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Tetrisphere Review

Publisher - Nintendo
Developer - H20
Platform - N64
Type - Puzzle
Score - 6/10

Tetrisphere has the distinction of being the first and currently the only puzzle game available for the Nintendo 64 console. Tetris, which may be the most popular puzzle game ever, created an archetype for block-based puzzle games. Imitators and spinoffs have tried to tweak the mechanics of their own block-based puzzle systems in an attempt to create a game kindred to the master, yet different enough to be considered a new game. Tetrisphere borrows heavily from games that came before it and does manage to create a new experience. The question is, "Is this new experience fun?"

Tetrisphere presents the player with a sphere covered with tetris-like puzzle pieces. While the game may look like Welltris or Block-Out wrapped around a sphere, the point of the game is not to drop pieces in an attempt to clear layers or levels, but rather to remove pieces from the mass in an attempt to expose a portion of the core sphere. The game has more in common with Puzzle Fighter or Tetris Attack than the original Tetris game.

Tetrisphere uses two types of actions to manipulate the blocks on the sphere: dragging and dropping. A player is presented with a cursor that is in the shape of a Tetris block. The player can use the cursor to affect blocks on the sphere that are of the same shape as the cursor. Dropping blocks is a little weird. A drop move is valid if (and only if...) the block that you are attempting to drop on to is adjacent to another block with the same dimensions. Put simply, you can only drop blocks on pairs or groups of similar pieces. If you drop correctly, the game removes the targeted piece and all similar pieces that it touches. If you targeted an isolated block, you lose a portion of your life and you drop a new block on to the sphere. If that sounds difficult to grasp, don't worry. The cursor tells you if you are able to drop a block successfully before you actually attempt to do it. Dropping a block on a large group of similar pieces can cause chain reactions. When a large portion of blocks are removed from a sphere, it is possible to remove the foundation of blocks resting on top of the removed blocks. This causes the upper blocks to drop a level or several levels into the sphere. Falling blocks are treated like dropped blocks; if they land on pairs or groups of similar blocks, it removes them. If you're lucky, you can remove enormous portions of the puzzle with a single drop. It is very similar to chain reactions in the game Klax.

The second method of manipulating and removing blocks is dragging. By holding the drag button and aligning the cursor on a block that is the same shape as the cursor, you can drag blocks around the surface of the sphere. The purpose of dragging is to move a piece over the edge of a level so that it falls to a lower level of the sphere, causing a drop. Another application is to construct large groups of similar pieces which can be removed with a drop maneuver. This aspect of the game is very similar to Tetris Attack; you do your best to rearrange the playing field in order to remove large amounts of blocks or to set up cascades. The game does not allow you to move blocks through other blocks and it uses a timer to ensure that you don't spend the entire game turning the sphere into one huge cascade.

There is one more way to remove blocks besides dragging and dropping. If you play skillfully, the game will reward you with a magic item. The items vary from types of explosives to magnets, but the end result is a freebie that removes a large number of block with no effort from the player. This aspect is similar to the bombs in Tetris 2.

What we have here is a strange synthesis between Tetris Attack and Puzzle Fighter wrapped around a sphere. It has no resemblance to Tetris save the familiar blocks. I can honestly say that I have not played a puzzle game exactly like this one before. Unfortunately, I can't say I really want to play a game like this one. Tetrisphere has the blocks, moves, and concepts from many successful puzzle games, but the gestalt created isn't terribly compelling or fun. There is a definite curiosity that will make you play the game for a brief period of time, but once you get the hang of it, you lose interest. If you look at great puzzle games (Tetris, Welltris, Klax, Puzzle Fighter, Minesweeper, etc.), you see games that aren't very sophisticated or complex but are infectious. No one plays just _one_ game of Tetris. You start playing Monday and put down the controller sometime on Wednesday afternoon. Tetrisphere is an interesting puzzle game, but you won't have any trouble putting it down.

Tetrisphere gives you several different play modes, but all of them but two are essentially the same thing. The basic, single player Tetrisphere game is an attempt to expose a certain portion of the core sphere underneath before you die. There are several variants on what is at the core sphere, but it doesn't change the game. There is a puzzle mode that is very different from the game, but the puzzles are very simple. I had to play the puzzle mode for an hour and a half before I felt mildly challenged. Vs. mode may be the best mode of the game. In Vs. mode you can play several of your friends (although only 2 can play simultaneously) in a head to head match. This is where the game does its best impersonation of Puzzle Fighter. The object is to expose a portion of the underlying core before your opponent does. Completing large cascades covers your opponent's sphere with pesky black blocks that are difficult to remove. Two player mode may be enjoyable to skilled players, but Tetrisphere does not come close to the insane competition of a good Puzzle Fighter match.

While Tetrisphere is a mediocre puzzle game, it's delivered very well. There isn't much on the screen but the sphere, but everything looks good. Tetrisphere is a visually impressive game. The curiosity caused by seeing the sphere on the screen may be the main drive for playing the game. There is a problem with draw in on the edges of the sphere. Very often pieces on the edge pop in and out of existence as you rotate the sphere. It's a blatant problem, but your attention is usually focused on the center of the sphere rather than the edges. The music in Tetrisphere is very well done. The game provides a multitude of techno tracks, all of which suit the game. If the game was as much fun to play as it was to look at and hear, it'd be a hit.

Oddly enough, the movement controls in Tetrisphere are based off the digital + pad rather than the joystick. This actually works very well. There are times when you rotate the sphere several times in succession that the cursor overshoots the location you want by one unit. This can get annoying if you can't compensate for the problem. Other than that, the controls in Tetrisphere are just dandy. I do wish it was possible to use the analog stick in puzzle mode, but it is still playable without it.

Overall, Tetrisphere is an ok game. It's not a bad puzzle game but it'll never be remembered as one of the classics. This game is an ok buy if you REALLY love puzzle games and you're willing to invest the time it takes to understand and play this game. If you're looking for an contagious little puzzle to burn away spare moments and lost weekends, better give this one a miss.