Review: Magical Tetris Challenge (N64)

In this review, things take a whole new form in the N64 game Magical Tetris Challenge. we find out what it’s like to play this puzzle game.

This game was released in 1999. A Game Boy Color version was released a year later. When we reviewed that version, the game only got a mediocre score. So, we thought we’d try the N64 version instead to see if it’s any better.

There are three main modes of play: Magical Tetris, Updown Tetris, and Endless Mode. Since the main mode for this game is Magical Tetris, we’ll talk about that mode first.

Magical Tetris features a full storyline of any of the four characters you select. You can pick between Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Minnie. While each character has their own unique storyline you follow, you ultimately take on every other character in the game including Pete and his two henchmen. As such, this is a vs. style game.

While the basic rules of Tetris applies, there are additional features this game has to offer. In this game, you can rack up “combos”. To do this, you can get consecutive single lines, double lines, triple, or even Tetris’. As long as each piece forms an additional minimum one line, you can continue getting bigger and bigger combo’s or “hits”. The practical side effect for yourself is the fact that the larger the combo you get in the round, the bigger your multiplier bonus gets. Another benefit is the fact that you send garbage over to your opponent in the process.

Another bonus you can earn is an “all clear”. This bonus offers a huge one-time bonus, but can be particularly difficult to get. In order to earn an “all clear”, you need to remove every single block from the playing field. While there are different methods to use that can accomplish this goal, the easiest method is to wait for your field to get cleared out for the first time. If you get a line piece right after, it’s possible to not only earn a Tetris, but also get the “all clear” bonus”.

In any vs. mode environment, you also get a magical meter. This meter is about 4 lines high to start with. For every line you earn, a small amount of “magic” is added to this meter. If you fill up this meter, a gloved hand will appear. The playing field will shake down every block in the playing field to eliminate all of the gaps. From there, the hand will draw a line at the height of your meter and remove every piece above that line. From there, some additional height is added to the meter before you continue on. The more often you do this, the more magic will be required and the less effective this becomes. How quickly the meter will rise depends on the difficulty you set for yourself in the options menu.

As mentioned, in the vs. mode, there is the all important garbage factor. Some versions of Tetris have forms of garbage, but this game seems relatively unique compared to the other versions we’ve played so far. At first, the garbage will simply take an existing Tetris piece and add an additional block to it. These pieces include the “L”/”T” hybrid piece, the jagged piece, the “U” piece, the surprisingly rare long “Z” piece, and, of course, the famed “Pentris” piece. The Pentris piece is an even longer line piece. As such, it is possible to get a “Pentris” which is 5 lines at one time. While it can be challenging to get it at the right time, the amount of garbage that flies towards your opponents can be huge.

One thing you want to keep in mind is the timer in the middle of the screen. After a certain period of time, the timer will ring to indicate another level. In total, there are four levels that you can climb to. As each level progresses, the magical pieces become more difficult to work with and the fall rate tends to increase as well.

In later levels, you will encounter even more challenging pieces to work with. At first, they’ll be the basic magic pieces. Later on in the round, you’ll notice “?” icons along the top when you encounter garbage. These are the block pieces. The most common is the green 2×2 block, but it’s possible to get a blue 3×3 block, red 4×4 blocks, or the scary white 5×5 block. Sometimes, these blocks aren’t that big of a deal, but depending on what is in your playing field, you may find yourself in an instant death situation when you still had a fair amount of room left to work with.

If you get a particularly large amount of garbage, you’ll find your magical garbage pieces and question marks turn into red “!” icons. These are the worst pieces you can work with in the game because they are either triangle pieces or, worse yet, the diamond shape blocks. These only occur if your garbage plate is already full and more is sent to more than fill it up. Duplicate garbage pieces become the dreaded exclamation mark pieces.

Of course, this may make the game sound hard, but this game also has another feature that makes it possibly more easy. This feature is known as the “counter”. If your opponent sends garbage over to your side, you can quickly get a number of lines before you get the pieces. As a result, some, or maybe almost all, of the garbage will get added together and sent back to your opponent. How much garbage is sent back depends on if you get a combo, single, or triple. Even single lines can send garbage back, but not a lot. Counters also count towards your score at the end of the match if you win.

In the event that you lose a match in the Magical Tetris mode, you’ll be given the option to continue. If you choose to continue, you can take the opponent that defeated you on in a re-match. As such, you can simply continue on from where you left off. The price of admission, however, is a reset of your entire score. The good news is that your magical meter is also reset to four lines in the process. Defeat Pete at the end of the series and you win the game.

Updown Tetris mode operates a lot like Magical Tetris mode. The only difference is that garbage works slightly differently. Instead of working with hard to work with pieces, the playing field gets pushed up from the bottom with more blocks. The game finds the hole on the bottom row and replicates it by creating a one block wide well. A line can easily send the garbage back over, however, it is easy to not have access to this well. As a result, you can easily stack on your side if you are not careful with your field. Again, defeat Pete and win the game.

