Nintendo Fall Media Summit: Tetris Party

Okay, I’ll admit it hasn’t been cool to get excited about a Tetris game since the early nineties, and what with the release of such category-five disasters as Tetrisphere and Tetris Worlds, it’s easy (and probably intelligent) to approach any new, “updated” iteration of the classic Alex Pajitnov-developed masterpiece with skeptism. Despite all of this, Tetris Party, published by Honolulu based Tetris Online and developed by Bomberman creators Hudson Soft, is looking quite promising.

The core gameplay hasn’t changed at all. The marathon and basic vs. modes of years past return unchanged (save for online capability.) The real draw with Tetris Party comes in the form of its new modes, most of which utilize the Wii-mote in some way.

Here’s a quick rundown of the game’s new modes and how they played:

Field Climber: Using the Tetris pieces, players must help a small climber reach the top of the matrix. It’s an interesting concept and seems relatively simple, but I had a hard time with this particular mode. First of all, the climber’s movements are very sporadic. I couldn’t get a hold on where he was going or which blocks he would decide to climb up, and I ended up crushing him or getting him stuck more times than I got him to actually make any progress. It plays completely differently than any Tetris mode I’ve played before, which is both a good thing and a bad thing—good in that it makes an attempt to innovate and bad in that it’s almost nothing like the tried-and-true Tetris formula. With some practice, however, I can see this mode being entertaining, especially in multiplayer.

Shadow: A darkened area within the matrix designates where players have to fill their pieces. A player wins based on how close they were to filling in only the designated, or “shadow” area. A percentage at the bottom of the screen dictates how close a player is to filling it up, deductions based on both empty spaces and Tetris blocks that fall outside of the designated area. This mode was surprisingly fun, especially in multiplayer. If a player manages to collect a special item, he can use it to destroy blocks in his opponents puzzle. While incredibly satisfying, and perhaps vital to victory in certain cases, having this done to you can be incredibly irritating, especially if you’ve already completed the puzzle. Here’s to competition!

Stage Racer: 1-4 players must guide a single Tetris piece through an obstacle course of stationary Teriminos. The president of Tetris Online promised this mode will help inexperienced players learn various flipping techniques to help them become better players. I don’t know about that: I button mashed and still managed to do well. Hopefully it gets much more difficult as you progress through the mode’s multiple courses.

Co-op Tetris: Two players work together to clear lines. It was, believe it or not, quite fun and involved—my teammate and I were constantly communicating. To my surprise, the addition of teamwork really deepens the Tetris experience without completely altering the dynamic. This one will be fun.

Duel Spaces: My personal favorite, this mode has two players taking turns placing blocks in the matrix not to clear lines, but to create as much space as possible. The player who completes the border around a patch of empty spaces claims those spaces as his own and whoever has the most spaces at the end of the game is the winner. This mode is turn-based, so players can strategize their next move between turns. It’s very slow paced, and really isn’t Tetris at all—but it’s a lot of fun.

Balance Board Tetris: Players use the balance board to move and flip pieces. Yes, this is as awkward and horrible as it sounds. The balance board is far too sensitive, and I constantly found myself moving a piece to the bottom because I was leaning just a little too far to the back. Squatting to flip pieces is very unnatural. This mode needs some tweaking if it’s going to be any fun—but with the release date so soon, it will probably remain as is, which is rather unfortunate.

Will this plethora of new modes and the promise of online gameplay be enough to make the game worth your time and money when it releases this month? We’ll see, but so far it’s looking like a promising and varied reimagining of the Tetris formula.