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Tetris Party

Score: 81%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Tetris Online, Inc.
Developer: Tetris Online, Inc.
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 6
Genre: Puzzle/ Online/ Party

Graphics & Sound:

Tetris was the first game I can remember seeing on the original Game Boy - not the Game Boy Color, but the original. After growing up on far more exciting fare, I was skeptical about this game where nothing happened apart from blocks falling from the sky. I borrowed my friend's Game Boy and realized quickly that I didn't want to give it back. "Just one more line... just one more level." The fundamentals of the game are still unchanged, but it remains compelling so many years later.

The hook for Tetris Party is certainly not visual appeal, although the game has never appeared with so many interesting variations before. The original themes are gone in this version, so don't expect to find what you and I were playing on Game Boy all those years ago. Instead, we have a Mii-infested world with colorful blocks ("Tetriminos" to the uninitiated...) and even some effects here and there, if you count the items used during multiplayer contests. The lure of Tetris has never been about graphics or sound, so any upgrades in that department are just icing on the cake. What is nicely done is the simple, clean interface. Nothing has been injected into the game that would pull attention away from the falling blocks. Use of the Mii in Tetris Party is pretty casual; you'll see your Mii marching along as you work out in several contest modes, and see your face in multiplayer battles. The music is always in the background, and the sound effects are limited to dropped blocks and warnings when you reach the top of the playing area ("Matrix" for you noobies out there) or manage to clear an especially large number of blocks.


Gameplay:

You think you know Tetris. At this point, there aren't many people that haven't at least tried the game in some form over the years. The difference in Tetris Party is that it takes full advantage of the Wii and its accessories, builds in online play, and offers new styles of play than we've seen before. Online play is a cool feature, above and beyond simply having multiplayer. Playing online means that if not everyone in your house, apartment, or dorm is a crazed Tetris head, you'll be able to connect via Wi-Fi and find a opponent from anywhere in the world, or play with the group of people that have registered you with a Wii Friend Code. Up to six players can get in on the action, with options to play using special items that will in some cases benefit you and in other cases damage your opponents' chances of winning. Items like Speed Up are fairly straightforward and advance the clock more quickly for your opponents than you, making their blocks fall faster. More unusual items like Lock prevent other players from rotating their blocks, a killer move in higher levels when the blocks are dropping fast and precision placement is so important. About 10 items can be stored and used by pointing at the screen with your Wii-mote. Coordinating item use with the regular block-dropping action is tricky, and if your friends find items annoying, they can be turned off during VS Battle mode.

Playing at home against the folks your living room or solo is equally engaging with Tetris Party. The new players have a simplified mode that uses big blocks and a small field of play, perfect for younger gamers also. Marathon Mode is the style of play that we grew up on, transferred largely unchanged to this platform. If you can't get anyone to play against you and still want the challenge of an opponent, using Computer Battle will simulate a heated contest. A bit too heated, if you ask me, but more on that later... New modes that appear here include Field Climber, Shadow, and Stage Racer. The last is a mode that plays like one part racing, one part Monkey Ball, and one part traditional Tetris. You still have a falling block, but instead of stacking it, you are trying to move it through a maze by sliding and transforming the block as you would in placing it normally. Shadow will be a breeze for skilled Tetris players; in this mode, you strategically place blocks to fill a shadowed area. As blocks fall, they change color and complete a picture. This is a fun mode, but completely unforgiving since you can't fix errors. Field Climber has you placing blocks so that a little character starting at the bottom is able to ascend to the top of the field. It's a weird concept, but it somehow works.

The final modes for play are purely about multiplayer, Co-op and Duel Spaces. Co-op is a neat twist on the classic formula, since the obvious first interpretation of Tetris as a multiplayer experience is competitive. Using a large board, you work in the Co-op version of the game to clear lines as you normally would. The Duel Spaces mode may be the most interesting included, a combination of Go and Tetris. Drop your blocks as usual, then claim the space inside the shapes defined by your block structures, as you would consider "territory" counting for points in Go. Forming shapes in Tetris isn't at all intuitive at first, since your normal mindset is to fill up any open space. All this variety is most likely what will keep players coming back to Tetris Party.


Difficulty:

What creates some dissonance, a stink among the roses, is the insane difficulty of playing the computer and to some extent, the inability to rank players. How players are ranked and matched is a mystery, but the pairings I had online were pretty crushing. Chalk it up to me not being very good at the game, and I'll still say that matches have to be made with better rationale. Ranking players and appropriately matching them will improve the Wi-Fi experience greatly, hopefully something that can be built in and improved on, at least for the online portion. Playing the computer offline is also very challenging, and most folks won't win without dialing the computer's skill level down considerably. The problem here with the computer is that it plays such a perfect game, making every match and shape and filling out the board to such an extent that blocks are added quickly on your side of the field. Even when you dial down the computer difficulty level and get a head start, it quickly catches up and reverses your lead. The only similar adjustment on the regular multiplayer modes like VS Battle is to turn off items, making it easier for some players to keep their focus. Including a beginner's mode was a nice touch in the game and makes it accessible to a much wider range of players.

Game Mechanics:

Tetris Party can be played with several control options, all of them largely irrelevant, but still cute for people that like alternate control schemes. A weird concept that may work is the use of the Wii Balance Board as a controller. Leaning forward, side-to-side, and squatting down will perform the same functions as using the Wii-mote or Classic Controller. Much like the Zapper, players that have invested in the Board will be happy to find another game that uses their peripheral. Why this would improve your Tetris Party experience is an unknown. There are other modes using the Wii-mote and the Classic Controller that dress up the basic mechanic of "drop and turn" that we've always had. At least one style of control limits the ability to turn and removes the "instant drop." Using the Wii-mote seemed the most balanced option for us, holding it sideways in the NES style of control. Least favorite mode would be the simplified style of pointing and twisting. Tetris is a game I like to relax with, so more interaction or movement isn't really in the cards. Especially in a real party setting, the motion controls would be a neat addition to the game. Since putting this in doesn't appear to have removed other options, why not?

There are multiple profiles available in Tetris Party that allow more than one person in the home/apartment/dorm to create a presence and work through the game's single-player experience. It isn't like there is a deep backstory to appreciate, but the core gamers will love the fact that they are able to play all these new modes and expand their Tetris experience. Some purists will dislike the new format, no doubt. They are missing the fact that Tetris Party has the capability to expose a new, large audience to the franchise. One thing that assures the success of Tetris Party is how well it represents party and online game genres among a crowded slate of games that don't provide players with nearly enough depth. Making this available through Wiiware was a brilliant move, since it reinforces the Wi-Fi play option for gamers and provides the developers with some benchmarks for how well the game is moving into consumers' hands and with what frequency. Improving Tetris Party would be hard, and even though it isn't going to sweep any awards for creativity, it does expand a great deal of the Tetris universe through all these new modes. A must-have for Tetris fans and a highly worthy rental for anyone hosting a party where there will be a Wii handy. Tetris Party lives up to its name, with a fun nod to the traditional single-player style of play as it motors on past, carving out territory no Tetrimino has ever occupied.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

Windows Domain of Heroes Sony PlayStation 2 Ben 10 Alien Force

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated