TENS!, a free mobile game released in 2017, has made the jump from mobile screens to the PC and Switch. Featuring multiplayer battles and a new adventure mode, this port certainly improves on the original, but is it enough to deserve a place in your digital collection?
For those that haven’t tried the mobile version of TENS!, the premise is fairly simple; players are attempting to make rows and columns of a 5×5 grid add up to a value of ten. In order to do so, randomised configurations of die faces are given to you, three at a time, and you must place all three groups of dice before a new set can be generated. Simple, right?
Though not the easiest mechanic to describe, TENS! is actually very straightforward to learn the basics, but it comes with combo potential that really provides some depth to this puzzle party. When a row or column equals exactly ten, all of the dice in that total are removed from the board, but if you setting up rows and columns with sums greater than ten, you can cause chain reactions that cascade in an explosion of dice.
This strategy might be a little advanced, but the elaborate chain combos are incredibly moreish. Unfortunately, the heavily randomised selection of dice can put these deeply rewarding combos out of reach. It’s a real shame as the ratio of routine dice placement to satisfying cascades leaves you with the feeling that you’re repeating the same steps over and over again, with only the occasional reprieve of flashy gratification.
Putting this aside for a moment, the visuals of TENS! are lovely with a colourful aesthetic and vibrant animations. Sure, the art style is undeniably reminiscent of “freemium” mobile games, but it’s pulled off with style and rides the line between being simplistic enough to quickly take in the puzzle at hand and having enough quality and detail to be enjoyable to look at.
One of the main ways that TENS! on Steam and Nintendo Switch attempts to distance itself from its mobile predecessor is with new modes, adding local multiplayer and an Endless mode.
There’s also an Adventure mode with 70 unique levels, though there isn’t much of a story to tie these together. While this might sound like a considerable number of levels, it’s significantly fewer than the 300 levels on the free mobile version of TENS!, which is strange to see.
To make matters worse, the levels and worlds of the Adventure mode didn’t feel particularly distinct. The special mechanics of each level evolve very slowly over the campaign, which accentuates the feeling of repetition, while it would have been nice to see Boss battles with unique abilities or special stages.
The local multiplayer mode can provide endless replay value if you and a friend find it enjoyable, but it’s another shame that there’s no online play included. Having said this, I found the “multiplayer” boss battles of Adventure mode to be pretty lacklustre. Taking from games such as Tetris and Puyo Puyo, multiplayer games of TENS! have you sending garbage blocks onto your opponent’s grid for each row or column you complete. These arrive randomly, which can completely scupper any plans you’ve made and battles tend to devolve into “who can complete more tens as fast as possible” as a result, with deeper strategies falling to the wayside.
Ultimately, it’s a little difficult to recommend TENS! on Switch or Steam. With an asking price of £8.99, it’s both more and less than its free-to-play iOS and Android counterparts. The sensible course of action would be to play the mobile game first before considering this. It’s also difficult not to compare this to similarly-priced Picross games, many of which exist on the Switch with hundreds of unique levels that will likely provide a satisfying solo experience with a longer shelf life.