Tetris Party - Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks

I honestly thought Tetris was one of the few things in the world that would never change. Blocks fall, the music gets faster, and sooner or later, you screw up and put that Z piece where you should have used a T piece. Nostalgia is the lifeblood of the game; so no matter how many evolutions a Nintendo handheld system goes through, I'm always going to re-buy Tetris because it's Tetris.

In its jump to WiiWare, Tetris has become Tetris Party. Multiplayer Tetris is not a new idea in and of itself, but the new game modes introduced in Party challenge everything we've ever learned by playing a Tetris game.

The most mind-blowing mode for me was Field Climber mode. The idea here is to use the falling pieces to build a structure up which a little stick figure can climb to get to the finish line at the top of the screen. This means - gasp! - there have to be blank spaces and you have to build little ziggurats so your guy can climb. It took me three tries before I was able to un-train my brain enough to not build a flat surface, and another two before I learned not to a) trap my guy in a place he couldn't climb out of or b) squish him with a falling piece.

Shadow mode also forces you to unlearn your Tetris habits. You're given an outline of a shape inside the the playing field that you have to fill in with pieces. You lose points for all the parts inside the shape you don't fill in and for any pieces that fall outside the shape. As the levels get harder, the shape becomes more complex and you've got to get more creative with how you place your pieces to fill it all in.

Duel Spaces is the most hardcore of the "new school" of Tetris. The whole point is to take up as much room as you can by building around spaces on the field. You're taking turns with other players to lay down your pieces, trying not to build a bridge for them to finish with one of their pieces, thus earning them the points. It's like Blokus - you want to spread out early and cut the other guy off before he encroaches on the part of the field that you think of as "yours."

The final mode I really enjoyed was Stage Racer - this was shown off at the Nintendo Media Summit to loud oohs and ahhs from the crowd. The field scrolls upward and either side of it is lined with grayed-out pieces that jut out, forming a maze. You play as a single piece falling through this level and your job is to constantly flip your piece and move it left to right, navigating the maze. At all levels of difficulty, the field moves as the same pace - but the arrangement of the maze gets more and more difficult and the pieces you've got to work with change to make it even more challenging.

The one lame thing about Tetris Party for me is the inclusion of the Wii Balance Board. You're supposed to stand on it and move your body left, right, up and down to move and flip the piece. I guess the developer thought people wouldn't be too into it, because they made this mode very easy, with big, kid-friendly pieces and a small playing playing field.

I'm actually surprised - I didn't think I would like anyone messing with my time-honored Tetris. But most of these game modes were really fun for me, and I'll be hard-pressed to find an excuse not to buy it when it comes out "sometime this fall."


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