Review: I know the pieces fit, I saw them fall away
Tetris has been a long time coming to the DS. After a legal battle between THQ and The Tetris Company squashed THQ's plans to create a DS version of Tetris, Nintendo swept in to pick up the pieces. And with their expansive Tetris know-how (they did create the ultimate version of Tetris, Tetris for the Game Boy, after all) they've created Tetris for a new generation.
Tetris DS features six modes, five of which have never been seen in a Tetris game before. But the one that gamers will always go back to, no matter what, is Standard Mode. Pieces drop down the vertical shaft and players must arrange them into straight lines, which cause the lines to disappear. As long as you keep clearing away the lines it's possible to play forever. Thus the appeal of the Standard Mode. While Standard Mode appears in every version of Tetris, Nintendo has jazzed it up with the inclusion of classic Nintendo characters and the sounds and music that come with them. For example all of the action in the Standard Mode of Tetris DS takes place on the bottom screen. As you play, the top screen features Mario running through levels in Super Mario Bros., Mario 2 and Mario 3. It doesn't affect the gameplay in any way, but only a hardened soul wouldn't find it fun.
However, the fun of the mode is cut down because of the dreaded ?Infinite Spin.? Infinite Spin is a play mechanic that The Tetris Company requires of all new Tetris games. Infinite Spin means that once a piece hits the bottom it can be rotated forever and won't lock into place until the player stops. This is quite the change from the original Tetris, where a piece could be moved slightly at the bottom, but only if the player was quick and even then it could only be spun once, maybe twice. It's literally possible to ?dance? your piece back and forth across the bottom of the shaft (and over pieces that block it) to make it fit somewhere. It changes the game completely and I hate it.
But you might say, ?Just don't use it!? And believe me, I wouldn't. The sad thing is that near the higher levels the pieces stop falling at higher and higher speeds and just appear at the bottom. The only way out of it is to Infinite Spin your way to victory. I feel so dirty. Standard works great on the lower levels (because I can ignore Infinite Spin), but I'm ready to chuck my DS at the higher ones.
Thankfully, the true aim of Tetris DS has nothing to do with the single player Standard Mode. Tetris DS is built from the ground up to use Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection for some serious online Tetris multiplayer. Two or four players can battle it out in a fast paced game of Tetris that moves so quickly it makes the Infinite Spin worthless. Although online play almost requires a player to use the Ghost Piece (a faded outline of where the next piece will fall) and Hard Drop (pressing Up instantly drops the piece to the bottom of the shaft) options to stay competitive. Purists be warned.
Tetris DS through the Wi-Fi Connection is an almost perfect way to play multiplayer Tetris and was easily the first killer app for the Wi-Fi Connection (sorry Mario Kart). You almost can't call yourself a Tetris fan if you don't already own a copy of Tetris DS.
But Tetris DS doesn't stop there. It also includes five other modes of varying quality, including the only other online offering, Push Mode. Push Mode uses sights and sounds from Donkey Kong and features a first in Tetris gameplay: the pieces can go up. Yes, Push Mode features a one-on-one battle as players ?push? their pieces into a stack in the middle of both screens and try to ?push? the stack over a red line. The first one over the line loses.
Push is probably the most interesting of the new modes that Tetris DS has to offer and multiplayer games will get heated (literally, going over the red line results in a fiery screen). And the CPU is no slouch of an opponent either. While Push Mode will never replace regular Tetris, I'm sure it will have a place in future games.
Tetris DS was also given two ?exclusive stylus modes? and both fall flat. Touch Mode basically turns Tetris into a sliding number puzzle as players have to slide pieces around to clear lines. Sometimes it feels that the brute force approach will just cause things to happen. After enough sliding and rotating, the game just ends. It's all guesswork. And guesswork has no place in Tetris.
Of course, Touch Mode is the perfect game compared to Puzzle Mode, which is almost completely useless. In Touch Mode, players are given a pile of Tetris blocks and three to five Tetris pieces. By choosing the order in which the pieces fall on the pile you have to clear away all the extraneous blocks. It's pure trial and error and it will take the average player forever to clear away all of the puzzles. Time that would be better spent playing more online matches.
The final new mode is the Metroid-themed Catch Mode. In Catch Mode, players are given a small blob of blocks that they can rotate with the A and B buttons. These blobs must be rotated to catch the falling Tetris pieces to create 4x4 squares that then blow up. All the while players must dodge Metroids and other falling debris. It's not exactly Tetris, but it's a good time waster and a different kind of brain teaser than Standard Tetris. Catch Mode takes a little getting used to, but I think that it too will have a place in future Tetris games (maybe even a new game based all on ?Catch Tetris?).
Rounding out the new modes is one that's not really all that new: Mission Mode. In Mission Mode, Link guides players through a series of quests (Complete a Triple, Complete a Tetris, Clear six lines using only z-blocks, etc., etc.) against the clock. It's a quick and manic game of Tetris for those that don't have the time for a Marathon Standard session. And out of all the new modes, I found myself going back to Mission the most. While it doesn't offer anything ?new? to Tetris, it's a different (and ultimately very fun) way to play.