"I guess it's fair to say then, Tetris: the Grandmaster Ace is something socially minded players will enjoy. Where a lack of ambition hurts its solo experience, the assorted Xbox Live modes have kept things fresh with a healthy dose of variety and some major, online competition. "
Believe me, the irony has not been lost. The world's most advanced home console now sits in my living room, yet the only Japanese release worth playing happens to be Tetris: the Grandmaster Ace. My new box of white, shiny love is capable of 9 billion dot product operations per second, displays the output at a native 720p, and can tear my eyes from their sockets while still finding time to impress onlookers. So why then, am I stuck playing this?
The price of a new Xbox 360 - 39,795 yen
The high definition TV to compliment it - 319,000 yen
The thrill of playing Tetris in 720p - priceless
Last seen on a thousand handhelds, and just as many home consoles again, Alexey Pajitnov's puzzler certainly gets around. Its simple formula is timeless, its challenge unparalleled, and still I'm left to wonder what it was that drove me to pick up this release. For the most part, Tetris: the Grandmaster Ace has played it safe, offering a number of game modes already seen countless times before. The basic challenge as usual simply has players dropping blocks to make lines, to meet a quota, to advance to the next level, to do it all again. Anything else of course, just wouldn't be Tetris...
Mind you, that's not to say it's all been there, done that as developers Arika have shaken things up with a fresh, new take on the multiplayer challenge. Where previous Tetris clones have relied solely on a versus mode for competition, the Grandmaster Ace places two players inside a single frame and asks them to work together in the pursuit of universal happiness... or something like that. Each player has their own blocks to maneuver, and must constantly keep an eye on their partner in case there's a sudden, clash of strategies. It's a fun take on a tired formula, and though it hardly justifies the title's 5,040 yen asking price, it's one I've been enjoying no end.
I guess it's fair to say then, Tetris: the Grandmaster Ace is something socially minded players will enjoy. Where a lack of ambition hurts its solo experience, the assorted Xbox Live modes have kept things fresh with a healthy dose of variety and some major, online competition. It's also surprising to note that while the single player game is only available in a standard, vanilla flavor, online players have access to a whole host of options and play modes. Special blocks for instance, can be set to clear entire rows upon their deletion, while Time Attack and Score Pursuit fill in the cracks. Why solo players had to miss out on this goodness though, is anyone's guess...
If Grandmaster Ace still interests you, know that the rest of the package feels right. From some smoothly responsive controls to the quirky, almost upbeat Russian soundtrack, Arika have done a wonderful job in presenting what is usually, a fairly unimpressive title. The high definition graphics look amazing, literally bringing to life a range of starscapes with much clarity and class. Moons spin, stars shimmer, and all the while you're dropping those blocks, erasing rows and pushing hard. It's the simple things in life that are often the best, and that's a philosophy Grandmaster Ace is all too happy to live with.
You know what though? I'm glad I picked this up. Tetris: the Grandmaster Ace may not be the #1, must have title Dead or Alive 4 was going to be, but it's still fun in a nostalgic, always reliable kind of way. Like a warm security blanket, Tetris is a game players can fall back upon for a few minutes here or there, regardless of how many times they've seen it all before. When the big guns finally hit however, trust me... this baby will be retired to my shelf in no time flat, never to be seen from again.
Oh, and to answer the opening question: Microsoft Japan left me no choice. That sound you hear is the Xbox 360 bombing with Japanese gamers... better luck next time guys.
* It's Tetris! How can you go wrong?
* Smooth controls, nice interface
* Co-operative multiplayer is a blast
* The high resolution backgrounds are out of this world
* A fun, quirky soundtrack gets the blood pumping
* Full Xbox Live support
* Grandmaster Ace could have used a touch more innovation
* Single player is extremely limited
* Once the 360 is in full swing, there'll be no going back
Staff review by Michael Scott (December 16, 2005)
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