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Pyramid (NES) artwork

Pyramid (NES) review

"Even compared to the rest of AVE's hardly circulated NES library, Pyramid is difficult to find. There's a reason for that. Rarely has a game so blatantly missed its mark, and never before have apparently competent designers shown so much disregard for a blaring, fatal flaw. "

Even compared to the rest of AVE's hardly circulated NES library, Pyramid is difficult to find. There's a reason for that. Rarely has a game so blatantly missed its mark, and never before have apparently competent designers shown so much disregard for a blaring, fatal flaw.

Pyramid is a puzzle game spawned from the mildew-ridden basement of the video game world, Hong Kong, and brought to our shores through shady unlicensed publisher AVE. It makes no attempt to hide what it is -- a Tetris clone. Pyramid is Tetris. Shapes fall, you organize them into horizontal ''lines'', and those lines disappear, leaving the stack one notch lower. Reach the top of the screen and it's game over. You've seen this all before. However, these guys had to do something to distinguish Pyramid from Tetris, and what they came up with will leave you scratching your head in puzzlement.

Imagine for a moment all of the tetrads, the pieces featured in Tetris that ultimately hold that game together. Think how perfectly they correspond with each other, how so many combinations can work in tandem. Now replace the tetrads with a small jagged sliver; a diamond with a fourth of its mass notched out; an isosceles triangle that topples all other pieces in size. This is a sample of what you have to work with in Pyramid.

''Profusely overcomplicated'' doesn't begin to describe it. Forming even a single line is asking too much of the player. When certain almost unusable pieces drop, and you have no place to fit them, you'll end up sacrificing the ever so elusive line that you're working on and probably botching the next ones as well. Holes created don't have a natural way of opening themselves back up as in Tetris, so any ruined line is almost certainly a step toward the end of the game. The most workable strategy is to constantly form the intricate crevices needed to fit the virtually unusable shapes, but all of your hard work holding spaces open will often be rewarded with four or five of the bastards sent back to back.

The designers acknowledged how horrible these ideas were, and have given you a tool to fight back with, albeit a very uninspired tool. You begin the game with five ''bombs'', which can be used to halt the on-screen action while you guide a small rocket into the stack. It will destroy a piece of the firmament, but you can not control which parts get blown up, so half the time it will take two bombs to carry out your intention. Extra bombs are earned when you pass 20 lines, or when you score a double by creating two lines at once. But you won't create two lines at once. That would be like lightning striking twice in the same instant that someone wins five different state lotteries and Rosie O'Donnell turns down a free cheeseburger -- it could potentially happen, but it won't.

What pains me the most is that the designers realized how centrally flawed the game is, and without stepping back to fix it, continued building around it with solid aesthetic capabilities, essentially wasting their effort. While not all-out spectacular, the level of visual talent on display is above that of the typical unlicensed game. The Great Sphinx looms overhead, among a backdrop of ancient, gargantuan pyramids, eclipsing the playing field in a way that gives it unique isometric scope. Clouds roll by, adding to the surrealistic scene, as a border of limestone accentuates the area where crystalline pieces are dropping into place. Creating a scene like this shows talent, and I wish the designers had spread that talent around to other areas.

With the abundance of unneeded complications filling the role of the main flaw, the music is close behind in second place. Not because it's just awful as a whole -- to the contrary, some of the tunes here are quite good. It's that the song you will be hearing the most, while catchy at first, deteriorates into a mess of sloppy repetition, proving itself unlistenable after a matter of minutes. The same seventeen notes play eight times in a row, eventually broken by a very short refrain. After that, the song slips back into the same mind numbing rut, ad nauseam. Reaching 20 lines will change the music to a more soothing tune, finally allowing you to play the game in peace. Oh by the way, you won't reach 20 lines. If you do, that's just sad. Hitting 40 will also trigger the original screecher to start back up.

You may be relieved to find that there is an option to turn the music off, but don't celebrate just yet, this option might even be worse. Use a bomb, and an alarm will sound. Because of a programming error, when the music is turned off this alarm doesn't end. Pick your poison regarding sound.

There is one final test I like to put puzzle games up to, one I've aptly titled ''The Puzzle Game Test'', which separates all puzzlers of quality from the useless drivel. Ask yourself, do you see the blocks falling when you close your eyes? Can you play a game in your mind? Pyramid ultimately fails the test. You'd have to have a photographic memory to even conjure up those bastard shapes.

Overall Score: 2/10

While it doesn't have a bearing on my opinion of the game, I think I'm obligated by game reviewing guidelines to bring up the title screen. What's the best way to represent an Egyptian themed puzzle game? Why, how else but with a trio of cracked, blood-red skulls holding a spiked dagger in their mouths! And what better music to accompany this vision than an upbeat Mario-style sonata! While all the parts by themselves are good, it's as though the designers continued running with this idea as if they didn't see how obviously flawed it was. Hey wait a minute, I think I'm beginning to see a pattern here...

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Community review by deathspork (June 24, 2004)

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