Tetris is already a classic game. It's simple to learn but hard to master, and that's been the blueprint for almost all puzzle video games to ensure success beyond the core gaming crowd. Tetris has also become a staple for most video game consoles, including portable ones. For Nintendo, they owe Alexey Pajitnov's creation a debt of gratitude since it gave the Game Boy a huge initial user base with a pack-in Tetris game. Since then, every portable Nintendo console has had a Tetris game to call its own, and that tradition continues with Tetris: Axis for the Nintendo 3DS. One has to wonder if the extras are worthy of a purchase or if it would be better for players to stick with their existing Tetris game(s).
For the few who may be unfamiliar with the core game, Tetris is a puzzle title that doesn't follow the match-three formula. You're given a well in which to drop pieces. These pieces come in several distinct shapes, but all of them contain no more than four connected squares. Players must manipulate the shapes as they fall so that they form a complete horizontal line, making it disappear once the line is completed to make room for more falling shapes. Bonus points are given for completing more than one line simultaneously, with the completion of four lines being the pinnacle. As lines are completed, the rate at which pieces drop increases, and the game ends once there is no more room to manipulate said pieces.
There are a plethora of games contained in the cart, all of which are split up into several different modes. The Favorites mode contains a few games that are expected to see a lot of replay. Marathon is, of course, the standard game we've been playing for decades. As it is the official version sanctioned by the company, this means that the time slowdown via constant rotation and the hold space are still here, whether you like it or not. Survival ups the ante by narrowing the field and introducing lines that come up from below to push you to the top of the screen a little faster. Fever takes this same narrow field but adds in a timer to determine how many lines you can complete in 60 seconds. Here, items can also be used to earn more points, and the items can either be purchased with coins collected in the mode or by SpotPass through Internet hotspots. Finally, Computer Battle lets you fight against the computer-controlled Bomberman characters in a race to see who can outlast the other.
Party mode is, more or less, every game variation introduced in Tetris Party Deluxe, with some new ones thrown in for good measure. Master mode is simply regular Marathon mode but set on a speed that's so high blocks fall into place the very second they appear on-screen. Stage Racer Plus has you trying to get a pre-selected piece from one end of the track to the other before it gets stuck and forced to the top of the screen. The option of cutting from the left side to the right by moving the piece to blank areas is still here, but there's now a jump option to get out of a predicament if you think you can't make a move in time. Sprint has you trying to clear 40 lines in the fastest time possible. Fit presents the game from a top-down view as you try to fit the pieces in designated holes to completely fill a floor.
Jigsaw has you trying to replicate the image on the bottom screen before time expires while Shadow Wide has you trying to fill in the indicated areas of the playfield with blocks in a short amount of time. Tower Climber eschews traditional puzzle fare for a mode where you use the pieces to help a person climb a tower. The person can only climb one block at a time in either direction, and since blocks disappear when they go below a given line, some quick planning is needed to make it to the top before the person's health expires. Bombliss Plus is similar to what Nintendo put out on the SNES with Tetris 2. Standard Tetris rules apply, except for the fact that lines won't disappear until it contains a bomb. Bombs can also grow in size if packed together, making for bigger explosions that can take out more lines if you plan it correctly. Finally, there's Capture, where the objective is to cover up a star with pieces. The star must be covered on both sides, and the playfield will flip in order for this to happen.
Multiplayer mode differs depending on your configuration. If everyone has a copy of the game, you can participate in versus versions of Capture, Shadow Wide and Stage Racer, along with a co-op version of Tower Climber. Those without their own copies can play multiplayer versions of Marathon and Fever. While it is understandable that single-cart play would be limited, it's perplexing and cumbersome that Marathon and Fever aren't included in multi-cart play since everyone but the host has to switch between using and deactivating their carts if they want to play games in different categories.
