Hatris (TurboGrafx-16) review
"You are Alexey Pajitnov. Perhaps the name rings a bell. You've just created Tetris, the mega-hit puzzle game that has sparked legal battles across the globe over licensing rights and taken both eastern and western audiences by storm. Atari wants you. Nintendo wants you. But luckily for you, you haven't had to worry yourself with any of that trouble; your government has it all under control. Phew! I bet the check is in the mail already. Regardless, your career has skyrocketed overnight. One minute you're an unheard of computer engineer toiling away in the Soviet Union. The next you're being mentioned in the same breath as Miyamoto and Bushnell as a who's who in the video game world... as you toil away in the Soviet Union."
You are Alexey Pajitnov. Perhaps the name rings a bell. You've just created Tetris, the mega-hit puzzle game that has sparked legal battles across the globe over licensing rights and taken both eastern and western audiences by storm. Atari wants you. Nintendo wants you. But luckily for you, you haven't had to worry yourself with any of that trouble; your government has it all under control. Phew! I bet the check is in the mail already. Regardless, your career has skyrocketed overnight. One minute you're an unheard of computer engineer toiling away in the Soviet Union. The next you're being mentioned in the same breath as Miyamoto and Bushnell as a who's who in the video game world... as you toil away in the Soviet Union. Inevitably, a question arises:
What will you do next?
You decide to make a game about stacking hats. You call it Hatris.
I am not making this up.
To give credit where credit is due, Hatris is not the brainchild of Pajitnov alone but also a fellow Russian, Vladimir Pokhilko. Because it takes two Russians to dream up a game about hats. This game is about hats. This game is about hats. Maybe I'm missing a few keys steps in the logic process here, but is this not the most fucking absurd career decision ever? You've created one of the three most popular games in the world. Companies looking to cash in are lined up at the USSR borders to find out who you are. And you're next pitch is going to be a hat stacking game. About hats. Hats.
Skeptical as I sound, even I would have published this game. He made Tetris. That was about blocks. Of course a game about hats is a great idea! Let's stack hats!
And so there are hats. There are squat blue Devo hats and green derbies, bizarre feather caps and towering top hats, red wizard cones and golden crowns fit for kings. In the American versions on the NES and GameBoy, bucket-sized cowboy hats and baseball caps supplant a few of these, but the idea is still the same. Hats descend from the top of the screen in connected pairs of two. Six mannequin heads line the bottom of the screen. Your goal is to shift and flip the connected hat pair to land on the mannequin heads and form sets of five; doing so causes a "sale" and the stack disappears (exactly the same as lines in Tetris, only vertical instead of horizontal).
In the early going you'll only have three types of hats to deal with and six mannequin heads; chaining together strings of five similar hats is no problem at all. As more sales are made and the difficulty ramps up, additional hats are thrown into the fray. So let's think about this for a second. There are six hat types. There are six mannequin heads. At best, because of all the potential pairs that could descend (twenty-one unique combinations exist) you can concentrate on stacking two, maybe three mannequin heads at a time. The rest become junk piles of hats that just didn't fit anywhere. When the junk piles become too large, your objective becomes trimming those down while the other piles are now left to accumulate junk. So it goes.
Before you know it, you've already lost. You simply don't have a legitimate shot -- short of pure luck -- at lasting extended periods of time like this. Even during the worst of times in Tetris, you still felt like you might be able to pull out a miracle and restore order. In Hatris, you never had a chance to begin with, but were merely trying to prolong the game.
Prolonged is a good word to describe Hatris because everything happens slowly. Winning isn't an option, but the losing drags on forever. You realize immediately after accidentally placing a wizard hat on top of a derby on top of four crowns that you've screwed yourself over. You can't fix this mess. Maybe you'll get lucky and a flame icon will fall, but these quick fixes are rare and the hat it's linked to could just as well cause problems in another column. Even still the game drags on with a few more measly sales completed before the column height exceeds the top of the screen. Tetris was over painfully but quickly; this kind of defeat is akin to slowly peeling back the bandage. You're literally forced to watch one tiny error extrapolate in a long, drawn out series of steps that culminates with "game over" printed across the screen.
From a visual standpoint the game doesn't work either; column heights are often deceptive and will cause miscalculations. Because every hat has a different tallness and stacks upon others in different manners, you're going to get strange and irregular column heights. As soon as one hat of a linked pair rests on top of a column, the other hat breaks free and can be shifted by its lonesome. Think the falling "half pills" in Dr. Mario, only you can still control them. While the option allows for greater flexibility and the game would be nearly unplayable without this ability, several times during the course of a game you'll be looking at two columns and wondering which column is taller. Which hat will land first? Will there be a split second after the first of the pair lands to shift its partner over to a different column? Or will they both plop down at the same time, throwing a wrench into your plans? Most games, let alone puzzle games, wouldn't leave you with so many of these fifty/fifty make-or-break situations. Hatris has them in spades.
But forget all of this. Forget the plodding pace, the deceptive height of stacks, the treading water nature of this whole ordeal. This is a game called Hatris. In the game, your job is to stack hats.
The only puzzle here is how that ever sounded like fun to begin with.
Staff review by Jackie Curtis (November 26, 2008)
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