It's 1999, and odds are you already own Tetris in one form or another, be it on the Game Boy, NES, PlayStation, or even some crazy freeware Tetris clone for the PC. They all pretty much played the same way. One of six different shapes, each made up of four blocks, descend into a pit. You can rotate and place the shapes wherever you wish. Your goal? Make lines that go across the entire pit. So with all these different versions of Tetris, and with one (Capcom's Magical Tetris) already available for the N64, does the world really need a "new" Tetris? Not really. Does that make the game any less exciting? Not a bit.
The single-player modes in Tetris let you play by yourself or against a computer opponent. It's pretty straightforward. If you clear more than two lines at once, one or more lines of garbage are sent to the computer player and vice-versa. Marathon mode is your standard never-ending Tetris game, while ultra mode ends at 150 lines. Sprint mode puts a countdown on the proceedings, and whoever clears the most lines wins. But enough about one-player. The multiplayer mode is where this game pays off, specifically the three- and four-player games. There are three types of garbage modes to choose from here. None is the boring way to play; this disables garbage altogether and makes it more like four separate games than one competition. Directed lets you choose which of your opponents will receive the junk lines, allowing you to gang up on a really good player and knock him out early. Hot potato highlights one of the players, and all garbage goes to that player. When the highlighted player clears a line, the highlight moves to a random player - maybe even the player who's already highlighted.
Other than the modes, it's roughly the same old Tetris, though there are a few more twists. If you can manage to make a four by four block, it will fuse together into a giant, hulking slab. Clearing this monster block gives you a lot more lines than a normal clear. Another nice touch is the hold piece, which gives you a go-to piece you can swap with the currently falling piece. This lets you save the straight pieces for later in the game, when you can do the most damage. Also, you can see the next three pieces; most old Tetris games only let you see one piece into the future. Finally, the ghost shadow of your currently falling piece appears at the bottom of your well for easier placement. Also, your lines are used to unlock various wonders of the world: You fit Tetris blocks together to build a pyramid or other building. Once you have enough lines to complete the structure, a lush 3D scene unfolds, complete with a mini history lesson on the structure.
Graphically, well, it's Tetris. It doesn't really have to do much. But the backgrounds are very nice-looking, and the blocks are, well, colorful. The little scenes that unveil the wonders are pretty well animated and really give you a sense of accomplishment. The music is surprisingly great. The game fires up to a remix of some of the old Game Boy Tetris music, and most of the in-game music consists of some pretty competent drum and bass.
The New Tetris puts on a good show. It's a great version of Tetris. Will you ever complete 500,000 lines and unlock the seventh and final wonder? Not if you're playing alone. N64 owners looking for a good multiplayer puzzle game would do well to pick it up, but if you're just looking for a great single-player version of Tetris, open up your closet instead of your wallet. Chances are you already own one.