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There are a few games that I have ploughed more time into than any others. These titles reflect a coming together of play mechanics that I enjoyed and points in my life where I had free time to invest enjoying them. There is one game however that has stayed with me through various phases of life. Expanding to fill hours when my days were long and empty, yet still able to slot into a spare five minutes when life had become more hectic. The game is Tetris, and most recently I have been playing Nintendo's latest incarnation, Tetris DS.
Sid Meier is often quoted regarding his stance towards an enjoyable game dynamic. For him, the player needs 'an understandable and enjoyable stream of decisions'. Reading a recent interview I was reminded again of the wisdom of this statement, proven not least by an impressive catalogue of well received games. However, I am not so sure it needed to keep him within the turn-based genre typical of the majority of his games. It is possible to deliver these decisions within a real-time interacting environment. This is something I have found Tetris excels at. The ever descending blocks provide the player with a steady stream of decision-encounters. Extended play uncovers ever increasing nuances to each decision. As the game develops one decision effects the other as the simple play mechanic takes hold. Each Tetris piece presents is own unique conundrum, a delicate balance between the immediate progression of completing lines, the deferred pleasure of creating possible lines in the future and ensuring your Tetris 'well' remains neat and tidy.
These things are true to a greater or lesser extent of any Tetris game. However some versions deliver and refine this experience better than others. Tetris DS does a great job of drawing on some of the classic aspects of the game whilst introducing a few novelties of their own.
T-spins and back-to-back achievements will already be familiar to avid Tetris players, however Tetris DS stamps its own identity on the game with some innovations of its own.
Graphically, the game benefits from the DS's exactly screens and Nintendo's wide and varied intellectual property. The game takes in art from Metroid, Mario and Zelda. The bricks are well defined and brightly coloured without being too saccharine. Achievements in both the single and multi player games are well signposted. The two screens are put to best use during the multi player sessions where you can keep a track of the exact progress of any of the other players via a mini-representation of their 'well' on the top screen.
The music is what you would hope for and expect from a Nintendo Tetris game. There are blend of various midi style sound tracks drawn from a variety of old Nintendo games. The game play is also punctuated with plenty of bleeps and blaps, although not to the extent of Meteos' open music creation this still adds to the whole experience. The game play provides the same solid mechanic as the old Gameboy original. Blocks feel solid and land with a suitable clunk. But things are not left here, as we mentioned above Tetris DS then draws on innovations that have been introduced to Tetris in its short life, along with a few new ideas for this particular outing.
One of the most surprising discoveries for me was that Tetris has its own physics model. Without going into all the ins and outs, you can force blocks into tight corners by placing one end under an overhanging ledge and rotating it in the appropriate direction. The ledge acts as a lever-point to push the block down into a position that would not have been possible to otherwise reach. Know in the trade as a 'spin', this is capitalised on in multi player mode where achieving a spin with a T piece sends your opponent 6 lines, and is called a 'T-spin.'
Another aspect of the game that has developed since the 90s Gameboy, are the back-to-back awards for performing two achievements in a row. This results in additional rows being send to your opponent in multi player. Performing a second four line clearance (Tetris) scores more points and sends 5 rows to a competing player.
T-spins and back-to-back achievements will already be familiar to avid Tetris players, however Tetris DS stamps its own identity on the game with some innovations of its own. The power ups for example can be collected by clearing particular blocks and provide a variety of special abilities that can be used against competing players. I was surprised how well the attacks had been matched to the familiar Nintendo collectables. To name a few, mushrooms make the play speed up, bananas make the controls mixed up and koopa shells clear a line of blocks as they shoot across the screen. These all add another dimension to multi player play, and much like in Mario Kart, serve to enable players lagging behind to have a few more chances to catch up without hobbling the main mechanic of brick stacking.
As you can probably tell, my favourite part of the game is the online multi player. In addition to a variety of different Tetris themed single player campaigns, the multi player battles completely change the feel of the game. Starting a game against other people, either locally or disparately over the world, gets the adrenaline pumping so much more than challenging the computer players or your own high score. Your ability to clear down the junk lines you are sent becomes crucial. It changes from an entirely offensive game to one where defence is also an issue; should I save my Tetris to counteract the next attack or should I try and get mine in first; should I go all out for speed, or try and keep my row height down. You find yourself developing set openings, much like a game of chess, those first moves that set out your stall and present the other player with a number of challenging questions.
Overall, if you have been even slightly attracted to Tetris in your gaming life this is well worth a look. If you are keen on puzzle games then you really should beg or borrow a DS and get a copy of the game. The solid single player and the revolutionary multi player makes this a great little package.
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