TENS! is a dice-themed numerical puzzle game from Kwalee. In it, you must venture through dozens of levels of puzzles, matching dice and battling a host of colourful characters in order to emerge as the dice champion of the world.
Story – Well, It’s About Dice
The first game mode you’ll have access to in TENS! – and the one that contains most of the meat of the game – is the so-called Adventure Mode, in which you work your way through 70 levels of dice-related puzzles, meeting a varied and charming cast of other characters and challenging them to speedy and frantic dice battles along the way. The goal? To reach Lady Desetine at the end and prove your dice-matching skill to the world. It’s a cute and stylish way to showcase progression through the game, but that’s pretty much where the story begins and ends.
There’s certainly not much in the way of story here, but you will run into a cavalcade of weird and wonderful characters on your journey, from a voodoo skull to a mad scientist to a bona fide genie. Their designs are fun and colourful and they have a little something to say before and after you play against them. It’s a bit like the NPCs of Pokémon in some ways, in that everyone has at most two things to say and they’re invariably about one thing – in this case, dice. Speaking of dice, how do you play this game anyway?
Gameplay – Slice and Dice (But Mostly Dice)
While playing through Adventure Mode, you’ll come across two kinds of levels. The first variety forms the lion’s share of the puzzles: place dice, in combinations of 1, 2 or 3, on a 5x5 grid in order to make lines and columns add up to ten (that’s the name of the game, after all). Once you do, the dice blocks in that line will disappear and you can place more dice. If the total amounts to more than ten, you’ll have to get rid of dice by matching them in other rows to try and bring it down again. Beat the target score and you win the level, but if you manoeuvre yourself into a position where you can’t place any more dice, it’s game over.
There’s no time limit on these levels, which means you can take things as quickly or as slowly as you like. There’s even an incentive of sorts for being slower and more methodical, as you can score bonuses for clearing multiple lines at once or setting up combos, which you might not manage as often if you’re rushing through each level. On top of that, special squares start to pop up later on that serve as obstacles to work around, with various effects like blocking off squares, moving dice around the board or changing dice values to mess with your carefully-laid plans.
The second level type is a competitive ‘battle’ against one of the myriad dice-obsessed characters. The mechanics are pretty similar to the regular levels, with a small difference: whenever you clear a row of ten, you send a tile over to your opponent’s board to block off a square. But there’s a catch: your adversary can do the same thing. As such, rather than aiming for a particular high score, your aim is to clear as many rows as you can in order to block enough of your competitor’s screen that they can’t make any more moves.
It’s a small change but it makes the gameplay feel remarkably different in some ways: far from the leisurely pace of the regular levels, the battle levels become a frantic race to match as many dice as you can without getting forced into a corner. It’s a creative way of effectively adding a time limit to the puzzle without actually adding a time limit.
There are two other game modes available as well: Endless and Multiplayer, which are exactly what they sound like. Endless Mode gives you an empty board and just lets you rack up a high score and see how far you can get before you block yourself in. Multiplayer Mode is a local multiplayer option in which you can pit yourself against a friend in a dice battle akin to those in the Adventure Mode.
Both serve their purpose well – Endless is great if you just want to zone out for a while and match dice without having to think about anything else, while Multiplayer is enjoyable enough if you can’t get enough of that frenetic dice-matching action in the main game – though both are briefly gated behind a levelling system of sorts, which seems a curious choice as they’re fairly straightforward modes. Perhaps the designers just wanted to make sure you knew the rules of the game before they let you in to Endless Mode, or perhaps they wanted to add something other than (admittedly very pretty) dice styles as unlockable rewards for continued play.
Graphics and Audio – A Colourful Dice-Themed Utopia
Most of the visual creativity in TENS! can be found in its Adventure Mode, where you can gaze at the lovingly-designed world maps and the charming character portraits. It’s very cute and endearing graphically, full of colour and style – it’s just a shame that, by the very nature of the game, you only see it briefly between levels.
That said, the levels themselves look slick and smooth, with fluid animation when placing dice and clearing rows. The pop-up animations when you score a bonus for clearing multiple lines and the like are nice, but they do obscure the board and force you to wait until the animation is finished before you can continue the game, which can get a little irritating if you get several bonuses in a row. The game does chug a little during some of the battle levels, when the visual effects of cleared rows and block-tiles get a little crazy, but generally it all works very well.
Sound-wise, the audio effects for clearing rows and getting bonuses are immensely satisfying, especially when accompanied by the little rumble from the controller. The super-chilled music works really well for the regular levels, lulling one into a kind of zen state of puzzling and getting stuck in your head long after you’ve finished playing for the day. It does, however, seem a little out of place in the faster-paced battle levels, where you’re scrabbling madly to match dice and clear rows.
TENS! was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a key provided by Kwalee.