|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
A game need not make full use of the system's capabilities to be fun. Nintendo proves this with Tetrisphere, for the Nintendo 64.
The concept is simple in theory: a 3D sphere, covered in tetrad blocks, must be cleared of puzzle pieces to reach the globe's core. This is accomplished by dropping a block onto two adjacent ones of the same shape, which can also be dragged into place. The more adjoining pieces, the more that disappear together, forming high-scoring combos. These combinations create Power Pieces, which allow for even greater combos, and Magic, attacks which eliminate multiple pieces and layers at once.
Tetrisphere provides a gentle learning curve with the help of a training session, which starts immediately the first time the cartridge is played. After that, there are six modes of play for a single player: Rescue, a basic reach-the-core game; Hide-n-Seek, which is similar to Rescue but with specific goals to be accomplished; Puzzle, in which a limited number of drops and slides are allowed to clear a scenario; Time Attack, where points are all that matter; Versus, against the computer in split-screen action; and Lines, which does not involve dropping pieces at all. Progress in each of these six areas for up to eight different players is saved directly to the game. Two-player and practice modes are also included.
It's surprising to note that one of the areas in which Tetrisphere is sometimes lacking is challenge. The game takes awhile to build up difficulty. Early on, there are only two or three of the six different pieces per board, with plenty of time to arrange massive combos. The only real threat is the possible misplacement of a piece, which is only permitted three times before the player must restart. The playing piece is highlighted when a valid move is at hand, making it easier to spot moves which may've otherwise been concealed by the game's 3D nature. Eventually, the game picks up the pace with a shorter time limit, more game pieces, and fewer combos, but it take awhile to reach this point.
The control handles flawlessly, with only three essential buttons, and a few extra in puzzle mode. The lack of choice between the analog stick and control pad is disappointing, but the pad functions fine.
Graphics are smooth, bright, and colorful. Puzzle games do not generally require anything spectacular in this department, so Tetrisphere is all-around pretty decent. There are some fantastic swirling backgrounds, but since none of the action takes place there, they receive little attention. The opening trailer is bouncy and sharp, and the menu system looks great.
The game really shines when it comes to music. Puzzlers have traditionally featured slow, thoughtful, and often plodding soundtracks, and it's amazing what a break from that trend can do for the game. Tetrisphere uses several dance/techno-type tracks, which can be switched between at anytime during gameplay. The steady beat and unusual vocals succeed in heating up the atmosphere. The change may not be to everyone's liking, but the music is of good quality, regardless of individual taste.
Tetrisphere is the 64-bit evolution of a long-standing puzzle series, and it does the name proud. It's extremely different from its predecessors and may take some getting used to, but proves more than worthwhile in the end.
This article is copyright (c) 1997, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 18-Aug-97