Tetris 99 Review

Tetris really is the eternal video game. No matter how gaming evolves and advances, no matter how quickly it makes progress, Tetris remains one of the medium’s few constants. While many critically-acclaimed titles prove to lose their luster in the long term, Tetris will always be one of gaming’s quintessential titles.

Tetris 99 – the completely free Nintendo Switch exclusive – is just another example of Tetris’s uncanny ability to adapt to any gaming landscape. As the battle royal genre has quickly come to prominence thanks to PlayerUnkown’s BattleGround and Fortnite Battle Royal, Tetris 99 throws the classic puzzler’s hat into this ring. Somewhat poetically, the simplicity of Tetris translates so easily into the battle royal genre that it’s currently the best product of the genre on the market.

To put it simply, Tetris 99 is exactly what it says it is: Tetris with ninety-nine players. Simply start up a game, and soon enough you’ll be paired with ninety-eight other players from across the globe, experiencing the classic Tetris gameplay as you aim to be the last player standing.

The core gameplay remains as it always has: the flawless combination of different shaped ‘Tetrominos” fall from the top of the screen, with the player needing to fit them into rows, thus eliminating them, earning points, and preventing them from reaching the top of the screen. Like in most competitive Tetris titles, clearing rows will also send “garbage blocks” to your opposition. Garbage blocks rise from the bottom of the screen, and bring the player closer to defeat.

Of course, with ninety-nine players, things can get chaotic really quickly. Players control the Tetrominos on their board with the D-pad, while they target other players using the joysticks to aim at any of the other players on screen. The chaos begins once players start getting eliminated, and their are fewer and fewer targets on the board. As you may have guessed, this means that multiple players will soon start to target the same opponent. And if you happen to be that opponent, you can kiss your hopes of victory goodbye.

Admittedly – perhaps due to the battle royal genre still being in its infancy – the translation of Tetris to the genre isn’t quite perfect. Given that there are ninety-eight miniature boards representing the other players on the screen, it’s hard to make out the details of what they’re doing, which means you’re mostly targeting other players at our random or, at its worst, forgetting to change targets at all and just let the cursor move on its own as players are eliminated. Of course, compared to the bugs, glitches, and technical issues that still plague PUBG and Fortnite, the sometimes rough translation of Tetris 99 isn’t so bad.

The sometimes confusing interface prevents Tetris 99 from reaching its full potential, but it’s still the most easily accessible and fun battle royal title yet. It takes one of gaming’s greatest classics and uses it to help polish up a contemporary genre. And as a free download, there’s absolutely no reason why every Switch owner shouldn’t have it in their library.

Plus, come on, it’s Tetris.

 

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Tetris Effect Review

*Review based on Tetris Effect as played on Playstation 4. Maybe one day I will experience it on PSVR*

There is a common misconception that video games are an “in the moment” medium, and that whatever the current landscape of gaming is is guaranteed to be its apex, knocking yesteryear’s games to irrelevancy. While it’s true that video games are a bit more susceptible to age than other mediums given both their interactive mechanics and that technology advances so quickly these days, plenty of titles from gaming history stand the test of time, proving that fun and creativity aren’t bound to the technology that presents them. And perhaps no game has better stood the test of time than Tetris. The brainchild of Alexey Pajitnov has remained a touchstone in gaming for over three decades, shaping the puzzle genre and seeing a re-release on any and every platform that’s capable of playing video games to this day.

Tetris Effect – the PS4 exclusive named after the real world psychological effect Tetris can have on the mind – is but the latest iteration of the timeless puzzler. While the ageless masterpiece remains intact, a few additional modes, along with some spectacular visual effects and music, make Tetris Effect feel like the go-to version of Tetris on contemporary hardware.

The core gameplay is, of course, as it’s always been: block pieces fall from the top of the screen, and players have to fit them together into full rows, thus eliminating them and racking up points. The blocks (called “Tetrominos”) come in seven different shapes, and as the game goes on and the blocks drop faster, the player has to think fast in order to continuously complete rows to keep the game going.

There is a new addition to the classic gameplay, however, with the ability to enter “the Zone.” By eliminating rows, you gain energy, and once enough energy is stored, you can enter the Zone at the press of a button. While in the Zone, time freezes, and the blocks no longer fall on their own. This gives the player some time (until the energy runs out) to complete extra rows and earn additional points, and can be a real godsend when the speed really picks up in the late game.

