Review: Tetris Party (WiiWare)

Hudson grants us yet another version of the famous Russian puzzler, but how does this one stack up?

Tetris may be 23 years old, but the game is still going strong even after all this time. While some versions have been better than others, people still can't seem to get enough of this addictive puzzler. With this in mind, is this latest instalment worth your dough?

Since it's pretty much a given that our readers are quite familiar with Tetris's basic game mechanics we shall not waste much time with it other than to mention that the additions to the recent versions of Tetris can be found here as well: a tetriminio hold cell, six-piece preview, and shadow piece which can be turned off for easier placing of tetriminios.

According to Hudson, Tetris Party features 18 modes of play, which turns out to be more of a marketing gimmick. All in all, we were only able to count 10, with some being variations of each other in single, multi, or balance board play. To see whether quantity equals quality in this case it’s worth taking a gander at the different modes.

Marathon is basically an attempt to see how many points you can rack up until you reach level 15, or go for the ultimate high score when playing on endless mode.

Battle mode will have you facing one or more opponents (AI, human players, or a combination of both). In this mode, after a set amount of time all players will see their field being slowly filled by dead lines from the bottom, pushing up their stack toward the top. It certainly decreases the "dead" players' wait time by a significant margin.

Field Climber mode has a little stickman running back on forth on your playing field. It's your job to help him reach the top by building tetriminio stairs without crushing him, while at the same time guiding him toward flags to collect before he can reach the finish line. There are ten levels to this mode and the high score is determined by how much time it took you to complete the set. This mode is also available in multiplayer for up to four players.

Shadow mode tasks you with matching a greyed-out stack with as little tetriminio spill-over as possible, as it will from your overall completion percentage. There are thirty different puzzles on hand. This mode is also available in multiplayer for up to four players.

Stage Racer has you guiding the various tetriminios through a pre-determined track. Your goal is to reach the finish line in the fastest amount of time. Don't fret about getting your pieces stuck to the walls; it's not going to happen in this mode. This is also available in multiplayer for up to four players.

Hot Lines is a multiplayer-only mode. Clear specified lines (as indicated by the glowing green bars) as fast as possible and win.

Co-op Tetris is only available for two players. Think of it as an extended version of single-player marathon with a playing field twice as large and both players being able to play pieces at the same time. This will require some good coordination as one of the players will only have squares and Ls while the other has Ts and Zs at his disposal. The single available hold cell is for use by both players.

Duel Spaces is also only a two-player mode. On your turn it is your job to claim as much grid-space as possible by fencing it off with your tetriminio. Whoever has fenced off the most space by the time the playing field fills, wins.

There is also a Beginner mode for complete newcomers which will have you play on a zoomed in playing field that sports bigger but less complicated tetriminios.

Last but not least, there is the Balance Board Tetris mode which offers three variations of simplified, motion-controlled Tetris: Marathon, Ultra, and Computer Battle. It uses the same setup as Beginner mode and it relies entirely on the physical coordination of the player. Fortunately, the controls (lean left or right to move, forward or back to “Soft Drop”, and squat to rotate right) are simple and work well. The challenge here is to coordinate your body to control the onscreen action while maintaining your balance the whole time. Wobbly players will make mistakes, so it’s important to squat straight and lean without losing your stability or the controls will seem unreliable. Later levels and difficulties demand rapid movements, but frantically leaning and squatting is undeniably amusing. All in all, it is an interesting diversion.

Undeniably, Tetris Party was really meant for local multiplayer matches, although it's debatable how much attention modes like Stage Racer will hold. While you can play against the AI in all of the multiplayer modes as a solo player, we can't see anyone bothering themselves with them for long, and the only single-player mode that has some sort of staying power beyond the proven Marathon mode is Shadow. The rest really aren't much more than diversions from regular play.

As for online games, there are only two ways you can play: "item-less" one-on-one's versus a stranger or friend or stranger-only multi-battles for up to six players. Setting up a game is blissfully pain-free thanks to a wonderfully streamlined interface, and playing Tetris against human opponents is as engaging and addictive as always. Sadly, while in WFC mode the usual lack of communication is severely noticeable. The only way you can interact with other players is by pre-determined messages, and if you're playing against strangers you don't even get to see their names, only their Miis' heads. This is a moot point however, and doesn't drastically reduce the amount of enjoyment you'll get out of playing online.

Presentation-wise, Tetris Party surely won't bowl anyone over. It all seems rather bland with its simple menus. The different modes with their somewhat generic backdrops are functional as is, but it couldn't have hurt Hudson to have added a little more flavour. There's nothing much to write about the game's sound department: there's a remix of the original Tetris tune and other rather forgettable melodies, while the sound effects fulfil their functions and nothing more.

As far as statistics are concerned, there are quite a few of them. It's only a matter of whether you can be bothered to look them all up since the stat-menu isn't exactly the most user-friendly. It would have been nice to have been able to easily scroll through your records instead of having to wade through a bunch of submenus, but on the whole, the concept of tracking your progress is a sound one, and it helps give the single-player experience a sense of purpose.

Conclusion

If you're Tetris-starved and have no other means to play the game than on your Wii, you can hardly go wrong with Tetris Party. Yet, as the name implies, the game is specifically meant for local multi-play. Playing against friends is incredible fun and for this we can recommend the game wholeheartedly, but if you're not able to round up anyone you might think twice before a purchase. Yes, the basic single-player is as rock solid as it’s ever been, but as far as the other modes go, there is only so much fun you can gain out of playing against AI opponents. The online side of things is excellent, and the developer has clearly invested a large amount of time in making sure the interface is easy to use, but the lack of play modes is a shame. Still, outside of Tetris DS this is the most robust online Tetris experience money can buy, and if you're in the position of being able to rope in a group of friends for some local multiplayer, then Tetris Party comes highly recommended.

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