What if someone made a Tetris game for people that hate Tetris?
Many “basic” games have the same problem: you only need one. Too often the gaming community focuses on every little thing about videogames and forgets that, before we had the technology of today (or the 80s), “games” had to be simple things to be at all practical. Poker might have nuances and strategies, but a second grader can learn every rule available inside of five minutes. Nobody ever has to explain checkers, and chess is just a matter of knowing that your horsey is clearly drunk. This is why these games have persisted for either hundreds of years or maybe seven weeks, depending on which Snopes article you’re reading. And the side effect of that is that your average person can literally inherit such a “game” from an ancestor, and never need a replacement. Granted, you don’t usually see a deck of cards passed from father to son (assuming your father isn’t Gambit, of course), but a family chess set isn’t all that uncommon (for nerds). Why reinvent the wheel when your current hooptie gets you everywhere you need to go?
Tetris is much in the same boat. While you could make new stages for Mario or design new Hyrules for Link, the simple tetromino needs only one home, and it’s a narrow playfield where the vertical line is king. Like Solitaire or Minesweeper, when the average person discusses “Tetris”, they might be picturing a black and white screen or a PS4-based colorplosion, but, one way or another, it’s the same game they have in mind. Tetris is Tetris. You could make a million different NBA Jams or NBA 2KXXs, but they’re all still based on basketball, and basketball is basketball. Tetris may have started as a videogame just the same as Mega Man, but we have never needed a Tetris 2 featuring Quick Man. Alexey Pajitnov got it in one, and, give or take a feature or two, Tetris need not ever change.
Which is not to say that producers haven’t tried.
Let’s see here… before we even got past the age of the Gameboy, we had Tetris, Tetris 2, Tetris Blast, Super Tetris 3, and Tetris Attack. But that was the heyday of Tetris, right? The inevitable age of imitators that happens to every franchise from Mario to GTA? Well, yes, and some of those games had about as much to do with Tetris as Dr. Mario had to do with Yoshi’s Island, but the exploitation of the brand certainly didn’t end there. You want Tetris with Mickey Mouse? Tetris with online features? Goddamn Hatris? We’ve seen Tetris in every possible way with every possible system. There was a Tetris designed exclusively for the Virtual Boy! That system lasted twelve minutes and had six games! Tetris isn’t just ubiquitous, it’s also been adapted more times than Romeo & Juliet.
So, by the time we got to Tetris Axis for 3DS (released in the fall of 2011, the 3DS’s launch year) we were already looking back at over twenty years of Tetris remixes. In fact, we had just seen the preeminent Tetris remix a few years earlier with “what if Tetris, but sometimes Mario shows up”. That was the best! Now… what? 3-D graphics? Half-assed augmented reality modes? The 3DS shop wasn’t even quite live by the time this hit the streets, so we couldn’t even claim that a version of Tetris constantly loaded onto the system was the latest innovation worthy of our attention. Tetris Axis seemed doomed from the get-go to be yet another forgettable Tetris port, and it would soon collect dust next to The New Tetris.
And, at first blush, Tetris Axis seems to have plenty of reasons to be forgotten. It’s got your basic endless Tetris mode, and… we don’t really need much more than that, right? Well, we’ve also got survival mode, which limits the play area, and fever, which is all the Tetris you can play in one minute. That’s a pretty neat idea, particularly for a portable version of Tetris on a system with a handy sleep mode. Play Tetris at a stop light (note: never do this)! And there’s a two player mode that is ready for some 3DS communication or tetrising against the computer, so that’s handy. None of this is completely original, one way or another, but it’s not bad for a game from the Tetris franchise. Good, but forgettable.
But then there’s “party mode”. Despite the name, these modes seem to be dedicated to a one player, no parties experience. Or maybe I’m just some kind of weirdo that doesn’t find jigsaw puzzles to be party material. Yes, “jigsaw puzzles” is basically the theme of two party games, Shadow Mode (not that Shadow) and (appropriately named) Jigsaw. What do jigsaw puzzles have to do with Tetris? I guess they both involve blocks? Kinda? Then we’ve got Climber, which involves stacking your blocks so they don’t disappear, and an anonymous little stick figure can climb said blocks to the heavens. That’s the complete opposite of Tetris! And speaking of which, we have Stage Racer. Guide a tetromino through a maze like so…
And tell me that isn’t Life Force, Abadox, or any other damn shooter in the world. Except, ya know, minus the shooting. Guiding a tetromino? Does that sound exciting to anybody? This would be akin to someone looking at a Mario game, and commenting that it would be a lot more fun if the guy in the hat didn’t jump as much.
And, ultimately, that’s how Tetris Axis feels. It’s a Tetris game that incidentally involves a number of modes that are barely Tetris. It’s a poker game where the main goal is learning to shuffle. It’s a football game where you see who can eat the ball fastest. It’s a chess game where you see if you can make the pieces kiss. It’s Tetris, but as an added bonus, here are a bunch of games that have nothing to do with Tetris. Did you want more Tetris in your Tetris, dawg? Too bad!
Tetris Axis is a Tetris game that, incidentally, wants nothing to do with Tetris.
FGC #349 Tetris Axis
- System: Nintendo 3DS. And it’s got the lame 3-D mode to prove it!
- Number of players: Two seems to be the right number here. There might be some additional, even more players modes, but they’re not readily apparent.
- Favorite Mode: I can’t complain too much, because Tetris Blast does return in Bombliss Plus. It’s not as robust as the game that came out twenty years ago, but it’s always a fun time to play Tetris and make things explode.
- Most Confusing Mode: Capture Mode is available, and it’s Tetris, but with some light color matching. It’s not terrible, but it indicates what you’re supposed to do so poorly that it really stands out as a dud. Or I’m just bitter because it took me forever to figure out and I lost a bunch of times. It’s one of those.
- Did you know? There are AR modes in here, and they involve the question mark trading cards that came with your 3DS. Am… am I the only one that keeps those things handy for just such an occasion? I wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to play a crappy Tetris mode on my real live floor.
- Would I play again: Tetris? Yes. Tetris Axis? Not so much. Maybe if it were to become a free downloadable title, I’d go for it, but I’d rather play Gameboy Tetris any day of the week. And, conveniently, guess what is already on my 3DS?
What’s next? Random ROB… is wearing an unusual red cap with eyes. What the heck does that mean? Guess we’ll find out! Please look forward to it!