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Pyramid (NES) artwork

Pyramid (NES) review

"Pyramid provides an original take on Tetris, lumping isosceles right triangles into shapes you rotate and drop into a well until it gets filled. Shapes lump into the general structure when they touch something below, and if you fill up a row in the well, it vanishes for everything above it to drop. This is a simple enough extension, and it is about as difficult as it sounds to get your bearings. Parts were so badly botched, though, that the game is an agonizing experience for anyone who w..."

Pyramid provides an original take on Tetris, lumping isosceles right triangles into shapes you rotate and drop into a well until it gets filled. Shapes lump into the general structure when they touch something below, and if you fill up a row in the well, it vanishes for everything above it to drop. This is a simple enough extension, and it is about as difficult as it sounds to get your bearings. Parts were so badly botched, though, that the game is an agonizing experience for anyone who wants to understand it, which is even worse for a game that doesn't bank on excitement.

Games with blocks and such need to execute mechanics perfectly. People don't play Tetris for the immersive world view, after all. Pyramid finds several ways to do the computer-gaming equivalent of putting out 15 when you hit 7+7 on your calculator. Although it does seem to have the whole adding-by-one thing down for the rare happy occurrence when you gain a bomb or fill a row. You don't actually have a score, but I suspect the NES may internally be keeping track of it and that it is frequently negative.

But one thing I'm not paranoid about is that, if you fill the playfield near the top and fill a row, artifacts stay after the rows above fall. This isn't much of a practical handicap, really, as your game is probably over soon enough, but it's crashingly basic. Sliding a piece is also difficult--that's when you know you want to drop it and move it into a niche at the last moment. With most respectable versions of Tetris, this satisfying trick move works in some manner. Here, with the weird structures you can make from the triangle-dominoes this should be an important feature, but it's not there. And on the introductory level, which is the only time you need to speed things up, pushing down drops the brick much faster than you need to, and it latches on to whatever it touches too quickly. It's like having someone talk to you in a condescending, fast voice, notice that you ''just can't keep up,'' and considerately switch to the condescending, slow voice before asking you to make up your puny mind.

Also, while Pyramid is kind enough to label mirror-image shapes red and green before turning all frozen squares blue, it doesn't rotate them correctly. The most heinous failure is the right triangle made up of two basic triangle units. Put its vertex against the side, and you can't rotate it. It'd be natural to think you could; picture the triangle rotating about the middle of the long edge, as it does for a similar four-square triangle. But no!

Other shapes lurch around too on rotation, and I always have to flip them back and forth for the tricky moves to be sure I'm doing it right. With a game this difficult, you deserve some breaks, and although it might be too much to ask for a special diagonal move(i.e. freeze the game briefly and push a diagonal direction) to fill in certain cracks, what we get is a real bomb. No, not a realistic bomb. Just a bomb, though it is inexplicably rocket-propelled and out of place in the desert background with clouds flying across the screen. It freezes the currently dropping piece and takes out the squares immediately around the first frozen square it lands on, and in most cases with the resulting jagged area cut out, you'll be worse off than you started, unless the structure above collapses. Bombs'' usefulness diminishes as you pile up pieces to the top, which effectively eliminates the great escape from near-death that can be the most exciting part of block-dropper games. The game would be better off giving more bombs that do less, or having them hollow out an octagonal area. As things stand, you'll need to use a few bombs in a row.

In fact, you'll find you often just need a few bombs. Pyramid throws just five pieces at you, and this is part of the problem. Two are trapezoids made of three triangles each--the mirrored shapes similar to Tetris's L's or Z's. You have size-four and size-two right triangles, but the most heinous shape glues three triangles together at their right-angles. Even when you make spaces for two of it to fit, there's a great chance three in a row will drop due to the low number of overall pieces. In fact I suspect the programmers juiced the odds to send a lot more out at once, because I've frequently gotten four or five in a row of a single piece. I've calculated the odds of that happening given how many bricks I've dropped, lines I've formed, etc. Hey, that's easier than some scenarios in this game where you try to knock off a row. Couldn't they have added the size-two parallelograms? It would have made the game easier--and perhaps even playable beyond level five, when things just get too fast.

Until then, the game does last a while, but that's because the pieces are quite small compared to the board, and also because you can still view the game when you pause it, which is the only way to get the time needed to plan things out. However, a good chunk of active time near the end will occupy you in meaningless busy work you may feel obliged to do because you sure didn't show any brilliance. You'll know you're toast, but there's a grim hope something will turn up. It's about filling up as much of the rows as you can, knowing you'll probably be missing a triangle or two and, even if you do get things right, you won't be able to pick away at any rows to survive the next onslaught of three-quarter-squares. This sort of ''might as well'' is about all I find I can muster after a string of disagreeable shapes.

Pyramid is really only a fair challenge when most of the board is cleared. With a ten-wide playfield, a good player can leave spaces to accept any of the five pieces dropped. Patient players may find the three ways to knock out two rows at once; this gets you an extra bomb and seems less impossible after the first time you've done it. You can keep the whole mess down with the occasional judicious bomb, but eventually boredom from staring at a near-blank playfield, or those hellish C-shaped blocks, will start a helter-skelter skyscraper from which there is no return.

It's not all total confusion, though. If a player doesn't understand strategy in Pyramid, he'll at least understand the ways he can get screwed. The simplest? Have all of a row done, except for one triangle on the underside. There's no way to get that cleared without a bomb. Liquidating a row is never easy, and there are many ways to get close and not succeed. Granted, there are clever finesses to place one piece over a temporary hole. In many instructive cases, the ''greedy'' strategy of trying to fill up as much space as possible just fails, and other times, you'll need to sacrifice a certain amount of space or access to a certain row so you can nail down another. While it's genuinely satisfying to fill in a row you thought you wouldn't get back to or even create a clearing where a single bomb helps, Pyramid too often leaves you doing something dumb and tedious when you know you should be trying something cleverer, but you don't know what, and lordy if you care. For that, I have a job.

But perhaps the crowning annoyance may be the sound. From the Egyptian-styled riff on that thoroughly juvenile song about the place in France where the naked ladies dance to the other thankfully less memorable tune. You can shut them off to start the game, but once you launch a bomb, the siren that plays in the background keeps going on. I didn't believe something this basically wrong could slip through in a game even after reading a review that stated as much--could that really happen? It did, and it's the closest a game can get to hypocrisy when you consider one screw-up renders your position hopeless.

Pyramid reveals a new angle on the tetromino dropping that was Tetris, yet it manages none of the spontaneity and even manages to get a few basic things wrong. If you enjoy geometry puzzles, it certainly takes time to figure how to get around the game's flaws. Strategies are extracted, not discovered with a flash, and when failure depending all too frequently on randomness, and no pulsing middle game with evolving structures as you see in Tetris or later-level challenge above impossible speed, Pyramid leaves no reason to play it extensively. The game will appeal only to a niche of puzzle fans, and if they are smart enough to be any good at it, they'll recognize just how flawed it is.

aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (May 27, 2004)

Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.

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