A host of all-new modes and features are packed into the first Tetris game to appear on Wii, including support for the Wii Balance Board. Add to that a budget price, core gameplay refinements, smooth online play and leaderboards and Tetris Party becomes one of the best games to ever be released in the series.
Tetris has seen countless releases and iterations spread amongst just about every platform to exist since its inception in 1985. Hudson Soft. (Bomberman) has taken the best gameplay elements from all of those games and omitted the much maligned “infinite spin” with permission from The Tetris Company. What is left is one of the tightest feeling Tetris games to date.
The default control setup in Tetris Party see a player holding their Wii Remote sideways. The 1 and 2 buttons are used to rotate tetriminoes, the d-pad controls movement and drop speed and the A button toggles the hold queue. A Classic Controller can also be used, providing players with a larger d-pad and shifting the hold queue to the more convenient trigger buttons.
What helps Tetris Party stand out from other games in the series is its impressive list of modes and features. I’ll spend most of my review breaking these down, starting with the single player options.
Here we find the classic Marathon Mode leading the way. Players can choose to play either to 150 lines cleared or test their stamina in endless mode as the tetriminoes fall faster and faster every level.
Next up is CPU Battle Mode. This is a 1-on-1 battle between you and a computer controlled opponent. There are 15 difficulty levels to challenge here. Once you reach level 9 or so, you’ll be playing against AI that is on par with an average player you’d meet online. If you manage to beat level 15, you’re probably ready to take on some of the elite Japanese players that dominate the online leaderboards.
Field Climber is a new and innovative mode in which you are tasked with helping a small man climb the play field, known in Tetris as the matrix. The small man can climb one square in height at a time and will be crushed if more than one square lands on him after clearing a line. There are flags spread around the matrix on the way to the goal line that you must guide the man to as well. This 10 stage mode is scored based on your clear time and gets quite tricky around the halfway mark.
Shadow Mode asks you to cover shapes with tetriminoes to paint a picture. In this mode you are scored based on how much of the picture you are able to fill before a set timer expires. Any squares that land outside of the shadow are counted against your complete percentage. There are 30 stages to complete here. Shadow Mode makes use of new 1, 2 & 3 square tetriminoes to help players fill in pictures with minimal penalization.
Finally we have Stage Racer. In this mode players guide a single tetrimino through a scrolling stage littered with obstacles. Players will have to move and rotate through five beginner and five advanced courses, each 400 lines in length while attempting to avoid getting stuck on a wall.
Tetris Party allows local multi-player for up to 4 people. You can challenge your friends to competitive versions of Battle, Field Climber and Stage Racer Modes. Hot Lines Mode makes a return to the series, tasking players to clear certain lines of the matrix before their competition does. I was surprised that there was no single player version of Hot Lines.
For the first time ever, two players can play Tetris co-operatively. Co-op mode sees players working together to clear lines in a double-wide matrix in a new Marathon Mode. One player is given ”J”,”L” and “O” tetriminoes, while the other uses the “S”, “T” and “Z” tetriminoes. Both players get “I” pieces from time to time. Because of the distribution of the various shaped tetriminoes and the fact that both players share one hold queue, good communication and teamwork must be in place to clear 150 lines or try for a high score in endless mode.
Duel Spaces is another new and unique mode found in Tetris Party. Players take turns placing tetriminoes in an effort to block off the most space. Whoever has the most spaces under their control when the game ends wins the match. This mode is simple, fun and addictive, similar to playing something like Othello.
Beginner’s Tetris doubles the size of the tetriminoes and uses the new 2 & 3 square ones found in Shadow Mode as well, making it easier for newcomers to clear lines. Marathon is the only play mode found in Beginner’s Tetris, however you can still toggle endless mode on or off and there is also an option to include the regular 4 square tetriminoes to provide a nice step into the difficulty of normal Tetris.
Next up we have the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection online mode. Here is where you can test your skill against people in your Wii friends list, or random players from all over the world. Once you enter World Battle mode, you will either end up playing a one-on-one battle if you choose to leave items turned off or a free-for-all for up to six players with battle items.
Battle items create effects like smoke screens, speeding up your opponent’s tetriminoes and wiping out all of the lines of your matrix. Though they add a fun and hectic dynamic, I did have one issue with battle items. When playing with a Classic Controller it was difficult to pick up my Wii Remote and shake it to dissolve a smoke screen or shoot blocks at an opponent’s screen without making several mistakes.
Online rankings are handled in the same way they were in Tetris DS. Everyone starts out with a score of 5000 and points are gained or lost based on wins and losses. In a typical two-player battle I received 25 points for every victory and 22 points were removed from my total when I lost. Players are paired during matchmaking based on their skill score.
A nice touch when playing online is that players are sent into a practise mode while waiting for other players to arrive. It’s a great way to warm up and pass the 15-90 seconds it generally takes to find a match.
I should note that though I was playing primarily on the day Tetris Party was released, the online population seemed sparse. In over 50 online matches I have yet to play one with a full six players. Finding a one-on-one match quickly was never an issue though and most players are willing to play at least 2-3 matches with you in a session.The only thing I found missing was the ability to add someone as a friend. Everything is entirely anonymous, to the point of your opponent being called “P2” instead of their chosen nickname.
Tetris Party includes a robust stat tracking system for both your offline records and worldwide online leaderboards. High scores are kept for every single and local multi-player mode and variation. Players can also view a skill graph that shows how you rate in categories like judgement and reflexes.
Online records appear not only World Battle but for many of the offline modes as well, including Shadow, Stage Racer and Co-op modes. Other records like consecutive or back-to-back Tetrises are also kept. Accessing and updating the leaderboards is a quick and easy process.
The game also has a built in achievement system that has over 100 goals to complete across all of the modes and variations in Tetris Party. It’s a nice touch, but the game never tells you when you’ve completed a goal, nor does it hint at what any of them are.
Online tournaments promise to play a role in the future of Tetris Party. The first tournament is scheduled to start on December 1, 2008. These events will see players from all over the world competing for real prizes like Wii Points.
Last, but not least we find Balance Board Tetris. This unique mode requires you to lean and squat in order to control the falling tetriminoes. The mode is played using the larger sized tetriminoes found in Beginner’s Tetris. Control is simplified quite a bit here; there is no hold queue, hard drop or counter-clockwise rotation available.
Getting through Marathon mode on the Balance Board proved to be quite a workout for me. By the end of my 15 minute session I had worked up a sweat and a decent heart rate. There is also a 3 minute Ultra mode to play for those looking for a quick fix. Rounding out the variations is Computer Battle, which is essentially the same as the standard controlled version.
Tetris Party uses a simplified, clean look for its visual presentation. The blocks and tetriminoes are crisp, with no added effects or distractions like Tetris Splash or Tetris Evolution. Even the moving backgrounds are subdued, allowing a player to focus on the matrix. Mii integration is present as well, a welcome addition after loosing the heavily Nintendo-styled look and feel of Tetris DS.
The music is of the generic, elevator ride nature. Nothing really stands out, but nothing is grating either even though there are only 7 tracks to choose from during gameplay. Old-school fans need not fear, as the classic “Tetris tune” is among those available.
With the inclusion of 18 different modes, strong online play, leaderboards and even Balance Board support, one could argue that this is the best Tetris ever released. It’s missing some of the flair and online features of Tetris DS, but at a price of $12 Tetris Party is an unbelievable value. Any fan of the series, especially those with friends to play with should consider this title a must-have.
+ Tons of modes, many of which are new
+ Robust stat tracking
+ Solid online play with leaderboards
+ No infinite spin
– Achievement system doesn’t tell you when you’ve completed a goal