challenges.
That minor moan aside, Ekstase is a well made, intriguing indie block puzzler. Whilst borrowing from everywhere means it feels familiar, it does also carry its own weight too. A few tweaks and option inclusions would make this a gem.
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