Is it possible to reach Tetris oversaturation? The original game is still every bit as addictive as it was when it first came out almost 30 years ago. But now that you can get multiple versions of the classic puzzler on just about every gaming-capable platform imaginable, the prospect of shelling out for yet another Tetris collection is increasingly unappealing. Tetris Axis brings many different variations of the familiar line-clearing puzzle action to the 3DS and makes use of the system's unique functions. With one notable exception, there's not a lot of fresh, exclusive content to entice players who have already picked up other recent Tetris games, but 20-plus play modes and strong multiplayer options give this collection some appeal.
The original Marathon mode (making lines until the screen fills up to the top) remains one of the best ways to enjoy Tetris. It's included here as one of four main offerings in the featured modes menu. Computer Battle puts you in a series of competitive matches against 10 AI-controlled players and lets you use items to meddle with your opponents' playing fields. There's also Survival, where you play in a narrower grid matrix with blocks rising from below. They're enjoyable variations that don't venture too far from the rules of the main game. However, the one all-new featured mode steals the show.
Fever is a fast-paced twist on Survival that's also played in a narrow field. With only 60 seconds on the clock, the goal is to thrash your way through as many lines as possible to rack up a high score and collect coins to spend on special items. Once the items are unlocked, you can spend coins to use them to aid you, and you can gain even more coins by connecting to the online leaderboards to post your score. Fever works with SpotPass too, letting you unlock extra items when connecting with other users passing by. In addition to using the special power-ups, you can trigger a color attack to flip the board around for a few seconds, giving you a chance to boost your score with special block layouts. Fever's short-and-sweet matches are great for a quick burst of intense fun when you don't have a lot of time to devote to a full game, and the in-game coin element makes regular replays a must.
Beyond its featured play modes, Tetris Axis has a slew of party minigames that vary in quality. If you've played Tetris Party Deluxe, then you've already experienced most of the short diversions in Party mode. A few activities, such as the explosive line-clearing Bombliss and the tricky space-squeezing Stage Racer, have been updated for the 3DS. Minigames such as Jigsaw, in which you fit tetriminos into a specific pattern, and Master Mode, in which you must juggle the puzzle blocks dropping down at warp speed, round out this good array of different activities. There aren't many that will hold your attention for an extended period of time like Fever or Marathon will, but they're fun to fiddle with for a change of pace. Two modes even make use of the 3DS camera and AR card. AR Marathon and AR Climber let you project the playing field across real-world backgrounds in clever ways that are amusing, though not dramatically different in terms of gameplay.
A satisfying range of multiplayer modes and options are included for up to eight players, though they're skewed more toward local play than online competition. Connecting to the Internet lets you face off against friends or strangers in straightforward versus battles with or without items. The limited nature of online play is unfortunate, though it's fun to connect and duke it out regardless. Local multiplayer features more options and modes to challenge friends with, including co-op Tower Climber, Versus Stage Racer, and Capture, to name a few. Since not everyone will want to pick up another Tetris collection, single-card download play for three of the beefier modes is a welcome inclusion.
Axis appears to get its name from your ability to pause the game and use the circle pad to rotate the entire playing field at odd angles. This pairs well with the 3D slider to create cool visual effects, but it's not conducive to precise block placement. Otherwise, all gameplay controls are handled with the D-pad and buttons. The 3D itself isn't dramatic; it enhances some game modes more than others. Axis' minimalistic presentation is clean and colorful without being as flashy as past installments. It lacks the Nintendo-themed 8-bit charm of Tetris DS but isn't as over-the-top kidsy as Tetris Party Deluxe. The balance results in a bland vibe that doesn't impress or offend. Inclusion of Mii support is a cute touch, though your little avatar doesn't do much more than dance around repetitively on the lower screen.
Tetris Axis touches all the requisite bases, and that's about it. The modes and gameplay options are sound and enjoyable, making it worth a purchase if you've yet to pick up any of the recent portable Tetris games. But there's not enough new content or defining features to make Tetris on the 3DS stand out as the definitive version to own.