Review: Tetrisphere (N64)

In this review, things get rather shifty in the N64 game Tetrisphere. We find out how well this puzzle game plays.

This game was released in 1997. While this game does feature a number of similarities to the original concept of Tetris, it ultimately plays like its own game.

The game revolves around an umber of different robots. These robots can compact into spheres, but once fully deployed, they become their own character. There isn’t much of a storyline for most modes. The Hide And Seek mode features the most fleshed out version where the bots are playing hide and seek. The player’s bot is chosen to be “it”. Rescue basically has the player rescuing the various bots.

There are a few similarities between this and the original Tetris game besides the name itself. Players will work with mostly Tetris pieces. The only oddball piece not featured as one of the Tetris pieces is the purple small “L” piece. The larger “L” pieces, however, are not present in this game (probably a good thing, really).

While you can move pieces around, you can’t rotate them. This is pretty much where the similarities between the original Tetris and this game ends.

The main mode of play is rescue. This features Tetrisphere at its core basics. Players have a dark shadow of a piece to work with. Players can see the next three pieces coming up on a list off to the side. This shadow can be moved around the sphere.

On the lower right hand side of the screen is a sphere with a timer in it. Players have a limited period of time to use the piece they are using before they must drop it. If the blue timer expires, then the timer will turn yellow. This is when the player will gradually start to move in. If the piece touches the sphere without a match, the player will lose a life.

If the yellow timer manages to expire, the red timer will appear. This makes the pieces fall even faster and make it even less likely the player will not lose a life while it is counting down.

Players can use the shadow to move pieces around. If there is a piece blocking the way, then the movements will become limited.

If there is a second piece touching the first piece the players piece is hovering over, then the shadow will light up. This indicates that this is an acceptable place to drop a piece. When the player drops the piece, a number of the pieces in the chain will light up. They will gradually disappear from the sphere.

What counts as lined up pieces depends on the piece themselves. Some pieces like the large “I” pieces need to be lined up perfectly next to each other in order for it to count. Other more curious pieces such as the “S” piece, “T” piece, or the small “L” piece merely have to be touching each other for it to count. The only other piece that needs to be lined up perfectly that I’m aware of is the 2×2 blocks.

The goal of a regular rescue round is to reach the glowing core of the sphere. The core has a series of small 2×2 pieces completely covering it. If you expose a core piece, it will break away from the sphere completely. This reveals the bot inside. Expose a square large enough for the bot to fit through and you’ll “rescue” it, thus beating the level.

If, however, you lose three lives, it’ll be game over for you.

You’ll likely notice a number of 1×1 crystal pieces as you play. These pieces are generally breakable simply through the act of moving pieces into them. While this can be great for giving you more room to work with, these pieces can also serve another purpose. If you have a set of crystal pieces that can form the shape of the piece you currently have, then you can simply attempt to move the crystal pieces. This action will form a glowing piece that can be used to increase time when you start a chain with it. This isn’t the only method to get a glowing piece, though.

when you complete regular chains, you’ll notice small sparks flutter down on the sphere. When one of these touches a non-crystal piece, it will light the piece up. This makes it relatively easy to get more glowing pieces. Another bonus to these glowing pieces is the fact that you can move them up one layer. All you have to do is move the piece into the next layer up and it will move up as if to climb up the ledge. This is can be useful for creating multi-layer chains in the process.

One piece you can get is the small 1×1 circle shadow. This piece is the wildcard piece. With it, you can move any piece you like. The only downside is that you can’t create new pieces with this piece with the crystals, but this is a minor penalty compared to how powerful this piece is. you can also form chains with whatever piece you want. Still, these are not that common, so use them wisely while you still have them.

Another feature you will eventually encounter on the sphere are 1×1 fire blocks. These blocks break up like normal crystal pieces. The difference here is that if you break up this piece (whether by moving pieces or via chains), you’ll earn an item. This item will appear just below the timer. If you break up a single fire block, you’ll earn the rocket. You can use this rocket piece at any time with a C button.

If you choose to use the rocket, the rocket will fire down onto the sphere and cause a bunch of random pieces in a blast radius to light up white. These pieces will break up, leaving a thin hole in the pieces. This can help you get closer to the core without having to remove the pieces through normal moves. This is very useful if you are short on time and are running out of moves.

Of course, this item power-up isn’t so simple. If you obtain a second item power-up without using the first item, the item will power up to a more powerful item. There are a number of items including a large bomb, a magnetic mine, and the most powerful item of all, the molecule. The molecule with fly down onto the sphere and strip and entire layer off of the sphere. Should you get another power-up while possessing the molecule, the items will cycle back to an earlier part of the chain, so using this item while you have it is often beneficial.

Players can also execute more advanced moves. These moves will increase the “X” multiplier. Increasing this multiplier will multiply the number of points players can earn. The maximum multiplier is 20x, though getting past 10x requires a bit of skill.

The easiest way to increase the multiplier bonus is to perform a gravity chain. This involves moving pieces so that a piece will fall nicely into a chain below. If you force the piece to fall down to create a chain, you’ll see the pieces disappear without having to use the piece you currently have. The effect is that you’ll not only force the pieces to disappear, but also increase your multiplier bonus.

Another method is to carry glowing pieces over from one chain to another. To execute, you need two of the same pieces in a row to use. Execute the first chain. Then, with your second piece, move one of the white glowing pieces quickly from one chain to another. you need to do so quickly or it won’t count. This move will also increase the multiplier bonus.

In rescue, you have 10 levels. Complete all 10 levels and you’ll advance to the next episode. Complete all of the episodes to beat the game.

A second mode is the Hide and Seek mode. In this mode, you get to take on a series of mini-games revolving Tetrisphere. Some mini-games (such as Multi, Drill, and tower/crystal tower) involve uncovering something on the sphere. The indicator on where the picture is depends on the game with Multi having the picture pretty much everywhere. Other games involve different challenges. Brick, for instance, challenges the player to drop prick pieces all the way down to the core. Shift, challenges the player to find four picture pieces on the core and move them around to form a picture. Crystal tower forces the player to carefully remove pieces without breaking anything on the tower (challenging to say the least).

At the end of the list of a small series of mini-games, players will take on a minigame called Hide & Seek. This operates just like rescue, only the outcome is that you capture one of the other bots. Capture all of the bots in the game to move on to the next episode. Complete every episode to beat the game.

One important note is the fact that every game has a brief explanation the first time players encounter it, so there is no real getting lost along the way.

Training mode offers a full explanation to the player of every aspect of the basic gameplay and is a good first place to go when you are new to the game.

Time Trial gives players a limited amount of time to play a regular round (no bot rescue). The goal isn’t necessarily to complete as many spheres as possible. Instead, the goal is to get as many points as possible before time expires.

Vs. CPU pits you against a computer player. In this mode, you play a two player match with every bot in the game. Defeat every bot and you’ll advance to the next episode. Get to the final episode and you’ll take on the hardest opponent of all, the evil computer chip. Defeat the computer chip and, I believe, you win the game (never could do it myself, so I don’t know for sure).

Vs. mode operates just like 2p vs. Mode. Two players play simultaneously in a split screen duel to uncover the goal number of cores to win.

Small chains will cause pieces to turn black. To get red of black pieces, players must form a chain with at least two normal pieces in it with the black piece. This will get rid of it. Larger chains will cause a batch of black pieces to drop onto the sphere near where you are looking (move the shadow piece to a completely different part of the sphere and you can avoid the garbage where you are working entirely). What garbage you are about to send to your opponent while your chains are being formulating is indicated by the small dots and larger blocks along the top of the screen. Large blocks is a drop of blocks while small dots will cause a piece to go black.

A final mode is puzzle mode. In this mode, you work with a limited number of moves to remove every block on the sphere section. In total, there are 100 puzzles for you to solve. Not all of them are hard and not all of them are easy, let’s just put it that way.