Tetris Effect features a kind of campaign mode, in which the player has to complete twenty-seven different stages in order to complete the game. While all these stages can be replayed once completed, in order to progress in the ‘story’ players have to complete 36 rows on each stage (save for the last, which requires 90). The stages are separated into different ‘worlds,’ and if you perform well enough on each stage, you can complete a whole world without continuing for an even greater score.

“Can I, like, drown in this game?”

While the only gameplay difference between stages is the difficulty, every last stage boasts its own visuals and musical score. And, my word, what fantastic visuals and music they are! Each level is an audial and visual wonder, with brilliant little touches added to the experience, such as each fallen block adding a beat to the music, and a surprise visual effect accompanying the completion of a Tetris (four rows at once). Tetris Effect is a stunningly beautiful game, but its aesthetic wonders aren’t so much a display of PS4’s hardware capabilities (though they are that too) so much as they are used to showcase an almost spiritual reverence for the Tetris experience. This isn’t merely another port of Tetris, but a gushing love letter to the iconic puzzler. Every audio and visual pleasures serves as its most blatant means of worship towards the grand daddy of falling block games, and to give the player that same level of reverence for Tetris.

“Seriously, I want to eat, sleep and breath this game.”

There are a number of additional modes added to the mix to keep things fresh. One sees players trying to eliminate ‘cursed’ blocks by completing the rows they’re found on, with more cursed blocks spawning after an allotted time. One of my favorite new modes will count down a set number of blocks, and after said blocks are placed, a line block will automatically fall into a designated spot, leaving the player to strategize around the inevitable line blocks. The new modes are fun and plentiful, and give a variety of alternatives for when you want a change of pace.

Sadly, there is one glaring omission with Tetris Effect: it lacks multiplayer. Though players can check out other player profiles around the world and see what modes they’re currently playing or prefer to play, you can never actually play a round of Tetris with another player, whether locally or online. This is more than a little disappointing, given that puzzle games are often at their best when they bring out the competitive nature in multiple players (see Tetris Battle Gaiden). And with the fun new modes Tetris Effect brings to the table, it makes you wish the game would have put that same inventiveness to the test for a multiplayer mode (even something as simple as two or more players taking turns in placing Tetrominos on the same board would bring a fun new twist to the formula). For all the many things Tetris Effect gets right, the absence of any kind of multiplayer mode feels like a missed opportunity.

Tetris Effect may not reinvent the timeless formula Alexey Pajitnov created over three decades ago, but it does deliver an undeniably beautiful experience that may just deepen your appreciation for what is the most accomplished of video games. Tetris Effect expresses such a devout admiration for its source material that it’s impossible not to be taken aback by it.

 

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Top 10 Video Game Launch Titles

With my recent overhaul of Wizard Dojo (with a new overall look and new scoring system), I figured I’d ring in this new era of Wizard Dojo-ing with a revised version of the very first ‘top list’ I ever posted here at the Dojo; Top Video Game Launch Titles!

The first time around, I listed five games, plus some runners-up. This time around, I’m upping things to a top 10!

Video game consoles are defined by their best games. Sometimes, a console doesn’t have to wait very long to receive its first masterpiece, with a number of consoles getting one of their definitive games right out the gate. Although it used to be more commonplace for a console to receive a launch title that would go down as one of its best games, the idea of a killer launch title is becoming a rarer occurrence in gaming.

Still, launch games have more than left their mark on the industry. Here are, in my opinion, the 10 most significant video games to have launched their console.

Continue reading “Top 10 Video Game Launch Titles”

Soldam: Drop, Connect, Erase Review

*This review originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*

The falling block puzzle game is one of gaming’s most reliable genres. Though they tend to be simple on the surface, the gameplay of the genre that Tetris built tends to be deeper and more complex than it at first appears, making for immense replay value and pure, unadulterated gaming fun.

One of the more popular falling block puzzlers of the early 90s was the arcade title Soldam, which has found its way onto the Nintendo Switch with updated graphics while still maintaining its classic charm. Though Soldam (now boasting the subtitle of “Drop, Connect, Erase”) may not be one of the best block puzzlers out there, its simple twist on the genre is another reminder why these types of games will always be fun.

The basic premise of Soldam is the same as any other title in the genre: blocks fall from the top of the screen, and threaten to fill up every last space. You need to match up the blocks by their respective colors to eliminate them. The more you manage to eliminate, the higher your score. But should the blocks make it to the top of the screen, it’s game over.

Soldam comes with a twist, however. Instead of falling blocks, it’s fruit that falls down from the heavens (called “Soldam fruit,” in case you were wondering where the strange title comes from). The fruit always comes in groups of four, thus still technically making a block. You can rotate each quartet of fruit in order to match the colored fruits up with other fruits of their corresponding color, with an entire row needing to be made the same color in order to eliminate it.

