WiiWare is no stranger to the puzzle genre, offering up classic experiences like Tetris Party and Dr. Mario alongside more unconventional titles like the Art Style series. Nintendo's latest title, ThruSpace, hopes to try something new to stand out in the sizable crowd. How does it do it? By combining the shape shifting mechanics of Tetris and moving them into a 3D plane, yet still requiring the player to view the action from a fixed 2D perspective.
This quasi-three-dimensional presentation has the player create different 2D shapes out of the 3D models, spinning and rotating them in such a way that they fit through holes in an approaching wall. There are multiple control options, but the game recommends using the Wii Remote and Nunchuck. This set up has you spinning the piece with the D-Pad, moving it with the Nunchuck and flipping it with the A or B button. If you manage to get your piece into position early, you can zoom it forward through the wall by holding the Z button.
The pieces, called Keydrons, travel steadily down a tunnel towards a wall, and you'll have to act fast if you don't want them to crash. This forward scrolling aspect of the game adds an intense, sometimes maddening sense of urgency reminiscent of Tetris's downward plunge. Once your Keydron is through, another wall is revealed down the tunnel, complete with new holes to fit your piece to and a number to let the player know how many walls are left in the stage. These numbers are incredibly important as you are racing against a timer, and if you don't pass through all the walls before it runs out, it's game over.
While passing through walls is all you need to do to beat each level, scoring extra points by completing "tricks," or "combos" is the real meat of the game. Combos have you snagging crystals as you pass through the gaps in the walls, and these are usually positioned in such a way that you have to get your Keydron into a precarious positions in order to grab them all. Tricks require you to spin it madly in an effort to project its shadow onto all the spots of the approaching wall gap.
Combos and tricks may allow you to rack up crazy amounts of points, but they are a huge drain on the timer. Since your points mean nothing if the timer depletes, this kills the incentive of taking the time to max out your score. Passing through all the walls is generally pretty easy too, which conversely makes this the least exciting task in the game. Many of the Keydrons can simply be spun into their smallest shape possible, making them fit through any hole in the wall with ease. This simplicity makes completing the wall a bore, so for fun you'll want to focus on the score builders as best you can.
Snagging crystals can be fun, as it will continue to build your multiplier for each consecutive pair you grab, but the really challenging part of the game is pulling off tricks. This aspect of the game is superb, and as the most challenging and satisfying part, it should have been a bigger focus of the normal mode. Getting a jagged Keydron to map its shadow over an even more jagged, speedily approaching gap is a rush, and you'll be spinning and flipping it in a frenzied, hectic pace. Many walls even have two holes for you to score tricks with, and there is nothing better than flipping your Keydron into place just as you pass through the wall. Due to the incredibly punishing timer however, you'll be forced to rush pass many of these opportunities to make it to the end in time. This is a huge bummer. Forcing players to dumb down their pace and shrink their Keydron into the lowest common denominator really clashes with the creative thinking require to pull off tricks, and it isn't nearly as satisfying to pull off. Still, there is a Trick Mode dedicated solely to pulling off tricks, which remedies this somewhat, but it would have been nice to see tricks being more central to the core gameplay of the normal mode.
Another frustrating aspect is that each tunnel is not the same length, meaning that you will not know the draw distance of the next wall until you complete the previous one. This frequently will cause you to speed through a completed wall just to see the next one looming towards you with impending doom. Crashing into a wall can end all your efforts, and many levels give you only one chance before showing you a game over screen. The only way to really prepare for these is through level memorisation. For a game revolving around hair-pin reactions and speedy agility, coming smack into a cheaply placed wall is an incredibly frustrating sensation and completely kills the sense of adrenaline you get from racing through completed walls.
While the amount of time you have to beat a level varies, you never really feel like you have enough to max out your score, requiring you to split it between completing combos, snagging crystals and simply squeezing through the wall unharmed. Thankfully, the game also comes with an "Endless Mode," which lets you play through the levels sans the timer. This remedies the problem of forgoing points to save time, and it conversely comes with even more insane high scores to beat. Each level has a set high score, and if you surpass that, you are allowed to post yours online. In regular mode, the score to beat in early levels starts low but quickly ramps up, and in Endless Mode the leaderboard numbers skyrocket.
Between all these modes, there is some serious length the title. There are six Keydrons in all to unlock, each with three stages to play. Unlocking a new Keydron entails completing each stage of the previous one, no high scores required. Still, the real challenge is beating high scores, and it will take a lot of time, memorisation and skill to beat them all. Newly unlocked Keydrons also take time to get used to, as the various 2D shapes you can manipulate them into begin to increase. A practise mode is available to help you explore all the possible shapes you can morph your Keydron into, activated by pressing the A and B button simultaneously. There is no multiplayer mode, however, which is a shame because it would have been great to race down tunnels against another player, especially since you can save your best performances to view later.
Even for those unmoved by the puzzle genre, there is a lot of fun to be had with this game. ThruSpace successfully takes the shape spinning properties of Tetris and adds even more gameplay and complicated pieces to the mix, all while retaining the sense of urgency and excitement of manipulating a puzzle piece in the nick of time. The fiendishly shaped Keydrons become increasingly hard to get a handle on, and sometimes the game fools itself into thinking it should move faster than it should, killing your score-building possibilities to favour a speeding race against the timer. Thankfully, though, for those wanting a more methodical and mindful approach, there's Endless Mode, which remedies these setbacks by eliminating the timer, and Trick Mode, dedicated to the excellent trick-scoring aspect of the game. At 800 Nintendo Points, ThruSpace offers up a fresh puzzler filled with satisfying gameplay, ruthless leaderboards and different modes that cater to adrenaline junkies and completists alike.