It was the simplest of concepts that guaranteed the success of Nintendo’s Game Boy 23 years ago; rotate falling blocks of varying design so that, by the time they reach the bottom of a narrow shaft, they tessellate with their fallen brethren and, hopefully, complete one or more horizontal lines that will flash and disappear. The blocks fall faster as the score increases, keep going until the narrow shaft fills with blocks you were unfortunately unable to inset with others.
That’s Tetris in a nutshell. It is compelling and brings out the high score chaser in all of us, as the short-lived nature of play and quick restarts encourage repeated play to such an extent that by the time you decide you can’t take anymore, you look up and realise that the bus is empty, it’s got dark, and you don’t recognise this part of town.
Tetris as a concept is getting on for 30 years old. It has been ported to every games console and computer known to man, and the Internet is crammed with free ‘clones’ that can be played in your browser. Hudson Soft has gone to a lot of trouble to make this version stand out but in doing so, by piling on mode after mode, they have distilled the appeal of Tetris and buried what made it so much fun, to begin with beneath convoluted strains of gameplay that, although novel and fun for a limited time, are unlikely to be returned to.
Tetris on the Nintendo 3DS – known as Tetris Axis in North America – makes the bold promise of taking the much-loved classic “to a whole new dimension”. A misleading boast. This latest version of Tetris, in fact, does very little to utilise the third dimension in a way that makes this incarnation any different to its precursors. For the most part, although it is possible to tinker with the play area so it appears 3D, Tetris is still played on a very 2D plane. Whatever perspective you decide to view the play area from, blocks still fall from the top to the bottom, there is no depth play that allows you to push blocks in or out.
This is the classic ‘Marathon’ mode that, other than the user-defined aesthetic adjustments, remains unchanged and as addictive as ever. Were this tiny portion of the full product released solely as a download in the eShop for a fiver, I would be singing a different song – full marks. Alas, Tetris arrives on store shelves with baggage so weighty that the lofty score is pulled down significantly.
About that baggage. Let’s start with the good. The multiplayer modes on offer with this product are admirably off the hook. No stone is left unturned as Hudson Soft clearly don’t want the social aspect of the Nintendo 3DS console to lose significance.
A good helping of the contents of the cartridge is dedicated to encouraging play with others. Whether it’s a straight one-on-one ‘Vs’ battle of stamina in ‘Marathon’ mode, ‘Fever’ (in which every line won by demolished by player generates an additional line on their opponents board), or ‘Tower Climber’ (using ‘mino’s’ as steps, the first to the top wins), the variety presented here cannot be knocked.
Neither can the ways in which additional players can be included as Hudson Soft has made it as easy as possible to involve whoever wants to join in – local play, download play, utilising Wi-Fi hotspots or the mighty, mighty Internet, there is genuinely no excuse for not giving multiplayer Tetris a fair shake of the stick. This is where Tetris ranks highly but, of course, all this fun is dependent on having someone to play with. Without that, you may as well take an eraser to half of the cart content, like it’s not even there.
The 3D in Tetris plays nothing more than a visual role in all ways to play except AR Mode. Augmented Reality puts Tetris in your house using the AR cards that you hopefully still have somewhere. Basic ‘Marathon’ mode makes a return here and during play, with each successive line destroyed, the play area or ‘matrix’ revolves so, in order to succeed, you must move with it.
The usual AR limitations plague gameplay; being too close or too far away, even by just a couple of centimetres, causes the image to shake and if the AR card should accidentally slip from the view of your 3DS’ camera it takes one or two seconds to magic the game back into existence once your aim has returned. Not a life-threatening amount of time on paper, but during the increasingly frantic play that is Tetris‘ signature, two seconds can really snap you out of your zone and ruin a good score run.
‘Tower Climber’ is a novel but not compulsive AR minigame that presents you with a cylindrical tower that you must build steps around in order to help a stickman avatar reach the top. This one requires much more movement on behalf of the player so the above flaws are magnified here.
This Nintendo 3DS Tetris compilation is very, very good. As good as it ever was in fact. But there is so much that will only receive a cursory glance that it ultimately disappoints as a full price retail product. The sheer amount of content on offer here makes it seem like a value for money purchase, but would you pay extra for a deck of cards because it was packaged with a rubber chicken? The needless extras included, for all their good intentions, have only succeeded to add cost to and take value from, a timeless classic that is still capable of standing on its own.
Tetris is an addictive time-sink that no-one should be without in one form or another, and plenty of fun can be had from this version, but 3DS owners should seek out 2006’s Tetris DS for a much less distilled experience. And probably a cheaper one too.