Platform(s): PC
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Spheroom
Developer: Arcadia
Release Date: July 6, 2021


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PC VR Review - 'Jentrix'

by Cody Medellin on Feb. 1, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Inspired by the famous board game, Jentrix combines the very best of Jenga, match-three, and Tetris, all packed in virtual reality!

Ever since motion controls were introduced to home consoles, a few publishers explored the idea of playing around with virtual blocks. Sony did that with Tumble, a game where you used the Move controller to manipulate blocks to solve puzzles. EA did it with its duo of Boom Blox games on the Nintendo Wii, which felt like a mix of Jenga and Angry Birds as you tried to make things explode while ensuring that negative-point blocks weren't part of the mess. Even Hasbro got into the mix by releasing Jenga on the Wii. With motion controls being the main interface for the Oculus Quest, it should come as no surprise that someone would bring over an experience similar to those titles, and that's exactly what Spheroom Limited has done with Jentrix.

The concept can be easily described as a mix of Jenga and a match-three game. As in Jenga, you're faced with a tower made of three 1x3 bricks that obey the rules of physics and gravity. Instead of being made of wood, the bricks are made of fruit — complete with distinct colors inherent to their real-life counterparts. The objective isn't to take those fruit bricks and place them higher on the tower but to manipulate the bricks so that three of the same ones occupy one row, making them disappear like in a match-three game and causing the row above it to also disappear. To do this, the game allows you to break one of Jenga's cardinal rules by allowing you to use both hands to take up to two pieces at a time. Over time, the top of the tower is populated with fruit bricks that fall from the sky in odd configurations, and while the game doesn't immediately end if you let a fruit piece fall to the floor, every piece deducts from your overall health, which is symbolized by birds perched on the scoreboard. Once all of the birds disappear and another fruit piece falls to the floor, the game's over.

In addition to the timed appearances of new fruit bricks at the top of the screen, Jentrix throws in a few more hazards for good measure. Alligators are sometimes in the field instead of fruit bricks, and they can bite your fingers if you get too close, and that disables the use of that hand for five seconds. They can be removed from the board if you grab them by their tails and match them up like regular fruit bricks. The other hazard comes from penguins that fly around the level and freeze random blocks on the tower. Those blocks can still be moved but won't be able to create a match until they're thawed, and that only occurs when a match near them is made; it's an annoyance that can create great scoring opportunities if done right. While it isn't a necessity, you can get rid of the penguins by throwing fruit that matches their color.

Those changes turn what would be a slow, nerve-wracking game into a fast-paced game that's even more nerve-wracking. Although the new bricks don't come in at a breakneck pace, there's the persistent pressure to make matches as quickly as possible so that incoming blocks don't topple over due to a sensitive physics system. At the same time, the system is a little forgiving since it takes more than a slight touch for the stack to become unstable. While it would've been nice to be able to turn off the hazards, especially since the base mechanics are tough enough, what remains is fun and keeps players coming back. This is especially true when you realize that the game embraces VR by letting you walk around to get different angles of the tower. There's still the ability to rotate the tower with the system's analog sticks for those who play in small spaces or in a seated position, but the lack of a smooth turning system makes it preferable to physically walk around the structure.

Jentrix features three different modes, all of which are made for the solo player in mind. The campaign features over 40 levels, all taking place in different environments; with a few exceptions, all of the levels task you with reaching a specific score threshold before you can move on. For a puzzle game, 40-ish levels seem rather short, but it works well for those who want structure. Those aiming to chase scores have Arcade mode, which sees players playing until the tower topples and all the birds on the scoreboard go away. It has the classic hook of needing to play just one more game, especially with leaderboards present. Unfortunately, that hook is only good if you're fine with going for your personal best, since the game doesn't have online leaderboards; that's a shame, since it would get people to play more games for much longer.

The final mode shrinks the tower into a more consumer-friendly form compared to the large bricks of the other modes. Thanks to the accuracy of the motion controls, picking up the bricks isn't difficult, and some may appreciate the smaller scale as opposed to dealing with a towering behemoth of fruit bricks. Aside from its smaller stature, the mode isn't any different from Arcade, so expect the same features and hazards.

Aside from the poor translation in the tutorial, there are two things that work against this iteration of Jentrix. The game is only located in the App Lab. The savvier users of the Quest will have no trouble using programs like SideQuest to get the game, but it means that it isn't visible for the more casual users who only get games through the official store. The second thing has to do with the lack of multiplayer, which is featured in the trailer for the Steam iteration. It is possible that this mode will be ported over to the Quest in the near future, but those who see the trailer before grabbing this version will be disappointed to see that mode is missing.

There's not much to say about the presentation. The sound effects are fine, and the music is typical for the genre. It's good as background noise, but it is neither distracting nor much of an earworm. The graphics for the bricks are distinct enough that you can easily tell the different colors apart, and there are little details in the fruit, but it's nothing special otherwise. The environments are bright and colorful, while the animals that threaten you and act as your audience look like they came from a children's book. It's fine overall, and the 3D effect from being in VR is nice, but that's about it.

At around $8, Jentrix feels like an easy purchase. Even with the lack of multiplayer, there's enough here for the solo player to enjoy, from the structured campaign to the endless Arcade mode. Loose physics system aside, the affair is adapted well to VR as opposed to something that can be done via more traditional means. For puzzle fans looking for something more traditional, Jentrix works just fine.

Score: 7.0/10

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