We, as humans, seem to have an insatiable appetite for the familiar. It instills in us a sense of trust, if you will. And once we get hold of a hot commodity, whether it's a movie, a book, or a game, we want to recapture that experience again and again. Not surprisingly, the producers of that product are more than happy to oblige. I'm sure we're all familiar with the movie, Halloween. Fans were so thrilled with this movie that they demanded a sequels after sequels; the producers gleefully responded. The thing is, though, no matter how hard they tried, the producers and writers could never recapture the thrill of the first. As cheap copies go, only the superficial gets carried over and the substance is lost somewhere in the process. Halloween fans, consequently, got stuck with a bunch of corny bloodfests that lacked personality and appeal. On top of that, other creators flooded the market with rip-off after rip-off. It got so bad that these releases resembled comedies more than they did, fright flicks. None offered anything new and few actually even tried. Freddy Kreuger's torment over the people on Elm Street and Jason Vorhees' hacking of camp counselors had finally lost their edge. The industry was on a fatal downturn and franchises bottomed out due to lack of innovation. It was not until very recently that the horror genre received a breath of fresh air thanks to movies like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. The creator of the Halloween series took notice of the new resurgence and decided that Halloween could be given a chance to go out on a high note. Whether it was a final tribute to fans or a finale to the series, it received a lot of hype and praise from the press, but fans, old and new, didn't quite take to it. And in our case, I see that Nintendo has hit upon that same line of thinking and brought out a new Tetris onto a market already saturated with Tetris clones.
Although John Carpenter's Halloween was originally taken on as a gamble by Compass International Pictures, when Nintendo first saw Alexey Pajitnov's Tetris, they knew that it would be big and had to be part of their plan for total industry domination. So sure were they of its future success that Nintendo's CEO, Howard Lincoln, and President, Minoru Arakawa, rushed off to Russia in the middle of the night (in their pajamas no less) to seal the deal and make Tetris exclusive to their NES console. They pretty much lied, cheated, and stole to get it, but it paid off big-time and Tetris became one of the biggest successes in the history of video gaming. Since then, there has been no end to the different incarnations of the Tetris theme. Countless sequels, remakes, and clones were released on every major video game system. The number of lackluster releases and out-and-out failures inevitably eclipsed the successes in the market; soon, no company, even Nintendo, would risk saturating the market further. That is, until now. Nintendo and H2O believe that they have found a new trick to teach the old Tetris engine that would take the theme and genre in a refreshingly new direction.
After all its different incarnations, Nintendo apparently felt Tetris needed a face-lift as much as Leatherface does. The New Tetris, as it's called, is probably the biggest conceptual departure from the original Tetris theme that any "Tetris" game has gotten. Since it's inception, Tetris has been about clearing the most lines and getting the highest numerical score to see who is the best. In The New Tetris, a high score is still desirable, but it is tallied differently; the actual number of lines cleared are the focus and not points given for each, as in the original. The rewards here are also new. The first is an actual ranking, depending on my durability with each game I play. The other is a more flashy addition that really doesn't work too well. With every set number of lines cleared, I could unlock hidden landmarks (called Wonders) which are essentially new stages to play on. These are historical monuments that are revealed to me and credited to my overall record and saved on the game pak. What could have drove H2O to think that seeing a Sphinx statue materialize before my eyes was rewarding enough for me to bust my butt for hours trying to complete the required 4000+ lines? This has to be one of the most unrewarding experiences I've encountered anywhere since Friday The 13th, Part X.
The additions don't stop there. Like a new coat of paint, a new objective has been added to broaden the depth of Tetris. It is now possible to build a solid square using four puzzle pieces and if you used four identical pieces, the number of lines you clear would be accredited exponentially. This new focus made the old objective of clearing four lines and getting a Tetris seem a little frivolous. I missed the familiar ringing sound effect I would previously have heard from getting a Tetris. It signified to me that I had done something special. Throughout the game, building and clearing Tetris' have been globally toned down. What H2O did keep, though, was what worked in previous incarnations and that's the multiplayer mode. Here I could take on up to three of my buddies and go at it for some seriously fast-paced action. And with the new ranking system, determining who was the best was far more obvious. It was definitely a plus amid all the negatives.
It is with almost perfect irony that H2O, the gimmick name used for the last Halloween movie's ad campaign, is also the name of the developer Nintendo chose for this game. Because when the final curtain went down on the flick, it only served to prove that Michael Myers wasn't scary anymore, Jamie Lee Curtis (while still hot after all these years) was still no fighter, and that it would take a whole lot more than a couple of teen-idols (from romps like Dawson's Creek) to breathe new life into the franchise. The New Tetris suffers a similar fate by not including involving goals on top of the new play mechanics and by failing to set any new standards. So in both cases, the movie and the game, I wasn't impressed.