Tetris For One, Tetris For All.
When thinking of simple, addictive games whose formulae have had little transition over the years, it’s hard not to put Tetris near the top of the list. Since it captured audiences back in the Eighties, becoming one of the first video games the whole family wanted to steal time with, its portable iterations have always been the most welcomed. Yet with Nintendo’s heavy promotion of their first-party lineup for the 3DS, this just-released gem has flown under the advertising radar.
Trying to appeal to modern audience demand, Tetris: Axis comes packed with twenty different game modes and many ways to play each. As with every minigame collection, some stand out more than others, but there’s enough variety that you’re sure to find a few in which to clock many hours of game time.
The Featured Modes include: the classic Marathon, which can be played traditionally or on Endless; Computer Battle, a versus match against the AI of your chosen difficulty; and Survival, using a narrower Matrix field and line encroachment from the bottom up. The newest mode, called Fever, has the most substance and is promoted heavily by developer Hudson Soft. A quick game, you have sixty seconds to rack up as many points as possible and gain bonuses for meeting certain conditions, such as completing color challenges. Fever also makes use of a new item list, which helps you boost your total. Bombs, I-Tetrimino (which generates only the coveted line blocks for a limited time), and Time Bonus are only a few such items, purchased with coins you collect during a match. You can also collect this currency via the 3DS SpotPass function, which is finally put to good use for a tangible benefit.
The Party Mode offers some single-player alternatives, just different enough that they provide a break from your marathon on Marathon. Jigsaw and Shadow Wide are two variations of filling in a puzzle, with multiple levels of increasing difficulty. Bombliss Plus turns the Matrix into a virtual minefield, with explosions galore. Place your bomb parts right and you can fuse together super bombs for an even bigger “boom.” Capture forces you to strategize even more, by filling in randomly placed stars with their same-colored Tetrimino. In Stage Racer Plus you must guide your block through a maze, rotating your piece through tight passages and even jumping over barriers. Sprint tests your speed, by timing how quickly you can clear forty lines. Those seeking a real speed challenge, however, need look no further than Master Mode, which sets the fall speed at max right from the start. If you’re lucky you might get one or two lines cleared. Just don’t blink.
I applaud the developer’s attempt at thinking outside the box with the use of the system’s Augmented Reality feature. You can challenge yourself to an abridged version of Marathon or Tower Climber, which has you build a Tetrimino staircase to guide a little pixelated person to the top before the timer runs out. These modes are better than watching a still shot or animated character dance around on your carpet, but they are certainly more of a hassle than their standard mode counterparts. Marathon requires a precise viewing angle to even be playable, and you need to completely rotate around the AR card in Tower Climber to be successful. It may be fun to stack Tetriminoes with your favorite bobblehead nodding its approval onscreen, but it’s more for a chuckle than anything else.
Tetris has always been a way to get bragging rights, strutting your skills against friends and unknown worldwide opponents. The multiplayer selection of games may be slim, but Tetris: Axis certainly covers all the bases of connectivity. If your friends also made the purchase, you can hook up for VS Battle, Stage Racer, Shadow Wide, Capture, or take on Tower Climber co-op. Limited to one cartridge? You still can play Battle, Marathon, or Fever with friends using the Download Play. Some games even allow eight player matchups, for a frenzied circle of Tetrimino throwdowns. Online is limited to World Battle and Friend Battle, but considering the scarcity of 3DS titles with any online multiplayer, these battles are certainly a welcomed inclusion.
In each modes’ Battle matches, scoring good line clears will supply you with random items to attack your enemies. Each is sure to throw off any player’s groove, and some can be tastelessly exploited for easy victory, such as purposefully building a stack near the top and then using a Switch item to swap your board with another player. Tetris: Axis even makes use of the microphone with the Breath item, where you blow into the mic to send random blocks from your Matrix onto opponents’ boards.
The Leaderboards are also a welcome feature—not just for the World Battle, but for every mode. Think you’ve got the fastest time on Sprint? Upload your score and find out. Believe you’re the best at Bombliss? Confirm it online. Every single mode can be updated with your best scores and, if you make it into the top thirty, your glory will be on display for the world to see. The online matches follow a standard ranking format, starting you with a score of five thousand, which increases or decreases depending on how you placed in the match. For your own personal glory, each game also has medals to earn for completing objectives, such as surpassing a point threshold, or clearing a certain number of lines. Considering there are twenty minigames, each with separate achievements, it could take a good, long time to unlock them all. Thankfully, Tetris: Axis is addictive enough that you should have no problem doing just that.
Strong visuals have never been a prerequisite for a Tetris game, and yet Hudson Soft created beautiful backdrops, with clever 3D animations. The only problem is that most of your attention is focused on the board, leaving you completely oblivious to the beautiful landscapes, making it a smaller, though praiseworthy, feature.
The 3D feature doesn’t feel like a tacked on addition, but also doesn’t add much value to the experience. You’ll likely want to keep it off to avoid the inevitable headache, especially when the game’s pace picks up. There are a couple exceptions, however, with some innovative alternatives. In Tower Climber, it adds a nice dimension to the cylindrical structure as you move around it, but the most compelling is called Fit, where you fill in empty spaces in a square as it moves closer to the foreground. With the 3D effect and steadily increasing speed, seeing the board creeping closer to your face is sure to get your adrenaline pumping.
I’m happy to hear traditional tracks from the series make a return, providing a great sense of nostalgia and a nod to the game’s Russian roots. If you’re a fan of Tchaikovsky’s ballet compositions and other of the country’s classics, you’ll find many of them remixed here, with a slight techno flair. There isn’t much in the way of sound effects, except for the occasional bomb explosion or the twang from an item being used, but, like the visuals, these sounds are not what define Tetris.
This series has always been about the gameplay, and Tetris: Axis, like its predecessors, has kept the basic yet addictive puzzler intact, with a few variations to break up any monotony and satiate the “bang for your buck” audience. If it’s been a while since your last visit with the precious Tetriminoes, or you’re looking for a game that finally has a decent multiplayer feature set on the 3DS, then Tetris is an easy purchase – just be prepared to share with the rest of the family.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.7 Graphics
Bold colors and nice animations make the backgrounds pop, but the 3D effect is mostly a hindrance to the gameplay. 4.5 Control
Simple and familiar earn it high scores. But the body movement in the AR mode is just awkward. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Classic tunes create the perfect ambience. The effects are negligible, but this is a minor issue. 4.8 Play Value
A great selection of minigames, with awards, leaderboards, and decent multiplayer. A couple more online offerings would have given it a perfect score. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best