There is a long and somewhat sordid history of Tetris, the greatest thing to come out of Russia. From its very beginnings in 1984 on the Electronika 60, the legal disputes between Nintendo, Tengen, and Atari, its incredible success on the NES and the Game Boy in the late 80s, and to the latest release in 2014, Tetris has become a puzzle institution, with numerous doctors speaking out about the positive effects Tetris can have on the human brain.
With such an illustrious background, it’s safe to say that people were excited when Tetris Worlds was released for consoles in 2001, and finally made its way to the GameCube in 2002. But with a new Tetris title, comes a new spin on the game. Get it? Spin? Anyway, before we dive into what specifically Worlds does or doesn’t bring to the table, let’s take a moment and talk about Tetris as a whole, for those of you that haven’t heard of it for the past three decades.
Tetris is displayed in the form of a vertical play field, sometimes called the Matrix. Different shaped block-based objects called Tetriminos fall from the top of the screen and stack at the bottom. Your job as the player is to rotate and move these blocks in such a way that they fill entire rows across the field. Doing so results in these lines being cleared and disappearing, giving you more space to stack more Tetriminos. The more lines you clear, the faster the blocks drop. If they stack to the top of the screen, it’s game over.
Now that we have that primer out of the way, Tetris Worlds brought the series to a new generation of consoles, and it tried to include a bit of a story at the same time. It goes that there is a mechanical alien species known as the Minos, block-shaped entities that are incredibly intelligent and have discovered that their sun has become unstable. In order to move their entire race off of the planet, they need your help to perform Tetris, the method of opening gateways to distant planets in an effort to find a hospitable home.
Beyond the small introduction cutscene, the Minos become little more than background art, bopping along to your controls while sitting on the side of the game screen, and doing little more than giving you a chance to decorate with hats. This is a puzzle game, after all, so it’s not surprising that any effort to define a narrative gets sidelined pretty quickly. The main star of Worlds is the wide variety of game modes, each giving different rules that provide some range to the, at the time, 20 year old formula.
Standard Tetris doesn’t need any introduction at this point, however Square Tetris tasks the player with a secondary objective to line clearing: arrange the Tetriminos into 4X4 squares to earn larger point bonuses. Cascade Tetris causes blocks to fall during a line clear and potentially cause a chain reaction that turns one line into six. Sticky Tetris starts the player off with so-called “Garbage Blocks”, black blocks arranged in a random order across the bottom third of the Matrix, requiring you to clear these as well as the blocks falling from the top. Hot-Line Tetris has six lines that stretch across the screen, and instead of any and every line you clear awarding points, only the ones on these “Hot-Lines” will increase your score. The higher up the Matrix that the line sits, the larger point bonus you will receive. Last but not least, Fusion Tetris gives you Atom Blocks in addition to the other classic Tetriminos, which can be used to fuse blocks together, awarding higher bonuses.
At its core, Worlds is the Tetris we know and love, just prettier. While much can be said about minimalistic, retro graphics, Tetris Worlds obviously gets ahead due to the technical options afforded to it at the time of development There are some pretty solid graphical effects, a lot of which really come together when you perform a large Line Break combo. At this point in 2016, they won’t be too impressive, but if most of your experience was with the Game Boy or NES titles, the graphics are nice to see. Unfortunately, nice graphics do not mean that there is a nice presentation. Much of the game feels like it’s a sort of demo version, with light menu options and lighter screen displays. There isn’t much going on, and while you obviously don’t want to be distracted, the whole thing feels sort of empty.
There’s not much to complain about when it comes to the aforementioned game modes, as how you play will come down to personal preference. However, when it comes to multiplayer, critiquing the afforded options becomes considerably more understandable. You and up to three of your friends may choose any of the different game modes, but you are limited in game type to either Race or Knock Out. Race is self-explanatory, you race to see who can clear a set number of lines first, but it stops quickly upon completion, and doesn’t transition smoothly into a new match. It brings up a selection screen pretty jarringly and snaps you out of the flow that you’ve worked so hard to get into. Knock Out gives you the ability to throw some Garbage Blocks on your opponent’s screen when you clear multiple lines at once, but it still has the Race type overlay in the background. There’s no escaping that mode, which can be incredibly confusing if you and your friends want to easily play against each other as seamlessly as possible. To rub salt on the wound, even the available Arcade Mode that you can access from the Main Menu has these same limitations that you find in multiplayer, so you can’t even easily practice your moves.
With multiplayer being a frustrating hassle and the story mode being somewhat weak, I turned to the soundtrack to see if, at the very least, I could enjoy some classic Tetris sounds. Blue Planet Software did not base the soundtrack off of or include any nods to the wonderful classic Tetris sound, originally done by Hip Tanaka. The Worlds soundtrack isn’t bad, by any means – Donovan Miller and Ken Inaoka did great work – but it lacks that classic connection that makes it feel like a Tetris game.
Tetris Worlds almost feels like a clone of one of my favorite games, or even like a hermit crab shell that’s buried in the sand, but upon picking it up you find that it’s empty. You can up and admire it, but there’s no life inside. Perhaps what is most disappointing is that rather than a solid, must-have version of Tetris, the GameCube got a port of an ill-received PS2 game, and there would never be another Tetris title on the platform.
Did you ever play Tetris Worlds? What did you think of it? What did you like or hate about the game?
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