Tetris Axis: Descending deeper into block madness

October 9, 2011

The newly-released Tetris Axis isn’t Tetris‘ first foray into 3D portable gaming. In fact, it’s not the second, either. The Virtual Boy saw what remain the best and worst 3D entries of the series: the horrible 3D Tetris and the wonderful (but Japan-only) V-Tetris.

If V-Tetris represents the pinnacle of 3D-enabled Tetris and 3D Tetris defines the lowest depths, Tetris Axis is at the middle point of the Tetris axis.

The game you know and love is still here, and so are some other modes. In addition to the standard Marathon are over a dozen different ways to play the block-falling game. The main ones? Fever, a narrow-field, fast-paced game with power-ups and combos, is the featured new creation. There’s also Survival, which throws piles of blocks up at you quickly, and Computer Battle, with increasingly-difficult opponents.

Then you get into some of the crazier variations, most of which have been seen in Hudson’s recent Tetris Party games for Wii and DS. Jigsaw has you put together a photo by putting pieces in the right spot. Fit gives you a top-down view of an 8-by-8 grid and asks you to place pieces quickly into gaps in an ever-rising plane. (Think Hole in the Wall.) Bombliss Plus is a recreation of this sought-after variation that has finished lines trigger bombs that remove blocks, changing a lot of the strategy for where to place pieces. Capture makes you place certain blocks over certain spaces to, well, “capture” them. Sprint has you racing to clear 40 lines as fast as possible. Shadow, making its return, tasks you with making certain block formations in the shape of random objects and animals. Tower Climber gets you to allow a little guy to climb higher and higher by giving him one-block steps to ascend. Stage Racer tests your ability to rotate pieces through obstacles, and Master is just standard Tetris, but the speed is cranked up to max at the start. That’s a bunch of modes, right? Still, we miss the Dual Spaces, Co-op and Push variations from previous releases.

So there’s a lot of game here, which is nice, though only a few have enough to them to make you come back more than once. But wait! This wouldn’t be a 3DS game without gimmick modes! Yes, you can also play a smaller version of Marathon or a full version of Tower Climber using the system-standard AR card. The problem? What makes AR games interesting is looking around objects, finding things. These modes have an ideal viewing angle, and making you move around for it instead of just seeing it  on-screen isn’t very fun. (Another headache: the Marathon variant intentionally changes angles when you clear lines. Just to make you move slightly.)

There’s a decent amount of multiplayer options here, too: you can play Battle, Fever or Marathon with download play, five more modes with other game-owners and a World Battle mode over Wi-Fi.

This would all result in a solid release if the system didn’t already have versions of Tetris playable on it: the well-regarded Tetris DS, with its first-party theme and novel game types; Tetris Party Deluxe, with many of Axis‘ modes; and a downloadable version, Tetris Party Live, with all the main features of Deluxe and a lower price. Axis doesn’t get much out of the 3D, so it only has an advantage if you like the higher resolution. It manages to out-class the Party titles with similar modes but a few more bells and whistles(which makes sense, since Hudson was behind those games, too).

Tetris DS, though, is a much more viable foe. That game’s six modes have more staying power than Axis‘ 20, and its retro feel means it won’t feel dated for a long time. Still, that game’s hard to find, and like we didn’t think people should stop trying to play pro basketball after Michael Jordan retired, we don’t think people shouldn’t try to make another solid Tetris game. Even if you’re not MJ, you still have some things to offer.

Pros: Interesting modes, Tetris is still good
Cons: Some misses, and some weird mode choices

Score: 3/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.