One thing that is common between both multiplayer configurations is Battle, your typical adversarial mode where players play the main puzzle game while trying to outlast their opponents. This time around, players have an arsenal of weapons to give themselves the advantage or mess with their opponent. There's some mainstay stuff, such as control reversal, a UFO to remove blocks from your side, and the ability to throw random blocks into an opponent's play space. Then there are the 3DS-specific things, like tilting the system to fill in empty spaces and blowing random blocks to your opponent. You can opt to not use the items, but their chaotic nature makes the game interesting when compared to other versus Tetris modes.
Online mode is fun but when compared to local multiplayer, it feels limited. There's only Battle to play with, and this can be done in either public or private games. Item use is only active when the game has three or more players, but even during those one-on-one matches, bad things happen to your play space when multiple lines are cleared. There's no chat anywhere in the game, but there's also no lag, either, so it's almost guaranteed that online play will be as smooth as offline play.
There are many Tetris variations in Tetris: Axis. With all of these different modes, it's telling that the best is Marathon. Over 20 years later, the most basic mode of Tetris is still the most enjoyable game in the whole package, a sign of the timeless design. Even though it's much newer, Battle play against either the computer AI or real people is also lots of fun, as most versus modes tend to be. Bombliss, Fever and Sprint are also quite entertaining, but all of the other games feel like curiosities. Stage Racer Plus is decent but feels too much like a distraction in a puzzle package. Fit feels like a much better implementation of a top-down Tetris game, but the novelty doesn't last long when most of the puzzles are easy to solve. Jigsaw is entertaining if you like brain teasers, while Shadow Wide is good until you mess up, making it infuriating when you try to clean up the mess. Master mode is impossible to deal with, and Capture mode is confusing and goes against the puzzle mantra. As for Tower mode, it's nice enough, but after one or two tries, you'll find yourself leaving it for the other games in the pack.
By far the weakest mode in Tetris: Axis is the one that's exclusive to the system. AR mode tasks you with using your question mark AR card, which came with the console, as a backdrop for playing Tetris with augmented reality. You can play Fever or Tower Climber this way, and while the idea is nice, the execution is far from ideal. Fever requires a steady hand to prevent the user from getting sick at the constant motion, but considering that this is often a hard thing to do for any handheld, one can't really call this an enjoyable experience. Then there's the question of room and distance, especially for Tower Climber. At the default viewing angle, it's difficult to tell which block is being placed and how far you are from its stopping point. The constant turning and need for pivoting room around the card makes it hard for the camera to stay focused. This causes constant disappearances of the tower and makes it impossible to play a game like this. You'll probably try this once before you go back to the easier-to-manage modes.
As far as presentation is concerned, the game is much better than Hudson's last offering but not as good as Nintendo's version. A few of the backgrounds on the top screen are themed nicely and with some good animations so the board feels alive. The same can't be said of the bottom screen, which has very limited animations to go with the stats — and your Mii dancing around for no known reason. The music is your standard Tetris theme remixed, along with some other classic tunes in both original and remixed forms. It's inoffensive material that becomes background noise after a while. Unsurprisingly, 3-D adds nothing to the game. Even for games like Fit, it doesn't seem that the 3-D makes anything better or worse to use. In this case, it's best to leave the option turned off.
Without question, Tetris: Axis is a lot of fun. While the AR modes are a bust and some of the party modes are too complicated for their own good, the majority of the modes are good time-wasters, and the multiplayer modes certainly give the game some legs. The decision of whether the game is a worthy purchase will depend on plenty of factors. If you already own Tetris DS, there's no reason to grab this because you are essentially getting a prettier version of the DS game for about the same price. If you crave local multiplayer and your friends refuse to upgrade to a 3DS, then you have no choice but to go with Tetris Party Deluxe. If all you crave is the core experience, Tetris Party Live for DSiWare will do the trick at a much cheaper price. If everyone around you has the 3DS, though, don't hesitate to pick up this game. Just don't do so if you already own one of the aforementioned versions.
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