There’s another major twist in the usual puzzle gameplay in the form of “flanking,” which ends up being Soldam’s biggest draw. You see, even if you run into a tight spot and need to place mismatched colors in an otherwise consistent row, you can still rectify it by placing the proper color on top of (or to the side of, or diagonally from) the misplaced color, which will then “flank” the misplaced color, and change it to the desired color.

For example, if you have a row that consists of mostly red fruit, but contains one or two yellow fruit, just place more red fruit over the yellow fruit in such a way that makes the yellow fruit a “bridge” between red fruit. Once the yellow fruit becomes sandwiched by the red fruit, it will become red, thus completing the row.

Of course, you’ll have to be extra careful as the game goes on, because if you make too many mistakes, it will be all the more difficult to try and flank them. And as a match goes on, additional colors will be added (you start with only two). And you can only flank through one color. If a blue fruit gets in the way of the yellow, the red fruit can’t flank through it.

It’s a really simple concept, but it proves to be a lot of fun the more you play it. It may not turn the genre on its head like Tetris Attack or Tetris Battle Gaiden, but Soldam is nonetheless addicting and mentally stimulating, as any self-respecting puzzle game should be.

On the downside of things, Soldam doesn’t boast a whole lot of variety.  Along with the traditional mode of trying to get a high score, there’s also an “endless mode,” two-player versus matches, and challenge mode, which puts you into a series of quick objectives (eliminate so many rows within a set number of turns, destroy several rows at the same time, etc.). There’s definitely fun to be had here, but none of the additional modes add a whole lot to the experience.

Soldam may not rank as one of the best falling block titles I’ve played, but its simple mechanic of flanking proves to be a very engaging concept, and the game is complimented by cute visuals and characters, as well as a catchy soundtrack. Soldam may not be the perfect puzzler, but it makes for a fine addition to any collection for fans of the genre.

 

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Tetris Attack Review

In 1995, Nintendo released Panel De Pon on the Super Famicom. It was something akin to an inverse Tetris. A falling-block puzzle game where the blocks ascended from the bottom of the screen, as opposed to falling from the top. In 1996, Panel De Pon was brought stateside under the name Tetris Attack, swapping out the original Panel De Pon characters with a motif based on Yoshi’s Island. The game was later re-released on the Nintendo 64 with yet another new title, Pokemon Puzzle League, using characters and visuals from the Pokemon anime. While Pokemon Puzzle League is the version that has seen subsequent releases through Nintendo’s downloadable services, the Yoshi’s Island aesthetic makes Tetris Attack the most endearing version of this overlooked gem of a puzzler.

As stated, despite having the name Tetris in its title, Tetris Attack works as a reversed version of the falling-block puzzle genre made famous by Tetris. Here, the blocks all rise up from the bottom of the screen. Nor do these blocks come in different shapes. Instead, they are all bricks adorned with different colors and symbols (like red blocks with hearts, yellow blocks with stars, and blue blocks with diamonds.

The player moves a cursor around, which looks like two squares clumped together. The player moves the cursor up, down, left and right with the D-pad, with the A and B buttons being used to swap whatever two blocks are within the cursor. By moving the blocks around, players are supposed to line up at least three blocks of the same color (either horizontally or vertically) in order to eliminate them and prevent the blocks from reaching the top of the screen, which results in a game over.

But wait, there’s another twist to the formula at play. If you manage to chain four or five blocks of the same color together, or get an ongoing combo going, you’ll drop what’s called a “garbage block” on your opponent. Garbage blocks make things more difficult for whoever ends up with them. Players eliminate the garbage blocks by completing a series of blocks adjacent to the garbage block, which then turns into a series of regular blocks. Additionally, rare exclamation point blocks may appear, and if you manage to chain them, you’ll drop a metal garbage block on your opponent, which is even tougher to get rid of.

Like most of the great puzzle games, the gameplay is instantly understandable, but so well executed that you could play it for hours at a time. Tetris Attack will have you thinking and strategizing on the fly, racking your brain to find the quickest combos possible. It’s insanely fun.

Tetris Attack features a host of different modes, such as endless (where you simply play and rack up points until the blocks inevitably take over), and the oddly-named Versus Mode – which is more of a story mode – where players control Yoshi as he battles his friends (such as Poochy and Lakitu) to free them from a curse, and then take the fight to Bowser and his minions (in which all of your freed allies serve as additional tries).

