Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 03/20/06 | Genre: Puzzle
One of the longest standing franchises that seem to achieve success wherever it ends up, appearing on practically every videogame console and computer operating system, is Tetris. Since its first mainstream introduction on the Game Boy in 1989, Tetris and its many variant copy-cats are one of the few videogame experiences that can be enjoyed by anyone, gamer or grandma. If you must know, Tetris in its basic form is a puzzle game where the objective is to create a horizontal line (without gaps) using seven separate randomly generated tetrominoes. These tetrominoes fall from the sky (picking up speed the more lines you clear) with the goal to clear as many lines as possible before you become overwhelmed and the pile of blocks reach the top ending your run.
Tetris DS, as many versions of Tetris before it, adds its own flavor, modes of play, and variation of the original addictive puzzler. Tetris DS sports 6 modes of play (actually more if you include the variations of each mode), a whopping 10-player multiplayer off a single cart, and 2-4 players in WiFi online in 3 different styles of play.
The immediate difference that you’ll notice with this version of Tetris is that it has had an encounter with the Nintendo bug. Practically every mode of play includes some interaction with a classic Nintendo franchise. For example, while playing standard mode the top screen is designated for Mario and his continuous run through a number of Super Mario Bros. levels. This has absolutely no barring on the gameplay, but the added Nintendo charm is something that old school gamers may appreciate…or may loathe.
Nintendo has also brought over a few features that you may have seen in previous incarnations of the franchise. Holding is one of them; a feature which allows you to stick a falling piece in holding for it to be swapped out at a later time. This creates a new layer of strategy while at the same time being a potential life saver when that Z piece rears its head out at the wrong time.
Another is the ability to see the next 6 pieces in addition to the one that’s currently falling. This is pretty much a dead on arrival addition, as the sense of surprise in Tetris is important to keeping that feeling of urgency when things are getting rough, so this hurts it more then it is helping.
The infinite spin also makes its way over from Tetris Worlds to this version of game. If you aren’t familiar with it, it allows you to keep spinning your piece and moving it about once it has already finished its decent until you are happy with its spot. It’s not completely open as you are restricted to where your piece goes in relation to its size (for example you can’t spin your Z piece over a 4 block tall ‘I’ piece on the ground) but it does open itself up to making the game a bit easier then if this wasn’t offered.
Lastly ‘ghosting’ makes a return here which is a feature that imprints a ghost of your tetromino on the ground, allowing you to see where your tetromino is going to end up before it lands. This is the only feature of the 4 that you have the ability to actually turn off.
Apart from the standard play is a whole other slew of Tetris inspired modes. Push, an enjoyable Donkey Kong-themed game played against the computer or another human opponent, forces players to share the same baseline and keep clearing lines to push the line down to the point where your opponent has no more room left on his side and is pushed into the fiery spikes at the bottom (or the top depending whose screen you’re looking at).
Your stylus also makes an appearance in Touch where you move around and manipulate already fallen pieces to clear lines. Tower and Puzzle are the two sub-modes here, the first is your basic tower of mangled pieces with a cage of balloons you must get to the bottom of the screen releasing them in the process, while Puzzle gives you a set number of pieces and has you figure out how to clear the entire screen with the ones provided. There is also a completely other puzzle mode, separate from the Touch mode, which presents you with a partially cleared screen and 3 tetromino pieces. Your objective here is to clear the rest of the lines with the pieces they provide you. There are exactly 200 different puzzles here, and is one of the stand-out modes of play.
Mission has you clearing specific objectives posted in the top screen (like clearing 2 lines with a specific tetromino) in a set amount of time. If you don’t clear the objective in the time given then the game will add lines to the bottom of the screen. Occasionally though you’ll get an objective where the instructions aren’t clear, potentially ruining your progress.
Finally there is Catch, definitely the farthest departure from the Tetris formula. In this Metroid-themed mode you control a core (consisting of four blocks) in the bottom screen while tetromino pieces fall from the top screen. Your objective is to catch these pieces to create at least a four by four sized block which once created, starts flashing and then explodes, growing your score in the process. In addition to the pieces there are Metroids floating down you must avoid to keep your energy up. This mode is some what enjoyable but not nearly as polished and addictive as some of the others.
While the single player is still addictive on its own you can’t help but feel that Nintendo could have included a little more of an incentive to play through the many modes. Apart from unlocking endless mode and the short list of sound test tracks in Standard mode after clearing 200 lines (only takes about 15min for a skilled Tetris player, of which there are many) there is nothing else for you to unlock. Whether you play single player for an hour straight, or for 5min, the sense of accomplishment is the same.
WiFi Online play is where you’ll probably be spending the most time. Once connected, you can join a friend, invite a friend, or jump into a random worldwide match with up to 4 people in 3 different modes. The modes offered online are Standard with no items (2 players), Standard with items (4 players), and Push (2 players). While playing online I never experienced any disruption apart from the sour gamers that decided to leave the match before it was over. The entire online setup is pretty much your standard affair, set up much like Mario Kart, with the intent to get you into a game quickly. Sadly there is no voice chat, which would have been a welcome addition.
If you have other friends/significant other/etc with a DS then you are in luck as Tetris DS is one of the best single-cart local multiplayer games on handheld. You can play standard, mission, and push with up to 10 people on a single cart. That has to be some sort of record. If you are lucky enough to 9 other people together, all with their own DS, the experience is unparallel.
When it comes down to it, Tetris DS is a must-buy for fans of the franchise and anyone looking for a great local or online multiplayer game. The completely new 5 other modes of play aren’t just simple distractions but are actually great additions to prolonging the shelf life of the title. The single player game could have used more unlockables, or at least some incentive to keep playing (like unlocking Nintendo-inspired trophies, a la Super Smash Bros Melee, every 5000 lines or so) but it’s not a complete deal-breaker. I don’t think it’s the best version of Tetris I have ever played (The New Tetris for N64 remains my favorite), but it comes very close.