Monday, 11 August 2008

Is Tetris Still the King of Puzzle Games?

Tetris. It's a game that everyone knows about, it's the game that made the original Gameboy and there are still hundreds of different versions being made across all platforms, but does it still reign supreme over the rest of the genre?

Firstly, let's take a look deeper into the existing franchise that is owned by Nintendo. The most recent version is Tetris DS (a Wii version of Tetris is still in development) and it has proven to be successful all round; amongst critics and in its sales. However, it is not the Tetris that we all know and love. Many reviews criticise the non-stick blocks in the main game that essentially allow you to spin a tetrimino infinitely until either your DS battery dies or you get bored, this addition made it incredibly easy to reach the 200 lines when the original game required God-like skills to achieve that target (personally I only ever managed a paltry 126 lines).

Of course, Tetris DS is by no means a bad game, it's simply a very big disappointment that the 'element of addiction' as it may be, has been removed - it is no longer difficult to achieve anything. The only real plus is the two player item-less Wi-Fi mode where better skill and speed are the only requirements to a victory. I digress.

Other attempts at reinventing Tetris have been the disastrous Tetrisphere, a game that modified the Tetris structure so that the playing area was a sphere (though I'm sure you already guessed that). Tetris 64 too was a horrific, but very bold, attempt at reinventing Tetris. In short, Tetris 64 was bundled with a ear-piece pulse monitor device that read your pulse and would determine what tetriminos would appear in the play field depending on how fast your pulse was. The idea was that when the player's pulse rose, the game would become harder. It did, but in ways that made the game severely unfair, including a 10 x 10 tetrimino piece.

The original, and best, probably.

So, attempts to reinvent Tetris have been respectable at best. This makes room for other puzzle games and franchises to take the crown. Puyo-Pop for one is probably the most successful of the non-Tetris puzzlers, appearing on most, if not all platforms since the 8-bit days. The game simply requires you to match up three or more of the same coloured blob (or whatever shape the game deems appropriate for its artistic style) in order to defeat your opponent (human or the more commonly used computer A.I.). The game's depth is to be found in chaining to create enormous combos that would dump waste blobs into your opponent's playing field. Winning occurs when the opposing player fills up their playing field and is unable to destroy any more blobs. Puyo-Pop's success is undeniably due to its ability to cause fights and rivalries between players and due to its utmost simplicity.

When I look at Bust-a-Move, I see what could possibly be the most infuriating game ever. Barring Super Monkey Ball, never has a game been so cute and colourful been aimed at an audience that sips beer and does the The Times' Puzzle Page every morning. Bust-a-Move may seem a stupidly simple aim 'n' shoot puzzler but its intricacies separate who manages to reach the final levels and who doesn't. Put it this way, my dad plays Bust-a-Move clones and has done since I was much younger, he was much better than me back then but now we're (when I last saw him play) of roughly equal skill. Bust-a-Move is the kind of game that requires a player to almost be able to see trigonometrical angle lines so that they can bounce their … erm, balls into each other. The fact that unlike Tetris, Puyo-Pop and many other puzzlers is that you have a time limit in Bust-a-Move that can vary from being very short or very long between levels adds to the tension when you begin to hear that music speed up before you curse loudly because you didn't get the right coloured ball to make a chain. Bust-a-Move? Bust-a-vein more like!

Many of you will know of the grid-based game Bejeweled, a puzzler that asks you to shift adjoining tiles to create a cluster that disappears and gives you points, the aim being to get the highest score possible. However, less of you will know of the Bejeweled clone, Puzzle Quest. Puzzle Quest takes the Bejeweled formula and adds RPG elements and a turn-based system that sees you creating a character and battling opponents over a single grid. Differing RPG classes and creatures add depth to the strategies needed to beat your opponent by incorporating spells, attacks and steed bonuses. This all may sound like heaven to someone like me, who adores both puzzlers and RPGs, but even by being able to tackle the game with differing classes and using different tactics, it is quite difficult to replay the game. Ultimately, the bold decision to extend and breathe life into the puzzle genre has not been wholly successful due to the fact that there is now an easily attainable goal instead of a theoretically limitless game. Whether future games (as a sequel is in the works) manage to rectify this minor setback will depend on how flexible the game of Bejeweled really is.

One of the many incarnations of Bejeweled

Since the Nintendo DS was released, an enormous barrage of puzzle games has appeared that make use of the touch-screen as an input method. Some games have been successful in their execution (Meteos, Polarium) while others less so and others have chosen to remain with traditional button controls. It's fairly clear that in this day and era of hyper-realism that puzzle games are making a comeback and are coming back with everything they've got. Whilst there have been some truly excellent puzzle games released not only for the DS but for other formats (a good example being Hexic, which came free with the Xbox 360), we've still to find a new type of puzzle that makes us feel the same as we did way back when we played Tetris on a small monochrome screen and maybe it is that which is allowing Tetris to keep others at bay when fighting for the puzzler game crown because to beat Tetris would not only be the Holy Grail of the puzzle genre, but of all gaming genres. Tetris may have had a few bumps and bruises over the years, but it's still number one.


Laura said...

I would have to agree with you there. Also agree with what you say about Tetris DS. After the initial learning curve it becomes an easy feat to pass the 100 line mark. The extra modes were good though and most didn't feel too tacked on. I always had a soft spot for Tetris Attack but no-one else seems to have heard of it.