One note about the difficulty selection in the Magical Tetris Mode and Updown Tetris mode: The harder the difficulty, the better the magical meter your opponent has. In easier modes, your opponents will start with a very high meter. On harder modes, however, your opponents will have shorter meters. As a result, your opponents will have an easier time clearing their field to a greater effect in the process.

The final mode is Endless mode. There’s the classic Tetris mode which is a single player mode. Keep playing for as long as possible before you die. Endless Magical Tetris is just like regular Magical Tetris Mode, only you’ll square off against opponents in random order. Defeat all of the opponents, and the game will reshuffle them and make you play against them again. You keep playing successive rounds until you lose.

For me, this is one of those games where I enter skeptical. The Game boy Color version of this game wasn’t that impressive. In addition to that, I recently played Mickey’s Ultimate Challenge which was downright simple to play. Again, nothing amazing. Way back, I also played Mickey’s speedway USA which, for me, was a terrible game to play. I honestly thought that Disney just isn’t capable of really making impressive games with the experience leading up to this game.

Now, having played this game, I wonder if I’m just playing the wrong efforts by Disney. This game surprised me in a very good way. Just playing around the Magical Tetris mode alone was very interesting. I’m always nervous when it comes to major modifications of Tetris, but the modifications this time around is very spot on to making this into a unique and great game. The magical pieces and the various feature makes this one a very entertaining game.

At the same time, if you are no expert in Tetris in general, it is still more than possible to do well. If you are a more novice player, you can simply work on timing your counters to stay alive long enough to win. If you are a more experienced player in Tetris, you can see how far you can get in the Magical Tetris mode. It’s actually impressive how challenging it is. I’ve made it all the way to Pete the odd time here and there without losing, but never made the clean sweep. I always lose at least once somewhere along the line.

Even if you lose a lot, the game allows you the opportunity to at least complete the story mode with the way continues work. You aren’t exactly hitting huge high scores, but you can, at the very least, experience the storyline of your character from beginning to end.

Still, if you are really wanting a challenge, you can always try the harder modes anyway. This game really does offer a nice amount of challenge to those who are more seasoned pro’s of the game.

What’s more is the fact that the game is fairly feature rich. It isn’t feature-packed necessarily, but it does have a number of features to keep players entertained. The updown mode and endless mode certainly ha a lot of gameplay value to offer. The inclusion of the classic endless mode works extremely well and is seemingly a must-have feature for a game like Tetris. Even if you don’t necessarily play it that often because you are too into the various vs. mode, it is at least there for those that want a more pure form of Tetris.

What I also like is the inclusion of the shadow. This really helps make play easier because you don’t have to eye the line straight down. The shadow assistant helps players avoid misplacement – especially if the player uses instant drops via the up arrow a lot.

The only real downside I see in this game is that play also depends a fair bit on luck. While there was always an element of luck in this game, luck is somewhat more emphasized in this game. This is because the timing if getting garbage is also a factor. Sometimes, you could normally take certain amounts of garbage without a problem. Unfortunately, if you happen to have the wrong configuration in your screen, you could suddenly lose unexpectedly thanks to bad timing. This can prove to be an annoying side of this game.

Still, this game generally has a lot going for it. It has a number of features that can keep players entertained for hours. The additional features this game offers mixes the old formula of Tetris up very nicely. The interactivity of your opponents works quite well and the addition of a storyline is a nice added bonus. Overall, there is a lot going for this game already.

The graphics are quite well done. The effects of the hands, numbers flying everywhere, and the little animations of each little thing that goes on is very impressive. Granted, it’s difficult to really see what the steering wheels actually do in standard play, but that doesn’t really make the graphics any worse. The slide show pictures that were thrown in for the storyline as well as the little bits of animations also makes for some nice eye candy. It’s very Disney style, but in this case, it works quite well. It would have been nice to see some small amounts of 3D thrown in, but the graphics as-is, are quite good considering it is flat 2D graphics.

The audio is definitely a bright spot for this game. The music in each level adds its own entertaining element. The docks level, for instance, utilizes an interesting Wah guitar to give the level a sort of, with lack of a better description, oldschool gangster feel. The farm level is really punctuated with the music. Probably my favourite is the machine shop level, though. While it has a mechanical feel to it, it is also surprisingly uplifting and encouraging. The boss levels are OK, but the machine shop level wins me over in this case. The sound effects are also nicely done.

While a number of sound effects are well done, there are subtle effects that help make this game pop. One example is the increasing pitch for successive Tetris’. I’m a little hesitant on giving this game a perfect score on this front because I’ve heard better, but one point less just seems like robbery at this point.

Overall, this is a very solid game. It takes the formula of Tetris and adds its own spin to it. The counter features, garbage system, and magic meter all make for some very interesting dynamics. The features also offer a few nice different styles of play. Some of the game revolves around luck, unfortunately. While inherent in many games of Tetris, this is punctuated a little bit more here unfortunately. The graphics are very solid. I would have liked to see the game take advantage of the consoles 3D capabilities in some way. Meanwhile, the audio is very solid here. So, an overall great game to play.

Furthest point in game: Beat the game with all four characters and earned the top score.

General gameplay: 20/25
Replay value: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Audio: 5/5

Overall rating: 82%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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