Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
25 March 2006
Tetris DS: Impressions
This has quickly joined the short list of my favorite DS games, along with Advance Wars DS and Meteos. It's just really cool. I've now spent some time (in some cases a lot of time) with every game mode, and unlike many games that offer a plethora of modes, they're all winners.

Standard Mode is plain Tetris, and in some ways it's the weakest mode because of a much-reported-on quirk of the gameplay: if you rotate a piece after it's hit the ground, you can continue to rotate it forever, and even move it back and forth while you're doing so, and the piece won't settle into place until you stop. Unlike what many sources have said, this does not make the gameplay trivial: once you've hit Level 20, pieces appear on the bin's surface, and rotating and moving is basically the only way you have to maneuver them at all. And you can't actually freely move pieces at that point either: it is difficult, and in some cases impossible, to maneuver a piece up inclines in that way, and the 2x2 square can't be maneuvered up them at all.

However, the infinite rotate thing does make the single-player game a lot easier than in the past. On my first game I got to Level 19, and I've now played an entire 200-line game on Level 20. (The "basic" game is now over after 200 lines, but doing that unlocks a true "Endless" mode.) Interestingly, you cannot rotate pieces forever in multiplayer modes, where it could be game-breaking, which seems to indicate that the designers knew what they were doing when they allowed it in single-player.

Of the new modes, probably the coolest, really quite excellent actually, is Push, the first instance I've seen of a truly competitive falling block game! By this I mean that most Tetris-inspired puzzle games, if they have a versus mode, are actually two or more separate, single-player games, side-by-side, and not actually competitive. All the ways in which you can affect the other player involve sending over things like garbage blocks, or inert Puyos, or timer pieces, or burnt Meteos, or any number of other "bad" things. You can't ever *directly* mess with your foe.

In Push mode, ingeniously, the two players are at the top and bottom of a bin (though each player's view of the game puts them at the top). The other player's part of the board can be seen on the bottom screen, and he plays on the same playfield as you, although gravity is reversed for him. This means if you're quick, you can actually take advantage of *his* Tetris opportunities, but only if he covers the hole in his stack with a block, since if there's not a bottom to the hole then the I-shaped pieces will just fall through and be wasted. Covering such a hole, thus, can be lethal in Push mode if there's two or more Tetrises at stake, and it's a good idea to see if the opposing player makes such a mistake. This also places a premium on pieces that can clear lines in such a situation without covering the hole, like the L and Mirrored-L blocks, which can still score triples in that case. This does a lot to open up strategic avenues in the game. In my opinion, this is best competitive mode I've yet seen for Tetris.

The other modes each have their own take on the game. Some are little changed from basic Tetris (Mission mode is standard Tetris with special objectives to complete), while some feature entirely different gameplay (Touch mode lets players shove pre-existing blocks around with the touchscreen and doesn't feature "naive gravity," Catch mode has the player moving the stack around, which can even be rotated, and catch falling blocks to try to make solid 4x4 squares). The game even includes a situational puzzle mode. I hadn't thought it was possible to do that for Tetris, which when it comes down to it is a fairly simple game, but it indeed has some challenging puzzles in there.

Nintendo has made a lot of their Wi-Fi internet service lately, and Tetris DS takes fairly good advantage of it. Three modes are available, a two-player standard battle with garbage lines just like the old Gameboy game, a well-designed four-player battle game with Mario Kart-ish items, and Push mode.

Nintendo has chosen, in a rather cool move I hadn't expected from them, to include a chess-style Tetris ranking for players based on who they win and lose against. Playing to increase my ranking (currently in the low 6,000s) has proven incredibly addictive, and it's difficult not to take losses personally. Unfortunately, the problem there is long-standing with Nintendo's implementation of their versus game, a problem that dates back to the Gameboy.

The idea of a "versus" bin-oriented puzzle game, in which good player performance is translated into garbage blocks dumped on the opponent, ultimately dates back to Nintendo Gameboy Tetris, so I'm surprised more hasn't been made of this flaw. It's that scoring Tetrises can actually be a bad move in this game, because the "garbage" you've sent is sometimes the perfect tool of instant retaliation. The holes in the garbage lines sent are sometimes lined up with each other, giving your opponent a prime opportunity to strike back with his own Tetris. If there's some way to cause the blocks sent to not be lined up (sometimes they are and sometimes they aren't), I haven't discovered it yet.

Edit: Fixed some grammar and style problems, sorry about that.


--John Harris at 15:46
Comment [ 1 ]

Comments on this post:

That sounds like good stuff...but how high is the content per frame? If it's not *really high*, my appetite will not be sated.

By Blogger jvm, at 26 March, 2006 01:36  

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