The latest iteration of the venerable Tetris series finds its home on the Nintendo 3DS in the form of Tetris Axis. This version, developed by Hudson Soft, offers 15 single player modes that include favourites like Marathon and Tower Climber in addition to two AR modes and the all-new Fever mode.
The game brings a fair amount of new content to the table, some of which is good, but the AR modes are downright terrible. Tetris Axis also offers a host of local and online multiplayer options, but it falls short in its presentation and suffers from surprising performance issues.
Designed with portability in mind, Tetris Axis lets you jump into Marathon, Fever and the AR modes straight from the title screen. From the main menu you can select from a number of categories: Featured, Party, AR, Local Play, Download Play and Internet.
The Featured modes include the classic Marathon that allows you to play to 150 lines or try your hand at an endless variation. Computer Battle pits you against 10 computer-controlled opponents from the Bomberman universe in succession. This mode is a great way to practise for online play and learn the effects of the various in-game items, but it’s surprising that there aren’t Nintendo-themed opponents.
Fever mode is a new addition that gives you 60 seconds to score as many points as possible using a narrow Matrix (playfield). Playing Fever mode earn you coins that you can then spend on in-game items when starting a round which can assist you in getting high scores.
Survival mode also employs a narrow Matrix and tasks you with surviving as long as possible while lines periodically appear from the bottom and push their way to the top.
The Party category features three new modes to play. Jigsaw mode asks you to recreate an image using Tetriminos made up of a single block. Fit mode utilizes 3D space and requires you to shoot Tetriminos through holes of the same shape on an approaching plane, similar to Hole in the Wall. In Capture mode, you must cover stars on the Matrix and your score is based on how much time it takes you to collect them all.
You will also find variations on modes introduced in previous Tetris titles under the Party category. Shadow Wide mode tasks you with placing Tetriminos in line with the shadow on the background to complete a picture. In Tower Climber mode, you help a stick man climber reach the top of the Matrix by stacking Tetriminos into stair-like structures. Bombliss Plus mode asks players to clear lines with bomb pieces in them in order to destroy a chunk of blocks.
Stage Racer Plus is a vertically-scrolling mode in which you must fit a single Tetrimino through a “race course”. Master Mode asks you to clear as many lines as you can while Tetriminos fall at their fastest speed from the get-go. Sprint Mode is all about clearing 40 lines in the fastest time possible.
The new modes, returning modes and variations on past ones add up to a good amount of content and mostly hit the mark; however the two new AR modes do not mesh well with the traditionally fast-paced, precision nature of Tetris at all and amount to a poorly executed gimmick.
The AR modes require you to place the “?” AR card that comes with your 3DS system on a flat surface and have room to move around the card. After a brief calibration, a Matrix will appear to pop out of your table and you can begin play.
AR Marathon mode uses a narrow Matrix and over-sized Tetriminos and ends after 50 lines. AR Tower Climber mode has you guiding the climber up a tower, this time in 3D space.
The real problem with the AR modes is that they require you to stand and move around the AR card as you play in order to keep the Matrix in a playable view. It’s next to impossible to keep the 3DS steady while playing, especially while moving around the card. This not only hinders the gameplay experience, but also breaks the 3D effect.
The multiplayer component of Tetris Axis includes five modes playable in Local Play; VS Battle, VS Stage Racer, VS Shadow Wide, VS Capture, and Co-op Tower Climber. Local Play requires each player to have a 3DS and a copy of the game. Download play lets up to eight players share one copy of the game and play Marathon with Everyone, Fever with Everyone, and VS Battle.
Internet play lets you choose between Friend Battle and World Battle. When choosing World Battle, the system will wait for up to eight players to join and toggle their ready status. The system will start the match after 60 seconds and the timer resets every time a new player joins the match. During this time, or once you’ve been eliminated from a match, the game will put you into Practise mode.
The system matches players based on their skill level, similar to Tetris DS. In my experience, finding someone to play a simple 1-on-1 match has been tough outside of Friend Battle and I haven’t found much to enjoy in frantic, item-laden matches with 5-8 random people.
The presentation of Tetris Axis is lacklustre compared to previous entries in the series and eshcews the heavy Nintendo-themed presentation that made Tetris DS so popular. Outside of the AR modes and Fit mode, the 3D effect in Tetris Axis is barely relevant at all. In most modes, it simply pushes HUD elements to the forefront.
Generic animated themes populate the background on both screens while in most single player modes your Mii dances on the bottom screen and reacts to the gameplay somewhat. CPU Batle mode features a Bomberman chacter on the bottom screen and multiplayer modes have the Matrixes of other players.
I’m not sure if it was poor optimization of these background elements on the part of HudsonSoft or if hardware limitations of the 3DS are to blame, but Tetris Axis suffers from noticeable, at times extreme slowdown when your stack reaches the top of the Matrix, both in single player and multiplayer modes, which can impact the gameplay significantly and is something I haven’t encountered since Tetrisphere on the Nintendo 64.
The core gameplay is as simple as ever and employs elements like the hold queue and ghost piece that have been present in the series for the last decade or so. The only thing that bothers me about the gameplay is that you are forced to use the d-pad to move and hard drop Tetriminos with no option to use the analog slider; which is used as a camera control that allows you to adjust the angle of the Matrix.
While the core gameplay of Tetris Axis is competent, the overall package is a bit of a letdown. The unexplained performance problems, stifled presentation and laughably bad AR modes add up to a game that is eclipsed in almost every way by past entries in the series like Tetris DS, Tetris Party and even the PSN version of Tetris.