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Tetris DS and the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection July 14, 2006

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Reviews, Video Games.
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On the day I was supposed to fly home, I made a trip to the Nintendo store in order to buy a copy of Tetris DS. The night before, while playing New Super Mario Bros. I unearthed the Warp Zone to World 8, so I figured my days in the Mushroom Kingdom were numbered and thought I could use a game that I could play without remorse for hours on end. The latest reincarnation of Tetris seemed to be just what the doctor ordered.

Anyone who would think that Tetris is passe couldn’t be more wrong. The game comes with six game modes to drive even the most line-creating obsessed person nuts. Apart from the standard Tetris mode, there’s a puzzle mode (clear X number of lines with Y number of blocks) a mission mode that forces players to perform certain tasks (i.e. clear three lines at once) throughout the course of a game, and a “touch” mode that utilizes the DS’s touch screen to clear out blocks. In addition to these, two new ways of playing Tetris are introduced. “Push” mode is like a cross between Tetris and reverse tug of war: with your area viewed on the top screen and that of your opponent in the bottom screen, the idea is for you to push him down by making lines of two or more; your opponent then tries to do the opposite by pushing you to the top instead. Then there’s the game’s “catch” mode, which is probably the hardest to describe. Here, you move and rotate a single block around the screen with Tetriminos (apparently, that’s what they call the Tetris shapes) flying past you; if you collect enough to form a 4×4 block they explode, clearing the screen and awarding you points – which you have to do in order to survive 20 levels. Trust me: it’s quite engaging when you figure it out and you only really understand it if you see it.

Not all the bells and whistles in the game really work, however. Notwithstanding the improved music and more colorful gameplay, the only game modes I really care for are the classic standard mode and the catch mode (this latter one is a real winner, but it’s a shame you can only go as far as level 20). More, the one feature advertised I was really looking forward to – which was the view of gameplay from past Nintendo games such as the NES Mario series, Ice Climber, Excite Bike and Zelda – on the top screen while playing standard mode – was the one that disappointed me the most. While these do get displayed like demos as you play, it’s practically impossible to watch unless you want to screw up the game you’re playing. But Tetris DS does compensate in other ways. Thankfully, the learning curve is quite fast even for the new game modes, and the ability to vary levels of difficulty can make the easier modes more challenging. I actually put the game through its paces during the flight home and had everything figured out by the time I arrived.

Of course, there is one added bonus to Tetris DS: its multiplayer functionality. Once I got the internet connection at home up and running, I naturally couldn’t resist trying it out over the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection. And then I got really addicted.

The game really shines in a multiplayer environment. Over Wi-Fi you have the option of playing standard head-to-head Tetris, or head-to-head push Tetris (which I avoid like the plague because I’m not too good at it!), or standard four player Tetris with items. This latter mode reminded me of the glory days of Tetrinet (sans the ability to switch screens), and some of the items Nintendo introduced from its repertoire make for really testy matches. Believe me: Tetris gets very interesting when player number 3 zaps you with a lightning bolt that prevents you from rotating your blocks!

This was my first foray into the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection, and it did not disappoint. There was no problem getting my DS to access my router and thereby the internet, and once that was done I was up and, uh, gaming in minutes. And the beauty of it all was precisely the ability to match wits at Tetris with anyone worldwide, the only downside being having to wait for opponents to play against (more a problem for four player games). It’s the ultimate competitive high playing against opponents that adapt to your playing stlyle and strategies in real time. More, for those really particular about these sorts of things, Nintendo maintains a system that ranks each player based on their wins against “better” or “worse” opponents (and if you log on to their website, you can see how you rank worldwide). Now I thought I played a mean game of Tetris, but some of the opponents I’ve played against are almost unreal. And that’s part of the charm. Even when you keep losing you think you can “get that one back”; and before you know it, you’ve played forty games and are none the wiser.

I admit: lately I can’t help but wonder whether I just got owned by some eight year old in Tokyo. Stranger things have happened.

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