Building the Ultimate Tetris
Posted by Kris Randazzo on Feb 27th 2019
We seem to be in something of a golden age for Tetris games. I didn’t play Tetris Effect, but I’m told it’s beyond amazing. Puyo Puyo Tetris is an incredibly solid and feature-filled game, and it’s available on multiple platforms. Then there’s Tetris 99, which is absurdly fun. These are great, they really are, but I believe we can do better. There are pieces of Tetris’ past that, if gathered together, could make for the ultimate Tetris game.
The thing about those three Tetris games I mentioned above is that they’re all uniquely their own thing. Tetris Effect is special because of the VR angle. Puyo Puyo Tetris is special because it’s a mashup with another excellent puzzle game. Tetris 99 is special because it’s basically the Fortnite of Tetris. It does the one thing it does very well, but it’s not exactly a fully featured release. (It is a free game, after all). What we need is a Tetris game that stands on its own. Something that gives Tetris lovers just Tetris, but also delivers on the limitless potential the Tetris brand brings with it.
First, it should build off the foundation set by Tetris DS. If you haven’t played it, Tetris DS is one of the most wonderful Tetris packages ever put together. The core Tetris mechanics are near flawless, it uses all the modern Tetris trappings like shadow blocks, reserve blocks, the ability to spin blocks into place, etc., and it’s jam packed with different modes. It also had this extremely delightful NES-themed visual design that was a joy to look at… if you were an NES fan. But we’ll get to more on that in a bit. What I’m getting at is, the game should offer a basic endless Tetris mode, but also offer a cornucopia of other modes to mess with to keep things lively.
To start, it needs lots of custom rule options. Similar to how you can set your own custom rules in fighting games like Smash Bros., you should be able to set up your Tetris games the same way. And I don’t just mean setting custom difficulties. I mean crazy rules and modes that make things way more interesting. For example:
- Items. Some games like Tetris Party introduced the use of items in versus matches. Like Smash Bros., most pro players wouldn’t want to compete in that kind of environment, but like Smash, items add a layer of chaos to multiplayer, which is super fun in a party setting.
- Classic mode. Tetris has changed a ton over the years, giving players the ability to rotate blocks before they land permanently, letting you keep a block in reserve, etc. Classic mode would basically just play like Nintendo’s NES or Game Boy versions. No frills, just hardcore Tetris.
- Gold and silver blocks. The New Tetris for Nintendo 64 is without a doubt one of the finest Tetris games ever made, and it introduced a few mechanics that I would love to see made available again. One of these is gold and silver blocks. If you were able to make a 4x4 block out of any 4 tetriminos, those 4 blocks would form one large block. If you used 4 of the same piece, it became a gold block. If you used multiple pieces, you’d get silver. Each line made out of a silver block was worth 5 lines, and each line made that included the gold block would net you 10 lines. This made for some killer line totals, but it was also a really cool meta game that really made you think differently.
- Spin moves. Spin moves have evolved a lot since their inception, but they can be another neat way to offer bonuses to folks who can pull them off. However, much like the parry system in Street Fighter III: Third Strike, if you can’t make them but your opponent can, there’s pretty much a 0% chance you’ll ever win, or even have any fun playing against that person. Having the option to turn off spin bonuses would go a long way in making the game more accessible. On the other side of that though is the spin move effects. Games like Puyo Puyo Tetris offer insane offensive bonuses to players who successfully pull off T-spins in multiplayer, where in The New Tetris, any successful spin move would turn every block underneath where the spin move was performed into individual, unconnected blocks that would then fall in on themselves, filling any voids, but negating any gold/silver blocks you made, (Check the 1:11 mark in this video) and often leaving the top of your screen a bit of a mess. These kinds of effects are super cool, and while they should absolutely be available, they should also be able to be toggled.
Next, let’s talk aesthetics. Tetris has come is a variety of flavors, and everyone has different ones they love. From random anime characters to classic 8-bit Nintendo sprites, Tetris is an incredibly versatile game that works no matter how it looks. So that’s why the ultimate Tetris game should offer themes. Whether done via microtransactions or unlocking them in-game, the ultimate Tetris game should try to visually be all things to all people. Your basic modern Tetris with the thumping dance music and basic background elements could be the standard, but how cool would it be to be able to change the entire game’s aesthetic whenever you want? Love NES Tetris? Now it looks and sounds like that. All about The New Tetris? Boom. Done. Want a more retro feel? Game Boy theme, complete with green dot-matrix filter. Tetris DS, Tetris DX, original arcade, Tetris themes would be amazing. And that includes music and sound effects! Because everyone loves to Tetris to a different song.
Finally, let’s talk game modes. Obviously, you have to have your standard endless and vs. modes. 1-4 players on a single console, and up to 8 players online I think would be just fine. But like I said before, Tetris DS spoiled us for modes, and the ultimate Tetris should do the same. In fact, it should go further.
