Tetrisphere (Nintendo 64) review
"Picture a spinning orb floating in space. Itís comprised of a bunch of tetrad blocks, meshed together flawlessly to form a prison of sorts. Inside this fragile abode, a robot anxiously darts about like a firefly caught in a bottle, trying to escape. Your job in Tetrisphere is to make it possible for your imprisoned friend to do so."
At some point in your life, youíve most likely played Tetris. Youíve watched as blocks fell from some nebulous factory out of sight over the top of the screen, and youíve moved those blocks around so that as they landed, they formed perfect lines before vanishing in a flash of light. If youíve played a fair number of puzzle games at all, youíve probably even played a few clones, ranging from the good (Dr. Mario) to the bad (Columns). With that sort of background, you may think you already know what the Nintendo 64 puzzler known as Tetrisphere is all about. The thing is, you most likely donít.
The first thing to note about Tetrisphere is that although it borrows the idea of the Ďtetrisí and the Ďtetradí blocks from its obvious inspiration, this game is a new beast entirely. Picture a spinning orb floating in space. Itís comprised of a bunch of tetrad blocks, meshed together flawlessly to form a prison of sorts. Inside this fragile abode, a robot anxiously darts about like a firefly caught in a bottle, trying to escape. Your job in Tetrisphere is to make it possible for your imprisoned friend to do so. All you must do is remove enough tetrads from the sphere and itíll be on to the next stage.
Sounds simple, right? Well, it is and it isnít. There are a number of complications to consider, and these are what make the game so much darn fun.
Consider exhibit A, the timer that keeps track of how long itís been since you did anything noteworthy. As long as you stay on task, everything is perfectly fine and you wonít have any trouble. But if youíre the type who likes to sit back and think things over as you play, prepare to get thrashed. The sphere grows steadily larger the longer you go without removing blocks from its shell. Progress to later levels and the timer grows more impatient. Not only that, but the sphere develops multiple layers that must be eliminated if you are to successfully free your friend the robot. In these later areas, many of the blocks you remove do almost no good until you reach the center, and by that point your lives may have run low.
Ah, your lives. I shall christen them Ďexhibit Bí just for the sake of continuity. At the upper left side of your screen, youíll notice three little slots. What this really amounts to is the number of mistakes the game will permit you to make. Let your time trickle away and youíll lose one Ďlife.í The other way to lose a life is to improperly attempt a block removal.
Obviously, then, it makes good sense to become a master of removing those blocks straight away. And really, thereís not a whole lot to figure out. Within a few minutes, youíll have the hang of things and be moving about like a natural.
As youíre removing blocks from a sphere, your number of options is fairly limited. You can rotate around the ball on a vertical and/or horizontal path, and when you find the block you wish to remove, you simply press the ĎAí button to execute. However, there are a number of sticky provisions that make this more complex than it sounds. Suppose, for example, that you wish to remove a bar-shaped tetrad. To do so, you must satisfy three requirements. First, you must have a matching piece ready to connect to the one you want to remove. Secondly, the piece youíre attempting to dispatch of must not be obscured by any of the other blocks forming other layers. Finally, it must be connected perfectly to at least one other tetrad of the same sort.
Running with the example of the bar tetrad I mentioned, suppose there are two of them next to each other but one of them is slightly lower on the vertical plain than the other. If you try and remove either of them, youíre going to lose a life. The same is true if the one youíre targeting is partially buried. Because of this, deleting a tetrad isnít so simple as finding the piece thatís most in your way. Instead, thereís a bit of strategy involved.
Quite typicallyóand oddly, this pops up mostly in intermediate stages but not beginning or advanced onesóa tetrad you wish would go away is hiding behind another block. You know itís important to remove that tetrad, but thereís just no handy way to do it. So you place the matching tetrad in your hand somewhere else, grumbling to yourself, until suddenly thereís a different piece and you see where you can place it near that irksome tetrad you saw just a moment ago. Suddenly, a chain reaction clears the path and the devious block is now out in the open. The minute you find another matching piece, you wipe it out of your way and the robot at the sphereís core flies to freedom.
If this all sounds confusing, itís because describing it is harder than perhaps it should be. The gameís concept really is rather simple, made even simpler by the fact that if you are capable of removing a block without losing a life, it will flash as you scroll over it. This may strike you as cheap when see me mention it on paper, but trust me when I say youíll need all the help you can get.
To a certain extent, this is because of the controls, which arenít always so responsive as you might like. Rather frequently, I find myself cruising about the face of the sphere, dropping blocks and moving onto the next challenge even before one chain reaction has completed itself. Then, thanks to the haste the game all but requires, I set a block and realize I hadnít scrolled so far along the sphere as intended. Thereís one life, down the drain, a crucial mistake that may very well mean I have to re-attempt the level in question. Though it is possible to adjust to this quirky and loose control scheme, I wish players didnít have to be so accommodating to fully enjoy the game.
One aspect of the game that fares better is the soundtrack. I donít usually give a crap what music is pumping from the speakers as I play games, let alone puzzle titles, but I was pleasantly surprised by the compelling techno music that grinds out a clever beat as you play through the numerous stages. Not only that, but there are several different tracks, all quite enjoyable and easily distinguished from one another. Truly, this is some of the best music the Nintendo 64 ever saw.
And really, its one of the systemís best games, too. Not a lot of people have even played it, but Tetrisphere is one of the most enjoyable puzzle games Iíve ever seen. Not only that, but it has the obligatory two-player mode, which makes for some frantic gaming sessions if your opponent is as skilled as you are. Add in a few extra modes I donít really even care about and you have a package that proves you donít always need to be the most original kid on the block to be one of the best.
Staff review by Jason Venter (January 01, 2005)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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