If you've ever thought that Tetris' brilliant design might have been an accident, just take a look at the missteps taken in Tetris Worlds and you'll gain a newfound appreciation for the original.
So it hasn't stood the test of time as long as chess has--but you can probably imagine that, hundreds of years from now, both Tetris and chess will still remain popular. Chess is thousands of years old, but Tetris was invented in the 1980s by Alexey Pajitnov and gained most of its popularity as the pack-in game for the Nintendo Game Boy portable console. The inventor of chess probably couldn't have fathomed how enduring chess would be, and neither could anyone have guessed just how great of an impact Tetris would have. But all these years have proven that Tetris is undoubtedly one of the greatest electronic games ever designed.
The game's ingenious formula is immediately intuitive--as various blocks fall from the top of the screen, you are compelled to shift them into the proper position to form lines, which promptly vanish, letting you keep on going. The challenge mounts as the blocks start falling faster and faster. It's a perfect, beautifully simple formula--and yet THQ's recent Tetris Worlds demonstrates that this formula can be botched. If you've ever thought that Tetris' brilliant design might have been an accident, just take a look at the missteps taken in Tetris Worlds and you'll gain a newfound appreciation for the original.
Tetris Worlds isn't a terrible idea at its core--it's supposed to be a sort of contemporary revision of the original, complete with attractive visuals and a more robust set of options. In fact, you could easily spend your first few hours enjoying what Tetris Worlds has to offer. Its new variations on the classic Tetris gameplay are a decent enough change of pace from the core gameplay. For instance, in Hot Line Tetris, you score only when you clear particular lines on the board--the higher the line, the better you score, but the closer you'll be toward losing since you can't let the blocks fill the entire board. In Cascade Tetris, there's a "gravity" effect that causes blocks to fall once a line is clear. This effect can be used to trigger chain reactions for big points. Other modes include Sticky Tetris, a variation on Cascade Tetris, where same-colored blocks stick together; Fusion Tetris, where small indestructible "atom" blocks fall intermittently; and even Learning Tetris, which according to the manual is "recommended for people who have never played a computer game before."
Regardless of which mode you play, Tetris Worlds controls nicely using just the keyboard. Horizontal arrow keys move your block left and right, the down arrow drops it down quickly, the up arrow and the Ctrl key rotate it, and the space bar causes a "hard drop," which involves the block instantly appearing at the bottom of the board. Optionally, you even have the ability to "hold" the currently falling block--to take it out of play for the moment until the time is right.
The fundamental, critical flaw in Tetris Worlds lies in what happens when your block hits the bottom of the board. In the original Tetris, you'd have a moment here to rotate your block a couple of times. As the pace picked up, you'd desperately try to squeeze each block into the proper place. In Tetris Worlds, you can rotate a block indefinitely once it's reached the bottom of the board. You can also continue to move it left and right, and the continuous rotation even sometimes gives the block leverage to "climb" up and over the little valleys that you might have formed.
The ramifications of this perhaps aren't obvious--but rest assured that this particular quirk in Tetris Worlds, regardless of whether or not it's intentional, effectively nullifies almost all of the challenge inherent to Tetris. In Tetris Worlds, no matter how quickly blocks are falling, you have an unlimited amount of time to consider each move--and subsequent moves after that. Not only is the challenge of Tetris forfeit, but so too is the intensity.
If you're a reasonably experienced Tetris player, you should be able to complete any of the game's various modes of play within a few sittings. Regardless of which mode you choose, you start at level one and work your way up through 15. Once you've finished a mode, you'll find precious little reason to go back to it. The original Tetris isn't such a great game just because it's fun--it's because the game just doesn't get boring. But in Tetris Worlds, since there's none of the original challenge, there's none of the original longevity. Ironically, this is partly because you can just go on playing Tetris Worlds until the game ends. It's not a question of how long you can play until you inevitably succumb to the difficulty.
Tetris Worlds is focused on a bizarre "story mode" that takes place in a science-fiction world. Each of the main modes of play found in the game is set in a colorful, attractive fully 3D environment. A cute little eyeball character watches your actions as you play. The game's audio effects are fitting, and you can turn them down or off if you like. Tetris Worlds even has a number of default gameplay options--for example, the aforementioned "hold" command, as well as the ability to see a "ghost" block at the bottom of the screen, which is where your block would land if you hard-dropped it. The game's techno-ambient music does get a bit repetitive, but even that is pretty good. So how is it possible that the actual gameplay of Tetris Worlds could have such an egregious flaw in it?
In the end, the answer to this question doesn't matter, because the fact remains the same. Tetris Worlds offers multiplayer modes for up to four players on a single computer, but those don't save it any more than the pretty graphics do. Tetris is perhaps the most common electronic game ever made. There are umpteen free Web-based versions and shareware versions of the game available all over the Internet, such as this one. Most of these you can run in a window while occupied with other things--unfortunately, not even that can be said for Tetris Worlds. Ultimately, this is a completely failed attempt to revive a classic game that really doesn't need reviving, since it's still as ubiquitous as ever.