Lock, block, and barrel.
Staring at the Tetris DS
box, your sad, addicted past smashes headfirst into your sad, addicted future: six game modes, online play, and loads of nostalgic images of both Tetris
and classic Nintendo quickly remind you of who you are and where you'll likely go. It's Tetris
, it's on the DS, and that's really all most of us need to know.
But anyone with working eyes and at least one digit per hand has likely played Tetris a million times before, so it's a little hard to get excited about another one. Luckily, the quality of the quantity scores mildly in this flashy package, though your interest in the odd game modes will vary wildly. Considering how many clones we've seen over the years, at least this is the real deal.
Purists can dig right into Standard Mode, basic Tetris in its most evolved iteration to date. The hold box from newer versions of the game is here, allowing you to store pieces for later use, as is the ability to slam a block down instantly with the placement ghost guiding you. However, the preview queue is six blocks deep, so you can see one of those juicy long pieces from far off and prepare your tetris with too much confidence and, therefore, too little excitement. Also, when your block hits the stack, it doesn't stick right away, so it's easy to cheat a little at the harder levels by spinning the block after placement. All of these little amenities should have been toggleable options, but no such luck.
The interesting Puzzle Mode features a whopping 200 puzzles to solve, but they're not that great. They all start out with a certain stack setup, and you are tasked to find the correct sequence of pieces to solve the puzzle. It sounds cool, but since there's neither timer nor score to track performance, there's little reason not to save yourself the effort and just randomly try different orders.
Mission Mode is much more goal-oriented, doling out a series of timed objectives such as "Get a double with a Z block" or "Clear six lines." If the timer runs out, you'll get blasted with a bunch of blocks from underneath your stack, while beating a mission destroys blocks. It's fun for a while, challenging you to come up with novel solutions to age-old problems. The best part is that certain objectives might be too risky to solve given a certain situation, so instead you'll opt to quickly break down as many lines as possible and put your chips in the next mission. It's one of the better modes, though it would have been even cooler if the objectives were more varied.
Which is exactly the problem with Catch Mode. The premise is deliciously mindbending: you start with a uniblock nucleus which catches tetriminos that continuously fall from the top screen. As your nucleus grows, you'll have to move and rotate it in order to place the other falling tetriminos neatly. The larger this 4x4 core gets, the higher your score increases when it detonates after 10 seconds, so there's some quick-thinking involved. Once the block explodes, awkward pieces jutting out the sides get sucked in towards that starting uniblock nucleus, and the loop continues. The idea was to create a mode where, like Lumines, you create your own chaos by getting score hungry, but the pace ramps up too slowly to achieve the right effect. It's a bit too boring to play more than a few times.
The DS stylus is put to use in Touch Mode, which comes in two flavors: Tower and Puzzle, though neither works very well.
The object of the former is to lower a cage of balloons sitting atop a Jenga-esque Tetris tower by destroying blocks on the touch screen. Sliding pieces around feels really smooth, but rotating them requires some excessive double-tapping. Scoring combos seems pretty arbitrary since you're often just randomly flipping pieces, making this the first Tetris game for non-thinkers.
Touch Puzzle can be more rewarding, if short-lived. 50 different pre-set puzzles, each with their own solution, are available, but the majority of them are solved quickly just by randomly sliding blocks around the screen.
Tetris DS really hits its stride in its wireless local multiplayer, particularly Push Mode, which really uses the two screens effectively. Here two players go head-to-head, racing to complete rows in order to push the top of the tetrimino stack past the opposing player's plane. If all the modes were this fun to play, we'd have a major winner.
Standard and Mission are also playable locally, and all three modes can be played off one game cart by up to ten players. Local multiplayer deals out another Tetris twist by giving you quirky weapons for clearing out special blocks, like stopping a player's ability to rotate. It also features a load of team arrangement options to accommodate basically any combination of DS owners within earshot.
Full online play is strangely static and limited by comparison, since there are only three options to choose from: two-player Standard mode with no weapons, four-player Standard mode with weapons, and two-player Push Mode. It's understandable that having ten players online might serve up some unforgivable Tetris lag, but more options would have been nice. Besides, you can always play Tetris online for free with TetriNet.
It's probably because there are so many little graphical pixels moving around the screen that Massively Multiplayer Online Tetris DS would have just choked out. Tetris was never a visually appealing game so much as a riveting one, a fact to which countless Tetris dreams would attest. Tetris DS looks like it should, with lots of colorful blocks falling from the sky. Each mode is themed with a specific Nintendo character or franchise - Catch features Samus from Metroid, while the Missions are all based on The Legend of Zelda.
The same holds true for the music and sound effects, which are taken from a slew of NES classics, including Donkey Kong, Super Mario, Balloon Fight, and Excitebike. Some more variation of Nintendo's licenses would have definitely helped, but they're probably saving games like The Adventures of Link and Super Mario 2 for the unavoidable sequel.
Tetris DS scores its biggest points for doing so many things with a pretty small number of shapes. Though most of the new modes are novelties, the nice variety coupled with great LAN play makes this some solid methadone.