A year after releasing Tetris Worlds on the Xbox, THQ has released an updated version of the game. The only appreciable difference between the 2002 Tetris Worlds and the 2003 Tetris Worlds is the inclusion of Xbox Live support. Indeed, this is a pretty significant addition, and it makes Tetris Worlds a significantly more recommendable title, though that recommendation comes with some caveats.
Graphics and sound have never been make-or-break categories for Tetris games, though this didn't stop Radical Entertainment from making Tetris Worlds one of the flashier versions of the game to date. Each mode has its own themed backdrop, where you'll see barren deserts, erupting volcanoes, an icy tundra, and more exotic and fanciful landscapes. Tetris Worlds shows off a little flair from time to time with particle and lighting effects, though you'll probably be too focused on the game at hand to give notice. The music is made up of noodley ambient techno and industrial tracks, all of which are completely forgettable. Thankfully, the Xbox version of Tetris Worlds allows you to rip your own soundtrack, if you prefer.
Tetris Worlds is composed of six different flavors of Tetris: square Tetris, cascade Tetris, sticky Tetris, hot-line Tetris, fusion Tetris, and plain old white-bread Tetris. By tweaking the existing rules of Tetris or adding entirely new rules, each mode requires you to come at block management and block placement with a slightly different strategy--though, for better or for worse, they're all still Tetris. Any of these modes can be played solo or against up to three other players on a single Xbox, and more importantly, you can also play square Tetris, cascade Tetris, and standard Tetris against three opponents via Xbox Live. Square and cascade Tetris can both be played in knockout mode, where extra incomplete lines are added to the bottom of your opponents' fields when you clear multiple lines. Standard Tetris can also be played in knockout mode, as well as in race mode, where the goal is to simply clear lines and reach the next level of difficulty before your opponents. Finally, the game features a lounge mode, which takes the focus off straight competition and instead serves as a sort of chat room. The online mode in Tetris Worlds comes with all the Xbox Live fixings, including voice-chat support, friends lists, and quickmatch and optimatch options, as well as a stat-tracking system to let you see how you stack up against other Tetris Worlds players. The whole online experience is well executed, and if you've been playing Tetris all by yourself for all these years, this version of Tetris Worlds will show you exactly what you've been missing.
The only real issue to be had with the online play in Tetris Worlds comes from some of the game's hand-holding. Tetris Worlds institutes three gameplay mechanics that may prove helpful for the novice and the expert alike. The hold function lets you remove a piece that is in play and save it for later, making it easier to plan out and execute a full four-line Tetris. The ghost piece shows you where your piece will end up once you drop it by projecting an outline of the current shape in play on the lowest point of the field. Finally, the easy spin function allows you to continue to spin and move a piece in play long after it has touched down on another block, giving you ample time to decide where to place it.
All of these options are, well, optional--at least for yourself. When you take the game online, though, there's no telling if other players are using these performance-enhancing options or not, and though you can ask other players really nicely not to use them, there's no way of ensuring that you'll get an evenhanded game if you happen to detest any form of handholding. It's truly unfortunate, and maybe a little sloppy, that you cannot force all players in a game to play by the same rules, but ultimately, this doesn't break the game. It may tilt the odds in favor of players who use them, but playing Tetris Worlds online is still an enjoyable experience.
THQ isn't the first publisher to take Tetris online on a console--Crave released The Next Tetris - Online Edition on the Dreamcast in 2000--but Tetris Worlds does it so much better that a comparison of the two isn't even appropriate. The low price point that THQ is releasing Tetris Worlds at makes the game all the more enticing, though it's worth noting that PC owners can play Tetris online for free via TetriNET, which happens to be even more full-featured than Tetris Worlds. All that aside, Tetris Worlds is still the best option for console gamers looking for some online puzzle action.