Given the recent influx of shovelware on the Nintendo eShop — both on the 3DS and Wii U — it seems like the right time for new developers to ask themselves an important question before taking the plunge into the indie scene: why? There are already hundreds of thousands of games out there in the wild, doing many different variations on a select number of time-tested themes, and so it becomes crucial when starting a project to have a purpose in mind. Will you try for outright innovation, aiming to take gamers on a journey the likes of which they've never experienced before? Will you keep to the traditions of classic gaming, putting your own unique flair into the level design or the way the character controls? These are questions that any game developer should ask themselves before putting their project out to consumers — questions that are clearly not being asked by developers like this, whose Heptrix is a bleak, depressing, cynical retread of Tetris, the game that helped put Game Boy on the map back in 1989.
Like the classic Russian block-stacking title, Heptrix tasks you with organizing falling block formations inside a grid. Forming a full line of blocks across one row of the grid will clear it, netting you points. The "twist" here — although it can hardly be called that at all — is that there are seven blocks in each formation; that's about it. Even the description on Nintendo's official website can't make the game sound interesting (and yes, this is reproduced verbatim):
- Clear 7 lines to complete the level.
- Each piece landed give 7 points. Each line cleared 70 points and increase exponentially by the numbers of simultaneous lines.
- At every level completed, the speed increases.
That's really all there is to Heptrix. Unfortunately, it stumbles in a few basic areas that make the gameplay — even as basic as it is — pretty frustrating. First of all, the distance from the top of the grid to the bottom seems awfully long when you start placing block arrangements, making it often difficult to line up where the blocks will land with just your eyes. Other games have solved this problem with a "shadow" appearing to indicate what the formation will look like when it's in place, but that helpful feature is nowhere to be found here.
In addition, Heptrix mishandles the "quick drop" option that allows you to speed up the block formations' descent by pressing down on the analogue stick. In most block-dropping games you have the option to stop pressing down to return the blocks to their normal speed, but there's no way to do that in this case. This means that if you notice your formation is misaligned after you've already triggered the quick drop, you'll be totally helpless as it crashes down to the wrong spot. Simply put, if you've ever played Tetris or a similarly-themed game before, you'll undoubtedly find controlling these blocks unsatisfying by comparison.
Like some other Shop titles, the thing about Heptrix that nails its coffin firmly shut is the presentation. Tetris games — and titles taking inspiration from them — aren't exactly demanding on the aesthetic front, but these are about as depressingly bare-bones as video game graphics get. A limp title screen is all that separates you from the single mode, a title screen that cannot be returned to even when you lose and the game cringe-inducingly declares "Congratulation" alongside your high score (though considering it only offers one mode, it stands to reason that you'd have no need to return to the title screen anyway). Worst of all, the game doesn't even offer a way to save or display high scores — so you might want to have a pen and paper handy to keep track of your best efforts. It's an inexplicable oversight in a game that is, quite frankly, chock-full of oversights.
Heptrix is a dismal, barren bit of shovelware that doesn't even offer enough content to justify its budget price tag. It's little more than an adequate replication of far superior titles at best, and it embarrassingly misses the opportunity to include key features and modes that made said games more fun years ago. With Tetris Ultimate skipping Wii U, it may be tempting to get your console fix of the Russian classic through this cheap release, but remain steadfast — surely something will come along that beats Heptrix at its own game. After all, almost anything could.