Tetris Worlds does what countless iterations of the game haven't managed to do in the past--it actually breaks Tetris.
One of the key draws of Tetris has always been its elegant simplicity--a simplicity that allows for open interpretation, which is attested to by the countless forms it has taken on consoles, the PC, cell phones, calculators, and various Web-based platforms. Now, Blue Planet Software has brought six different variations on the Tetris formula together for Tetris Worlds on the GBA. With its wealth of gameplay modes, passable presentation, and its classic, nostalgia-triggering music, Tetris Worlds probably would have been one of the best iterations of Tetris yet. Unfortunately, Tetris Worlds also introduces one particular change to the gameplay that renders the classic game all but unplayable.
Graphics and sound have never been make-or-break categories for Tetris games, but Tetris Worlds handles both of them capably. The music is made up of all the old classic Tetris tunes and a few completely forgettable new songs. The Tetris field itself looks like, well, Tetris. Each mode has its own screensaver-style backdrop, where you'll see polar bears tromping across a tundra or a jellyfish cruising through the deep sea. It's all decent-looking window dressing, if not slightly distracting from the game at hand.
As previously mentioned, Tetris Worlds is composed of six different flavors of Tetris. In Cascade Tetris, individual blocks that make up the different shapes will slide down independently once they land. Square Tetris gives you extra points for creating a four-by-four square of blocks. In HotLine, the only way to make a line clear count is by clearing lines at certain levels in the playfield. In Fusion Tetris, you'll occasionally be given an atom block, which must be attached to the fusion block buried at the bottom of the playfield to advance to the next level. In Sticky Tetris, shapes are made of multiple colors that will fuse with similarly colored blocks to form gigantic immoveable slab. Then there's plain old white-bread Tetris, which works just like it did in 1985.
Each version can be played in marathon mode, where the game goes on for as long as you can; ultra mode, where you're charged with completing specific objectives within a limited amount of time; or head-to-head versus mode. Tetris Worlds institutes two gameplay conventions 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 gives you a better idea of where your piece will end up once you drop it by projecting an outline of the current shape in play on the bottom of the screen. These additions can make playing Tetris a lot less frustrating, and in the case of the hold function, slightly more strategic, though both of these functions can be turned off for those who detest any form of handholding.
There is one aspect of the gameplay that unfortunately cannot be turned off. Once the piece in play reaches the bottom, you can continue to spin the piece infinitely, which will keep it from setting and keep the next piece from dropping. While your Tetris piece is in this limbo state, you can also move it side to side, giving you ample time to decide where it should go. This change effectively castrates the game, removing any challenge it might have presented. We were able to tear through the game's 15 levels of difficulty without breaking a sweat, thanks to this infinite spinning bug. The point of Tetris has always been to push the player to think and move as quickly as possible; with Tetris Worlds, there is no point.
Which begs the question, did THQ and Blue Planet make this gameplay alteration for the benefit of novice players, or was this simply an oversight? Either way, Tetris Worlds does what countless iterations of the game haven't managed to do in the past--it actually breaks Tetris.