Review: Tetris Elements
Requirements: 500 MHz processor, 128 MB RAM, Mac OS 9.1 or Mac OS X
Tetris: the grandfather of the modern puzzle game. Prior to its release in the late 1980s on the venerable Commodore 64, Apple II, and IBM PCs, the puzzle game genre consisted mainly of peg puzzle simulations, sliding picture puzzles, and maze-solving games. Once Alexey Pazhitnov’s juggernaut was released to the world, the puzzle-game genre was forever changed.
The game of Tetris has spawned more clones than Doom, and has gone through a lot of evolution since its initial release. There have been many pretenders to the throne, but Tetris has always remained the one true king, that game that you are always coming back to for “just one more round.” Chances are that, if you play video games at all, you’ve played Tetris. Whether it’s the original home-computer incarnations, the ultra-popular Gameboy version, or the many variants released for the consoles, Tetris is literally a household name.
This is why I was excited to see that Tetris Elements had been released for the Macintosh. Our platform of choice has not seen an “official” Tetris game since the original Spectrum Holobyte release back in 1988. Finally, some official Tetris love for the Mac faithful! Tetris Elements, while a worthy addition to the Macintosh gaming library, is somewhat of a mixed bag, however.
Tetris Elements is a combination of variations of the classic Tetris formula. Differently shaped playing pieces, or tetriminos, fall from the top of a well. The player rotates the pieces and drops them into position at the bottom of the well, creating complete lines across. These lines, in turn, disappear. The goal: don’t allow the pieces to fill the well.
With Tetris Elements, there are five new game modes added to the classic gameplay, each adding an interesting element to the Tetris formula. Each variation is based on an element of nature: air, earth, storm, fire, and ice.
Stratosphere features meteors that fall from shooting stars, bouncing off of the sides of the well to the blocks below. The meteors will eliminate blocks when they finally crash into the rows below. These meteors can either help or hinder your progress. Depending on where you are in creating a particular row, they can hinder by eliminating block needed to create a full row, or help by eliminating the few blocks needed to get to the row below it.
Earthquake Tetris incorporates one of the Tetris variants that I think is the most interesting one to come out in a while, Tetris Cascade. As you complete rows, the leftover blocks from depleted tetriminos will fall into open areas below the completed row. As these blocks complete rows below, combos, called cascades, can occur. This version of Tetris really adds life to the game, in that even if you are getting close to the top of the well, one lucky cascade can clear half of the well and keep you playing until the next level. Earthquake adds to this variation by creating random tremors that shake the playfield, shifting both the settled blocks and the blocks that are currently falling.
Tempest is possibly the hardest of the variations here. In Tempest, you are in control of two separate Tetris matrices. The raging storm will switch you between the two playfields throughout the game. In all of the variations, you can hold a particular piece for play at a later time in the game. In Tempest, you are allowed to hold multiple pieces. This is the real key to the game. You must remember what pieces you will need to complete rows in the alternate matrix, and then hold these pieces. Once the matrix switches, you will be able to use the held pieces to complete the rows. Each row that is completed with held pieces earns bonus points.
Fire Tetris uses chain reactions to create its variation. In Tetris, you can press a key to immediately drop a piece from where it is falling to its eventual resting place at the bottom of the well. In Fire Tetris, the higher the piece is when you drop it, the hotter it becomes. If you complete a row with hot pieces, they will cause a chain reaction with the pieces around them, causing them to disappear as well. The hotter the pieces, the more rows (up to eight) they will take out at once. Very explosive, indeed.
The final element-based variation is Ice Tetris. Icicles form at the top of the Tetris matrix. As they reach critical size, they will flash and fall into the well. If there is a tetrimino below the falling icicle, it will smash the piece into the blocks below. If there are open spots in the blocks below the piece, the icicle will smash the tetrimino into the open spots, causing cascade-like effects.
While the different variations do make the game a worthwhile addition, the game looks and plays like an online game. There is no attempt to take advantage of the graphical prowess of today’s computer systems, or the ease at which Mac OS X handles OpenGL graphics. Everything, while colorful, is very basic from a graphical standpoint. Things like the Cascade/Earthquake variation use different graphical cues to make it obvious that cascades are occurring on other gaming platforms. The version presented here is extremely simple, and it makes it hard to tell what is going on with the cascades quite often. A little more platform-specific attention to the graphics could have turned this game into a real gem.
The music, while defining the earlier Tetris games with its take on Eastern European rhythms and melodies, is standard techno fare. Luckily, it is extremely easy to add your own music to the background, by adding your own renamed MP3 files to the music folder in the install directory.
But, let’s face it, when it comes right down to it, if you are playing this game for any other reason than to play Tetris, then you are probably not the audience this game was created for. Tetris lovers can embrace this game with a clear conscience, especially on the Macintosh platform. Buy with the knowledge that you are in for some serious Tetris fun.