With practically every influential console titles origins in Japan and an equal amount of groundbreaking PC titles cranked out across the seas in America, I find it a bit surprising that one of the worlds best video games, Tetris, came from Russia. Still, despite its surprising point of origin, why look the horse in the mouth? Any way you slice it, Tetris easily ranks among the worlds best titles. Looking at it objectively, few games can match its accessibility; almost anyone able to pick it up and play within seconds. Its also as addictive as anything thats ever come off of a cartel jungle plantation, and it is very likely the worlds most popular and widespread game in terms of sales. Not counting bootleg or illegal versions, Tetris has sold over 60 million copies worldwide on every electronic system imaginable: Home consoles, handhelds, PCs, cellular phones, PDAs the list goes on and on. If it runs on electricity, it probably has a version of Tetris.
With such a widespread, historic and obviously successful game, some readers may be wondering why there would be a need to review it. To be honest, I thought the same thing myself until I played the latest version, Tetris Worlds. After spending time with it, I was so impressed with the different modes and variety of play available that I felt it was worth putting in the spotlight. Otherwise, something so ubiquitous probably wouldnt garner much attention, and that would be a shame.
For the three people on Earth who dont know what Tetris is, let me explain. Basically, its a puzzle game that features a rectangular-shaped playing area. Puzzle pieces of various shapes falling from the top. They soon start piling up at the bottom, and the object is to arrange these pieces into orderly rows filling the playfield from side to side. When such a line is made, it is removed from the board thereby giving players more space with which to create more lines. If the blocks reach the top of the screen, the game is over. Score is awarded for each line assembled, with bigger points for multiple lines cleared at once. Initially, it seems like theres nothing to it, but its depth is disguised by the elegance of design.
Since the main reason for this review is to highlight the variety of play formulas, Ill go into detail and list them here:
Classic Tetris– Of course, the game could not be called "Tetris" without featuring the classic original mode created back in 1985. There are a few small tweaks to the formula such as the ability to put one piece on "hold" to make way for another, but otherwise this is the real deal.
Sticky Tetris– in this mode, the goal is to clear the bottom row by eliminating a few lines of garbage blocking your way. Some of the falling blocks are multicolored, and divisible into smaller pieces. Upon landing, the blocks can fragment and can be used to fill in gaps that are too small for the whole piece to fit. The catch is that if a part of the block lands next to a similar color, it will "stick" in place where it is and create an unexpected obstruction.
Hotline Tetris– In this mode, there are several colored stripes at different heights on the playing field. Blocks eliminated must be exactly at the same height as these stripes in order to be counted towards your goal. Bold risktaking can sometimes pay off because the higher stripes credit you with more lines completed, naturally. This is definitely not the mode for the faint of heart.
Square Tetris– My vote for "most difficult mode" was split between this mode and Cascade. In Square Tetris, players must create perfect squares out of the various pieces. (I bet you didnt see that coming.) Needless to say, its pretty hard to do with the oddly-shaped pieces while still clearing lines at the same time. To make things even tougher, if you remove half of a piece by clearing a line, the remaining half does not count towards making a square.
Cascade Tetris– This was the other toughie. The "cascade" in the title refers to the chain-combo effect achieved by clearing one line and having the pieces above it clear another one as they fall down. For some reason, I found it quite difficult to strategically leave gaps in the stack of blocks after years of practice filling them. It feels similar to rival puzzler Puyo Pop on the Game Boy Advance (also marketed domestically on the SNES as Kirbys Avalanche), but the psychological effect of using Tetris blocks was oddly disconcerting.
Fusion Tetris– Last, but not least, Fusion was my favorite of the new additions. In this mode, a small piece called the "Fusion" block sits at the bottom of the playfield underneath several lines of rubbish. Your goal is to get special pieces called "Atom" blocks to physically touch the Fusion piece. When enough of them are chained together, an explosion caused by the critical mass clears the entire board. The challenge here is to quickly clear a path to the Fusion block before too many other pieces block your way.
In addition to this wide variety of different flavors, theres a story mode to challenge the skills of players who like goal-oriented games. Behind a wonky Sci-Fi pretense of using Tetris boards as interplanetary transport devices, you must meet specific achievement goals under very tight time limits. Do so, and you are rewarded with cutscenes depicting cubic aliens terraforming distant planets where the story mode takes place. Its a cute little novelty that adds a bit of character to an otherwise personality-free game, and the challenges are no joke.
In fact, I thought I was a good Tetris player until I got my rump handed to me several times over by these challenges. They start feeling impossibly hard once you hit level eight or nine, and there are fifteen for each mode. It doesnt interfere with the package as a whole because these story tasks arent required to enjoy the gameplay, but the anal-retentive side of me would have liked to polish them off. I gave up hope of this after a few days and resigned myself to enjoying the arcade mode. I dont need that kind of stress in my life.
Besides the ego-deflating difficulty curve of the story mode, something else worth mentioning is the terrible music. Im assuming that the developers chose audio that would fit with the sci-fi theme, but the selections here so new-age and spaced-out that it was hard to get into a good puzzle groove. Surprisingly, nowhere on the disc are the classic Russia-themed tunes that tend to be associated with the game, and I was definitely not down with the current selections. Id recommend having your own CDs or a radio on while you play.
Besides those two minor hiccups, Tetris Worlds is a comprehensive disc that provides an above-average amount of block-dropping entertainment. Most of the new interpretations of Alexei Pajitnovs masterpiece are well-done and different enough to add an appreciable amount of substance, and its my firm belief that every gamer worthy of the title needs to own at least one copy of his landmark creation. If you dont already have one, Tetris Worlds is an excellent version of an outstanding game.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.