Genre : Puzzle
Release Date: June 13, 2003
Back in the day, Tetris was something of a controversial game, hard as it may be to believe. I'm old enough to distinctly remember the Nintendo/Tengen flap, which indirectly resulted in Tengen making those stealthy-looking black unauthorized cartridges, and the relatively short-lived puzzle-game craze. Tetris' success, both in arcades and on the NES, gave rise to the Game Boy — I remain convinced that the old pea-soup-green-screen Game Boy would not have succeeded as spectacularly as it did, had Nintendo not included Tetris as a pack-in — and to an entire genre of like-minded puzzle games. Two console generations later, here we are with Dr. Mario, Columns, Bust-A-Move, Puzzle Bobble, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, Wetrix, Dr. Mario 64 (yeah, Nintendo, 'cause that license was cryin' out for a sequel), Bejeweled, and countless others.
When the aforementioned pea-soup Game Boy came out — you know, the one where the screen began irreversibly degrading after about three weeks, but was otherwise so thickly built that a first-gen Game Boy can sometimes survive partial immersion in lava — I managed to talk my way into getting one for my birthday, owing entirely to the presence of Tetris as a pack-in cart. It was a pretty solid case of the parents getting the kid a gift which they would then monopolize; my mom is a dyed-in-the-wool Tetris addict, even today. When I could wrest it away from her, my friends and I used to have intense linked-up Tetris marathons in the playground during recess.
My first thought, when I heard of the existence of an X-Box Live-enabled version of Tetris Worlds, was something along those lines. It was one of those gameplay ideas that I couldn't believe no one had thought of before: head-to-head Tetris over the Internet via a tabletop console, and with the Live headset, the smack-talk was even included.
Then I actually got ahold of the game, and my hopes sank.
First things first: this game has a story mode. I have mentioned this to everyone I know, and universally, the reaction is something along the lines of "Why?" This story mode, justified slightly by the presence of a bouncing, customizable polyhedron with an eye, is nothing more than time-trial one-player Tetris with a variety of handicaps. It's not much to speak of, and it's still Tetris, for the most part, but anyone who turns on the game and sees the "Story Mode" option is entitled to a loud "What the [expletive]?!" It's your right.
Further, above and beyond the various play modes, this is a slightly different version of Tetris than the one I've grown up playing. For example, when you clear a given level, the whole screen clears. This came as a great surprise to me, as did the ability to hit the R-trigger and save the currently falling block, so you can bring out a holdout should you need one. Tetris is a classic, and arguably didn't need any such mutations, but yet, here they are.
Further, Tetris Worlds' designers have chosen to saddle us with the most insanely repetitive quasi-trance music ever composed by a 9-year-old with a Casio. I have not managed to go five minutes in this game without someone commenting on how much the music sucks. Unless your idea of a good time is getting hypnotized by six bars of smooth jazz repeated over and over again, occasionally accompanied by a whispering female voice announcing "single, double, triple, Tetris, countdown," in a tone better suited to asking what you're wearing than doing callouts for a puzzle game, then you might want to shut off the music.
That said, once you get over the understandable layer of culture shock — this is not the Tetris of your childhood — it's still pretty solid. 'Net play comes off without a hitch, featuring Knock-Out mode, which punishes the other players if you get a tetris. This is the closest thing in the game to the Game Boy matches I was talking about earlier, with the added bonus of four-player mode.
Any gamer worth the name should have a copy of Tetris in his collection. For my money, the old Tetris Game Boy cart is still the best, with Tengen's black cart coming in a close second. Tetris Worlds is fun for a while, but it manages to add unnecessary complications and lousy music to a classic game, and as such, should only be bought if you're looking to fill that Tetris-shaped gap in your collection.