The Tetris pack-in for the original brick Game Boy sucked up hundreds upon hundreds of hours of my life. I even spent a ton of time playing the game with my mother and my brother using the link cables. Then after Tetris DX for the Game Boy Color, the Tetris goodness disappeared. Versions of Tetris appeared on multiple game systems, with each version tossing in its own quirks that turned off gamers. Some even made the addiction go away; I’m referring to the particularly horrendous Tetris Plus for the 32-bit systems that turned me into a Bust-A-Move and Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo obsessive. Finally, after eight years, Nintendo goes back to the well and takes back the Tetris license, giving us Tetris DS, a game that returns the series to its original glory.
If you’ve never played Tetris, I’ll assume that you’re a toddler who is learning to read via this review. Blocks drop. Completed horizontal lines disappear. Four lines equals a Tetris. If the blocks get to the top, game over. At its core, Tetris DS can be the same pure Tetris game that you played on the early Nintendo systems, although they’ve slightly altered the rules.
For starters, this version of Tetris has a “hold” box, which will store a piece for swapping out later if you press one of the shoulder buttons. Additionally, you can now perform a quick drop by pressing up, which immediately drops the piece. You may also spin pieces before they’re locked into place, with an optional “ghost” piece appearing where your current one will land. This allows you to keep the piece in play and continue to move it, or swap it out. Lastly, you can see up to six pieces in advance now. These are the major changes in the game play of this version of Tetris, and if you’re a purist, most won’t matter as it’s easy to ignore them. Each of these techniques and skills are critical if you want to win in multiplayer.
Each different mode in Tetris DS is costumed in a different style from the eight-bit era, ranging from Super Mario Bros and Metroid to Balloon Fight, and, for some odd reason, the less-than-classic Urban Champion. The look of each mode is colorful, distinct, and extremely pleasing to the eye, and represents a much better look than other licensed versions of Tetris, though it’s easy to keep yourself from becoming distracted by it once you find yourself entering the “zone.” The music is essentially a mix of your favorite NES theme songs, which are all pretty catchy in their own right.
There are six different single player game modes on Tetris DS. While most people will spend their time in the traditional “Marathon” mode where the pieces drop faster and the scores get higher, the others are nevertheless worth checking out. There’s the typical “Puzzle” mode that is now fairly common in all puzzle games, requiring you to complete a task with a limited number of pieces and moves. “Mission Mode” is where you’ll play on a standard Tetris field, trying to accomplish what feels like a relay race of tasks. “Touch Mode” makes use of the touch screen functionality by allowing you to manipulate pieces with your stylus in an attempt to gradually reduce the size of a colossal tower of Tetris pieces.
Nintendo also tosses in two very unique modes, which add to the Tetris DS experience. The first is “Push” mode, which is dressed in a Donkey Kong motif and also doubles as a multiplayer option. Each time you remove two lines or more, the entire group of blocks shifts towards your opponent. When you start, both sides of the playing field are wide open, meaning you’re creating the lines and the playing field from scratch. It’s really a game of Tetris tug-of-war with a lot more strategy than just your regular game of Tetris. The strategy is actually a little difficult to grasp at first, but it’s a lot of fun.
The second is “Catch” mode, which bears a Metroid Theme. Catch mode requires you to build a block by catching falling pieces on a “core” block. You can move your block and continually rotate it 90 degrees. Once you have a square built out of 16 small pieces, they’ll begin to “charge.” The larger the block, the more points and energy you earn once it explodes. Each time you miss a piece or hit an enemy, your energy goes down until the game is over. It’s a really unique take, and a nice change of pace.
Even with all of these single player modes, the star of the game is truly the Wi-Fi multiplayer mode. With a wireless connection, it’s easy to hop online and jump into a two player “original” style game, or a four-player game with items tossed in to make it interesting. A two-player “Push” mode is also thrown in here as well. Players are ranked using a chess-style rating system, which is good because it makes every game count. Losing to an opponent ranked significantly lower or higher than you changes your rank significantly, so don’t blow off that 4000 ranked cream-puff, because he could dust you.
What makes multiplayer so great is how easy it is to jump into a game and how frantic and competitive the matches can be. While purists might be angry at the changes made to some core aspects of the Tetris series, it’s those exact changes that make the multiplayer that much better. They add to the speed and strategy needed to win. At the same time, the new features allow you to plot your moves much further in.
Two-Player Mode is a standard affair: no items or frills, just straight-up Tetris action. Four-player mode introduces items from the Mario series that impact one of the players’ playing field. For example, a star gives you nothing but lines. You can track your opponents’ progress via the upper screen, and a target alternates between each player. This is handy in case you need to put a guy over the edge with a Tetris, or want to screw a specific player with an item, and adds yet another level of strategy. In addition, Tetris DS tosses in DS Download Play for up to 10 local players with just a single game card; a great bonus.
I’m still bothered by the “Friend Code” system. I understand the reasons behind it with games such as Animal Crossing, but in Tetris’ case, it eliminates the opportunity for me to add really good opponents that have been randomly selected for me from a favorites list. There’s no direct communication between players whatsoever, so why make it this difficult?
Nintendo tracks the best Tetris players on NintendoWifi.com although the system was not working at the time of this review. Hopefully in the next week or so, this will be live so the cream of the Tetris world can rise to the top. Tetris DS also keeps track of your top scores in each mode. Unfortunately, there is no all-time stat tracking, which would have been nice as I’d like to see how many hours, lines, or blocks I’ve dropped in a lifetime.
The bottom line with Tetris DS is that despite the changes, it feels like the Tetris you knew and loved back in the days of the original pea-soup-screened GameBoy. Many of the annoyances and quirks introduced into the series throughout the years have been largely stripped away, and the DS-exclusive additions are almost universally fantastic. Each of the six different modes is loads of fun and will likely suck up endless hours of your time; factor in the potential for some great multiplayer, and Tetris DS ends up a real winner.