Another classic '80s gaming experience has evolved for the DS, featuring new elements unique to the console and saturating the senses with all things Nintendo.
It's hard to imagine there's anyone out there who has never played Tetris, but if there is -- or if you had a sibling who hogged the controller or Game Boy -- the concept is pretty simple: rotate different formations of falling blocks to form lines which are then cleared from the screen.
Interactivity has been incorporated into the DS version in a big way. The DS' wireless capabilities allow up to 10 gamers to play using a single game card, as long as they're within a distance of 10 metres (the average length for a wireless device). Those wanting to utilise networked play from a further distance can log onto the online Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection which permits two or four player battles. While a maximum of four players is a bit disappointing, the letdown is compounded by disallowing a 3-player tournament. For those who don't know any other DS-ers or just wish to roll solo, Nintendo has also incorporated versatility for the single player.
Tetris DS brings the popular puzzle game onto the dual screen with six themed modes of play based on classics like Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda and Donkey Kong. To its credit, instead of trying to capture the essence of old, Tetriminos has been revamped and restyled. Besides being wrapped in a different Nintendo brand, each mode changes the tactics of the game in its own way.
Standard Mode is a pretty close emulation of the original Tetriminos -- with that famous chubby little Italian man making an appearance.
Push Mode features a Donkey Kong theme and in keeping with the ape's beastly nature turns the game into a shoving match where each player pushes blocks towards their opponent, clearing their own screen to win.
Touch Mode brings the stylus into play. Using Balloon Fight as a backdrop, players clear lines by guiding blocks into empty spaces. On top of the puzzle is a crate of balloons -- when most of the blocks are cleared, the crate falls and breaks open, releasing its contents.
Puzzle Mode stars Mario once again -- this time with Yoshi, in the kitchen baking Tetris puzzles a la Yoshi's Cookie. Gamers must choose which blocks to use in the puzzle in order to clear at least one line per piece.
Mission Mode presents the player with scenarios to complete within the given time, such as "clear two lines at once". When you accomplish the task, you can move on to the next mission. Failure to succeed results in a penalty, adding grayed out blocks to the screen. If you challenge another player to a Mission Mode battle, the first to complete the task wins and is rewarded with points. Mission Mode gives the player two option -- Marathon in which you advanced to the next level with every 10 lines cleared, and Time Trial where you can choose the level and line height which must then be completed within the allocated time frame.
Catch Mode, based around the classic Metroid arcade setting, is a bit of role reversal for traditional Tetris devotees. Instead of manoeuvering pieces into a jumbled wall of blocks, players control a slab of travelling pieces which must be twisted and turned in order to best catch the single blocks as they are propelled towards you. Falling Metroids continuously rain down from above and deplete your "life" if they touch you; a likely occurrence if your formation becomes too big and near impossible to navigate around the screen. An energy meter keeps track of your power which is refilled when you form a solid square with your structure.
Within each mode, the essence of the original game is still evident, though one can't help but wonder -- didn't Nintendo have enough faith in the immense success of the Tetris we all know and love not to clutter a great game with bits and pieces of all its other releases? The novelty of adding old school game elements to the mix wears off quickly, especially in the lesser-known (and lesser loved) modes. You can't mix and match themes with modes, or turn them off for a bare bones version of play. A finely-honed version of the classic which incorporates the new interactivity and improves customisation could be more greatly appreciated.