Tetris DS Preview: The Sky Is Falling!

We give the latest handheld Tetris a run for its money and remember why this is still one of the most entertaining games ever made.

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No portable platform is complete without a version of Tetris, and luckily Nintendo will pay its dual-screen baby due respect next month with a new edition of the classic game imaginatively titled Tetris DS. We love Tetris as much as anyone, but as the seminal puzzler has been part of the gaming lexicon for going on two decades now, our hearts didn't exactly palpitate at the news that Nintendo was finally bringing Alexei Pazhitnov's masterwork to the DS. If you wanted to play Tetris on your DS that badly, you could have just popped in one of the GBA iterations, right? Really, how much more can you do with yet another version of the same game?

Answer: a whole lot. Tetris DS has got that core puzzling action in place, of course, and the rules here aren't different from most Tetris games to hit the market recently. But Tetris DS has been winning us over because it extends the basic formula to a ton of different single-player game types, gives you myriad multiplayer options (many with just a single cart), and slaps on a fresh coat of Nintendo nostalgia to boot. We've frankly been quite impressed at how many variations on the basic theme the developers have come up with. And, considering the rollicking multiplayer matches we managed to get into with just our lone copy of the game, we could see this becoming one of those carts no DS owner will leave home without.

Tetris has never been so utterly rife with Nintendo charm. It also plays pretty darn good.
Tetris has never been so utterly rife with Nintendo charm. It also plays pretty darn good.

In the one-player category, you've got modes including standard, mission, push, and touch, among others. The Mario-themed standard mode is your classic game of Tetris, wherein you can marathon to see how long you can last in an arbitrary starting line level, or fight against the CPU in a classic one-on-one battle. The mission mode has all the Zelda trappings, and it presents you with one specific task after another, with requirements like "complete three lines with the L-shaped piece" or "clear four lines twice in a row." These start out simply enough, but they can get quite difficult as you go.

The push mode sends you to a Donkey Kong-styled double-ended board in which you're essentially playing tug-of-war with the CPU. Each double, triple, or tetris you achieve will send the enemy CPU's board closer to a roaring inferno on its end, but then again, each one your foe gets will push you toward your own waiting set of spikes. There are even more modes to be found in the single-player game, but Nintendo has kindly requested we not reveal them just yet.

The multiplayer part of Tetris DS will surely prove to be its most endearing (and enduring) component.
The multiplayer part of Tetris DS will surely prove to be its most endearing (and enduring) component.

And that's not all! Lastly, there's the touch mode, which isn't much like Tetris at all--or at least, there are no blocks actively falling from the sky. You'll start out with a big pile of blocks already in place, and you can use the stylus to drag and rotate them around in order to drop them into gaps and create lines. If you can successfully drop and then complete a box of balloons hanging out at the top of the stack, you win the round. All of these single-player modes are extremely accessible, thanks to very detailed tutorials that walk you through all the rules. The modes are also a joy to play simply because they're so rife with Nintendo charm, as the music and all the peripheral graphics are lifted straight from all the NES classics mentioned so far.

If that sounds like more Tetris than you can handle, you'd better quit reading now; otherwise, imagine all this madness multiplied by a factor of 10. Nintendo must feel really bad about leaving two-player out of the old 1989 NES version of the game, because it's paying you back with interest by giving Tetris DS a 10-player wireless mode that you can play with only one cart. We were able to play the standard, mission, and push modes just by downloading the data to the other DSs in the area, and there's no telling what other options will become available when we get to try the multiplayer out with multiple carts.

How many games from the '80s could get this many jaded fans together in one room? (Note: There are seven more players out of frame.)
How many games from the '80s could get this many jaded fans together in one room? (Note: There are seven more players out of frame.)

The standard mode in particular took on a whole new level of awesome in the multiplayer context. You can set up your teams ahead of time--we pitted Team Ice Climber against Team Link in a bloody five-on-five duel to the death--and you have the option of including Mario Kart-style items in your matches like the red shell, which will clear out a few lines of your board; the banana, to scramble your opponents' boards; the mushroom, to make their pieces fall at the speed of light; and the star, which gives you unlimited long pieces for a few seconds. The best part is that you can see all other competitors' boards in miniature on your top screen, so you always know exactly how everyone is doing.

It must be a testament to the quality of Tetris DS that more than 10 GameSpot staffers eagerly assembled to get in a few rounds of a nearly 20-year-old game while such newfangled toys as Xbox 360s were momentarily forgotten. The game is smeared in Nintendo charm and puts so many new spins on the old classic that you'd be hard pressed to get bored of it immediately. Plus, the extensive and wildly entertaining multiplayer options ought to keep Tetris DS enjoyable in perpetuity. The game is due out next month, so look for a full review then.

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