The single player modes are all fun, but no doubt it’s the multiplayer that will keep you coming back. Tetris Attack is one of the most fun puzzle games I’ve played, and if you have another player willing to tackle it, you can easily get lost in its action.

Once again, the game has seen many different facelifts through the years. And while the core gameplay remains the same in each iteration, Tetris Attack serves as a testament to the appeal of a franchise name, because – as stated – the Yoshi’s Island characters and visuals make it the definitive version of the game.

Sure, playing the game under any of its guises is fun, and if you can more readily play it in one of its other forms, go for it. But there’s just something so charming about the Yoshi’s Island aesthetics, that it gives the game its cutest, most appealing packaging. Tetris Attack even includes some great remixes of Yoshi’s Island tunes, as well as some stellar original music, which is refreshingly peaceful and calming. Until, of course, the blocks raise too high, and the music becomes more appropriately hectic.

Tetris Attack is pure fun. It remains one of the best multiplayer titles of the 16-bit generation, and is one of the most addictive puzzle games around. The Panel De Pon formula is something special in the falling-block genre, and wrapping it up in a Yoshi’s Island motif just makes it all the sweeter.

 

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Tetris Battle Gaiden Review

Tetris Battle Gaiden

Sometimes, the simplest video games are the best ones. Look no further for a testament to this than Tetris, the original falling-block puzzler which remains one of the most timeless classics in the medium. Tetris is essentially perfect as is, but its iconic status (as well as its simple formula) also means that other games have tried to put their own spin on its gameplay. One of the better of these Tetris spinoffs is also one of the most obscure, and comes in the form of Tetris Battle Gaiden, a puzzle game released exclusively on the Japanese Super Nintendo, the Super Famicom.

This Japan exclusive, released in 1993, features the same addicting gameplay as the perennial classic, with the same exact block shapes that the players must construct in such a way as to complete a row, which eliminates those blocks and prevents them from stacking too high. If the blocks reach the top of the screen, you lose.

Tetris Battle Gaiden changes thing up with one simple yet profound addition to the formula: magic spells.

In Tetris Battle Gaiden, players can select a small variety of cute, colorful characters (like a ninja, a wolfman, a princess, and a strange rabbit-like creature, to name a few), each one boasting four different magic spells.

Tetris Battle GaidenSpells are used by collecting orb-like crystals during the gameplay. These crystals are found on some of the falling blocks, and if you manage to eliminate a row of blocks that houses a crystal, you gain that crystal. Casting spells is performed (somewhat strangely) by pressing up on the D-pad. If you have only one crystal, your character will use their level 1 spell. Two crystals for level 2, three for level 3, and four for level 4.

These spells all work to either aide you or hinder your opponent. The Wolfman, for example, can make his opponent’s blocks fall in slow-motion for a short time, while the Princess can duplicate the current block setup of her opponent.

The spells are a whole lot of fun, and come complete with fun little animations for each individual spell for each character. But these spells also work as something of a double-edged sword, which prevents them from being too overpowered. For example, if the Wolfman slows down an opponent whose stacks of blocks aren’t as high as his own, it means the Wolfman has to work twice as fast as the other player if he hopes to eliminate his own blocks. And should the Princess’ opponent have a higher stack of blocks, it’s obviously not a great idea to duplicate it.

This may sound like a small addition to the classic Tetris formula, but it really does add a new level of competitiveness and strategy to the equation. Not to mention it’s one of the very few instances in which selecting a different character in a puzzle game actually makes a difference to gameplay.

Tetris Battle GaidenThere are some minor annoyances with the game, like the inability to select the background stage or music (it simply goes with the stage and music of the character selected by player 2). Nothing major, but the ability to actually select the background visuals and music would have been nice, especially the music, since the soundtrack is insanely catchy and fun.

Tetris Battle Gaiden may not reinvent the formula, but it puts a fresh twist on an all-time classic and gives it a whole new dimension. It’s an incredibly addictive puzzle game that makes for some terrific multiplayer fun. If you can somehow get a hold of a Super Famicom, Tetris Battle Gaiden is a must-have.

 

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Top 5 Video Game Launch Titles

 

SMB

Video game consoles are defined by their best games. Sometimes, consoles don’t have to wait very long to receive a console-defining game. Sometimes such a game is available on day one, if not included right out of the box with the console! Although this trend of iconic launch games has dwindled in more recent years, there’s no denying the impact a launch game can have on its system. Here are what I consider to be the top five launch games of all time. But first, let’s take a look at some honorable mentions. Continue reading “Top 5 Video Game Launch Titles”