If Tetris had an explicit story I like to think it would tell the tale of a torture victim. Each day he’d wake, incarcerated in a cheerless cell with nothing for company but a classic Gameboy outfitted with a copy of Tetris. There in his lonely abode he’d set about aligning those notorious blocks, forced to play the Gameboy version presumably so it burned his retinas faster. Again and again our inconsolable sufferer would vanquish pesky geometry but with no crescendo, no true finale, he was consigned to forever play, burdened by the knowledge that those dastardly shapes would haunt him until his dying breath. Unless he told Jack Bauer where all the terrorist’s bombs were hidden.
And as if tapping my thoughts, Powerhead Games tell that story – to some degree anyway – with ASYNC Corp. Sure, they mask it behind a welcoming façade of exuberant colour and chirpy music but at its heart ASYNC Corp. is a game about ceaseless organisation, about never actually winning and, more than anything, it’s about grinding through another tedious day at work.
The actual story goes something like this: as an employee of the ASYNC Corp., it’s the player’s duty to create packets. Packets are 2×2 blocks made up of smaller cubes that once created are whisked off to some unseen room where they apparently, inexplicably, benefit all of humanity. This is clearly subterfuge.
In each of the four modes the player is presented with two 6×4 blocks filled with coloured cubes. You switch individual cubes from one side to the other to form 2×2 packets of a single colour. Once formed, packets become merged blocks that stare at you with mendacious smiley faces. You can continue to increase the size of the packets, by completing rows or columns adjacent to them, or you can send them off to wherever it is they go with new cubes falling into the empty void.
It’s not quite that simple though. You can only send cubes from one side to the other if on one half a 2×2 or larger block will be formed out of the transition. This means you need at least one L-shape, or one previously formed block, in order to make a move.
It’s a placid puzzler that never really ups the ante. A lack of leaderboards means you’ll never be vying for highscores and your only reward for prolonged service to the Corp. is frequent promotions. But even these are vacuous, your bonus for rising through the ranks different coloured boxes to convert into yet more packets.
I wouldn’t deny that underneath its quirky exterior there’s a modestly clever, quietly addictive puzzler but it’s one that lacks any measure of excitement. The near-palpable feeling of dread as the Tetris blocks edge closer to the top of the screen is one utterly absent from ASYNC Corp.