One thing is for sure, I’ve played a few re-imaginings of Tetris before. These sorts of re-imaginings turn up very mixed results. Tetris 2, for instance, had terrible results. Meanwhile, Tetris Attack had excellent results. The thing is, the name is one of the very few things the game had in common with the original Tetris. For me, this game’s re-imagining is very impressive. It’s hard to imagine Tetris in a 3D environment, but this game hits the nail on the head.

The difficulty curve is very well thought out. The first few episodes in different modes allows players to get their feet on the ground. The last few episodes, meanwhile, are incredibly challenging. This is thanks to quicker clocks, smaller time bonuses, and larger piece variety on the sphere. as a result, this game is both approachable for new players and challenging to experienced players. It’s very impressive.

Another big strength this game has is the way it describes play. this game might otherwise have a bit of a learning curve otherwise, but the explanations this game employs works very well. You don’t necessarily sit through a whole wall of text. Instead, this game uses minimal text and does far more showing than telling. It allows you to practice moves you learned. It also offers barely a sentence or two for Hide & Seek games. Because of this, the learning curve fantastic.

In addition to all of this, the game is very feature rich. You can spend hours just toying around with one game and find that there are other entertaining games to play in this game. The most amazing thing is that, even with the weakest game (puzzle mode), the game is still at least very entertaining for a while. Every game is well thought out and provides a bunch of quality entertainment. What’s more, every game has an excellent difficulty curve.

In all honesty, it’s very hard to come up with any pitfalls for this game. The only thing I can think of is that the small D-Pad you have to work with can be a little constraining at times when dealing with intense play. Most players won’t even notice this anyway, so this is a very minor problem in this game.

At any rate, the game is so absorbing, I often lose track of time playing this. In fact, years later, I go back to play this game again and this game has a way of sucking me back into it. I want to keep playing this game for hours on end even though I have lost all the progress I made long ago. It’s less about progress and more about just plain fun.

Generally speaking, this is an excellent game. It’s addicting, has a great difficulty curve, and an excellent learning curve. It’s hard to imagine Tetris in a 3D environment, but this game not only succeeds in doing so, but also makes it an excellent experience. It’s very absorbing. Even after several years have passed for me since my last play, I still want to play this game for hours on end. The only complaint I have is the D-Pad can be constraining during intense play, but this is minor since most players likely won’t even experience this problem. So, an excellent game.

The graphics are another major strength in this game. The concept of the bots are well done. They are well rendered and well-animated. The special effects on the sphere is such a nice sight to see. Though the backgrounds are abstract, they are varied and generally very well done. It fits the theme of this game so perfectly. what’s more is the effects of light in this game. When you expose small parts of the core, you’ll see beams of light shooting out. For a game of its time, this game is practically graphical perfection.

Audio delivers another punch of quality to the experience. Every track can easily be a favorite track. My personal favorite is Phony because it seems to help me play more quickly. Still, any one of these tracks in the game can be a highlight. Everything together makes this game an audio masterpiece. The sound effects only adds to the gameplay. Each sound is simple to understand and can help gameplay. The sound effects don’t just take a side seat to the game, but rather, can become an integral part of enhancing the players capabilities. Overall, it’s an impressive performance.

Overall, this game is an excellent game. It re-imagines Tetris in a way that exceeds my expectations. It’s hard to imagine Tetris in a 3D environment, but this game does so very successfully. the game has a great difficulty curve and a highly respectable learning curve. The game is rich with features and is highly absorbing. The graphics only enhances gameplay with its impressive backgrounds and well done special effects. The musical quality is masterful and the sound effects are spot on. A highly recommended game to say the least.

Furthest point in game:
Beat Hide & Seek.
Died on the last episode of rescue.
Was defeated by the fourth computer chip in vs. Mode.
Forgot how far I got into Puzzle mode, but I got a great deal into it.

General gameplay: 23/25
Replay value: 10/10
Graphics: 10/10
Audio: 5/5

Overall rating: 96%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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