- Puzzle Mode. An oldie, but a goodie. Puzzle mode sets you up with a mess on your screen, and a certain number of specific blocks to clean it all up with. This mode is much less active than regular Tetris, but it’s also really good for training your brain to think differently when playing the main game. Tetris DS had a really good puzzle mode, and I, for one, would love to revisit these brain teasers.
- Push Mode. This is possibly the best vs. Tetris game ever devised. Originating in Tetris DS (and I don’t think it’s been revisited since) Push Mode basically puts 2 players in the same well, but from opposite sides. The more lines you clear, the closer the center of the stage gets to the top of the opposite player’s end of the well. The idea being to push your opponent over their edge. There’s so much strategy in this mode too, including managing creating a “floor” so you can complete lines, because if the pathway is clear, whatever pieces you drop just soar on through the top of your opponent’s screen. It’s brilliant, and needs to be a series staple.
- Blast Mode. Who remembers Tetris Blast? Anybody? How about the Japan-only Bombliss? No? Well, you should, because it was a blast. (Pun very much intended.) How it works is, each stage starts with some basic blocks and new bomb blocks at the bottom of the well. Your job is to create lines that include bombs. When you do this, it detonates the bombs. If you only made one line, the bomb will explode horizontally in that one row. If you made a double, the explosion covers 2 vertical lines, etc. You can also make mega bombs, which form when 4 bomb blocks are placed in a square formation. Mega bombs make gigantic explosions that can take out most, if not all, of the blocks on your screen when detonated. If that doesn’t make sense, have a look at some gameplay. This game is awesome, but it’s basically just a spin on Tetris. Sure, you could package it now and sell it for cheap on a digital store, but putting Tetris Blast in a Tetris game as a mode would be a way better way to expose more people to this unique spin on the classic formula.
- Touch Mode. This would have to be reworked a little, but the gimmick of touching the screen to play this mode wasn’t exactly necessary to begin with, and the mode itself is really neat. This one also hails from Tetris DS (hence the touch screen application) and it works like a different spin on puzzle mode. Instead of blocks falling, all the blocks in the stage are already stacked up. On top there’s a special block (in the case of Tetris DS, it’s a cage full of balloons because this mode was Balloon Fight-themed). The goal is to get the cage to reach the bottom of the well by moving and rotating the blocks on the screen. They’re all susceptible to regular gravity, so you want to try and arrange them to fall into place to create lines and thus disappear. I’ve never seen anything else quite like it, and that’s a real shame because it’s a ton of fun to play.
- Mission Mode. Another awesome mode from Tetris DS was Mission Mode. How this one plays out is like endless mode, except they keep giving you specific tasks to accomplish as you go. All you have to do is follow their rules and stay alive as long as you can. So you’ll be playing your regular Tetris game, but the only way to advance is to clear 2 lines with an L shaped block. And every time you complete a task, a new task shows up. It’s super frantic, and a very good time.
- Color Mode. Okay, this might be a stretch, but if Blast Mode can be a thing, Color Mode can be too. What I mean by Color Mode is basically Tetris 2. If you’ve never played Tetris 2, that wouldn’t come as much of a surprise because while it was pretty heavily promoted when it came out, it hasn’t been seen or heard from since. Which is a shame because Tetris 2 is like a cross between Tetris and Dr. Mario. There are set color blocks on each stage that basically act like the viruses in Dr. Mario. You have to line up three of the same color blocks in a row to make them disappear. The wrinkle is that instead of Dr. Mario’s 2-block pills, you get multicolored Tetris pieces to contend with. It’s a more complicated game than Dr. Mario, but it’s nearly as fun. In a world where Dr. Mario exists, it’s hard to choose Tetris 2 over it, but as a game mode in an existing Tetris game, well it could be just what the Dr. ordered.
- Catch Mode. If you’ve ever played the Game Boy Color game Klustar, you know exactly what Catch Mode is. If you aren’t one of those 5 people, allow me to explain. Basically, you control a core of squares. Tetris pieces come in from the sides and you have to catch them with your core and create 4x4 squares. Once you create a square, it disappears and the rest of your pieces gravitate toward your core, and it goes on from there. It’s weird, and I’m not sure I’m doing a great job explaining it, but it’s really cool. Sort of like Tetris from all angles, if that makes sense.
Is this asking a bit much for a single release? Maybe, but I’d argue it isn’t. Tetris DS had almost all of this stuff in it on its own, so if they were to make an all-encompassing ultimate Tetris game on Switch or PS4, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to hope it would contain this much awesomeness. The likelihood of a game like this coming to fruition is quite another thing, but a man can dream, right? Thing is, the powers that be could absolutely do this, and honestly, I don’t know why they don’t. There’s clearly a market for this kind of thing, and now that there are all these great Tetris-type experiences out there for people to get their hands on, isn’t it about time we got one definitive console Tetris game to call our own? I think it is. And I’m ready for it.