Neither the Tetris franchise nor the Disney empire need anyone's help when it comes to tossing a product to the adoring masses, then raking in the respective dough. Yet both have teamed up in Capcom's Magical Tetris Challenge for the Nintendo 64. And while the Tetris and the Challenge parts are clear, it's the Magical component that's decidedly questionable from this one.
There are three modes of play in MTC - Magical Tetris, Updown Tetris, and Endless mode - each with a one-player story option or a two-player versus game, yet there's nothing definitively good or bad about them. In Magical Tetris, in one-player story mode, you start off with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, or Minnie Mouse as your token character while encountering other personalities, such as Evil Pete, throughout the game. The basic storyline is different, depending on whom you choose to play as, but the function is basically the same. If you select Mickey, for example, the story is driven by your attempt to win Minnie while finding stones, learning secrets, reading tablets, battling Evil Pete, and you have to challenge the other characters, good and bad, at Tetris bouts to succeed. If you choose Goofy, you take Minnie presents, make cookies, and so on, all through Tetris matches. Any way you slice it, Minnie and cookies end up in the mix, in true 1950s Disney fashion. But does the story really matter? Not any more than it does in Super Puzzle Fighter or any other puzzle game for that matter.
The Updown Tetris mode is probably the most challenging and interesting of the small batch of gameplay options. While the storyline is present again in single player, the challenges in one and two player are more varied from Magical Tetris in that rows of stones build up the longer it takes you to break your pieces away, for example. This doesn't exactly add a whole new dimension to Tetris, but it certainly breaks up the monotony. The endless mode is the classic Tetris game. While you still work your way through the puzzles with the Disney characters in tow, this mode lets you circumvent the silly storyline and cut to the chase.
Within the various modes, the graphics are typical puzzle-game bubble gum. Interestingly, the places the graphics have the opportunity to shine is in the character animations and storyline. The Disney characters looked no better than in the SNES games, and the N64 is easily more powerful. And well, the music is goofy, too. Actually the tunes are a fragrant mix of early '80s pop, which ends up sounding like the band Chicago, the theme song from Too Close for Comfort, and Prince without the sexy lyrics all playing in the same room. But there are some good points, however. One complaint with Tetris Plus on the Saturn was that the controls were stiff. On a positive note, the controls in Magical Tetris are quite responsive. Another noteworthy feature is the ghosting option. With ghosting on, you can see where your blocks will land to assist you in maneuvering them into place. Of course if you want to do it the hard way, you can turn this feature off and on by hitting the top C button. Besides that, the game actually is quite challenging, even on the normal setting. There are five difficulty levels: very easy, easy, normal, hard, and very hard. The latter levels offer a stunning reminder that getting your butt kicked by a Disney character is more humiliating than you might imagine.
In the end, Magical Tetris Challenge does offer a degree of the familiar cataleptic state puzzle game fans are so fond of, but if you already own a Tetris game, you probably don't need to buy this one. The Disney name and the N64's capabilities bring nothing significantly new to the Tetris name that you didn't already appreciate before.