Review: Tetris: Axis (3DS)

Do the pieces fit or are we left with gaps in the field?

Developer: Hudson Soft
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: October 2nd, 2011
Score: 3.5/ 5

With Tetris: Axis, I went in excited to play the game since Tetris is one of my favorite franchises.  While all my expectations weren’t met, the game seems to offer a bit of everything to players.  When reading this review, it’s important to note that I am not a highly advanced player who plays the Tetris: the Grand Master versions of the game, and this review may reflect that.

When firing up the game for the first time, you’re presented with the title screen that offers the Main Menu, Play Marathon!, Play Fever!, and AR Modes.  As the “Play” suggests, these will take you directly into those game modes; AR Modes does the same, though it lets you choose between AR Marathon or AR Tower Climber.  In the Main Menu, things are a mess.  The menu is slow and organized strangely, with modes being contained in sub-menus of sorts.  It can be a pain to navigate to the mode you want to play, to say nothing of the slight delay between each menu item you select.  Breaking down the menu, you’re presented with Featured Modes, Party Modes, AR Modes, Nintendo 3DS Local Play, Nintendo 3DS Download Play, Internet, Tutorial, Records, and Options.  In Featured Modes, you’ll be able to play Marathon, Computer Battle, Survival, and Fever.  In Party Modes, Jigsaw, Shadow Wide, Fit, Tower Climber, Bombliss Plus, Stage Racer Plus, Capture, Master Mode, and Sprint are available.  AR Modes contains AR Marathon and AR Tower Climber.  For the amount of modes available in Party Modes vs the others, the organization is a mystery to me.

Once I got past the menu, I decided to start simple and try out Computer Battle.  First thing I noticed was that you’re not able to use the slide pad to control the Tetriminos and their descent.  Instead, you’ll use the D-pad, which works well enough, but causes my hand to cramp after a while due to the position of it on the Nintendo 3DS.  There was no option given to change the controls either, so you’re stuck with the default controls: up to hard drop, down to drop slowly, A & B to rotate your piece and finally L & R to hold.  The slide pad provides camera controls in modes that support this.  When battling the computer, the difficulty ramps up as you defeat each CPU player.  Each CPU player is represented on the bottom screen as a Bomberman to the left of the playing field, and each level of difficulty results in a uniquely dressed Bomberman.

After diving into the game head first, I wanted to see what each mode had to offer in the way of options.  When you select a mode, you can press X to change the settings.  The most common options were level, CPU difficulty, background, and music.  Block designs and the field you’re playing on can also be changed, though the options here were limited to three choices.

When my settings were to my liking, I continued to check out Marathon, Bombliss Plus, and Sprint.  If you’ve played these before, it’s basically more of the same from the previous games and still quite enjoyable.  Tower Climber was changed by making it a cylindrical playing field, while Stage Racer Plus now features limited hops.  Shadow Wide provides more puzzles to fill in with Tetriminos and is a bit wider, as the name implies.  Master Mode in this version seems to be harder since the pieces look to go even faster than previous Tetris games.  The modes that gave me a pleasant surprise however had to be Jigsaw, Capture, and Fit.

With Jigsaw, you’re given a picture in which you must put together with the pieces.  At first, you’ll receive simple square blocks to position correctly, but as you advance, Tetriminos will need to be placed instead.  More advanced puzzles have backgrounds that have very little detail on the puzzle pieces and are the same color.  In Capture, you’ll need to place your Tetrimino on the star to capture it.  It sounds simple at first until you take into account that the stars all start out colorless.  When you place a piece on top of the stars, it’ll change the star to that color, which you’ll then be able to capture.  If you clear a line however, it clears the color.  So how do you capture stars then?  Simple, the board flips everytime you hit the star when it’s clear or the wrong color.  This makes it so you’ll need to use both front and back boards to complete each level.  It can be a bit of a brain teaser at times, but it’s a total blast.  Lastly, Fit has you placing pieces into a set field that comes at you.  You’re only given a few pieces to work with and they’ll need to fit perfectly where there are holes.  If you can’t make them fit, you can clear the pieces you’ve placed and try again until time runs out.  It’s very reminiscent of Art Style: BOXLIFE on DSiWare.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in Tetris: Axis for me is the AR Modes.  There are two available and both require the question block card that came with your Nintendo 3DS.  The mode requires decent lighting and a flat surface that you can move your 3DS around.  When playing the modes, I had to shut off the 3D effect due to moving the 3DS around, trying to find the right angle and losing the sweet spot for the effect.  Although the Marathon AR Mode doesn’t quite have as big of problem with this, AR Tower Climber certainly does.  This is due to the fact that just like the regular Tower Climber, played on a cyclindrical matrix, but instead of using the camera to look around, you’ll need to move your system to see what’s going on.  It’s an annoyance coupled with shoddy detection of the card, even in a well-lit environment, which makes playing these modes a nuisance.

The multiplayer in the game is pretty full featured.  For local options, you have two methods, Download Play and Local Play.  The first requires only one person to have the game and allows up to eight players.  You’ll be able to play Vs Battle, Marathon With Everyone, and Fever With Everyone.  While playing the last two modes, I noticed that the host system can close the lid on their game and the other systems will still be able to play.  Once the host returns to the 3DS Home menu, or turns off the wireless, it’ll kick everyone off and force them to go to the Home menu themselves.  For Local Play, it also supports up to eight players, but everyone must have the game.  Modes included for this are: Vs Shadow Wide, Vs Stage Racer, Vs Capture, Co-Op Tower Climber, and Vs Battle.  When starting this mode, one host player will need to create a room while others join from the Tetris Local Play menu option.  I unfortunately didn’t get the opportunity to test these modes at great length due to not owning another Nintendo 3DS, however from my brief encounters with them, I can say they offer much of the same options as the single player versions.

If you don’t have anyone in your area to play these two modes, there’s Internet play available.  In this mode, you’re limited to Marathon type play against either players on your friends list, or World Battle.  In either mode, you’ll be able to turn items on or off and adjust the other standard settings.  Getting online to play World Battle only takes a moment and match-making is fairly quick.  While you’re waiting you’ll be able to press A to warm-up by practicing.  Once the battle begins, you can see other player’s progress on the bottom screen, while your field is on the top screen.  When playing a few rounds I noticed the infinite spin that was present in Tetris DS, but not other Tetris titles for Nintendo DS, is still absent.  However, there is a minor delay after placing blocks down that may allow some delay on your opponent’s part.  This didn’t seem to have an effect on how the round was played, but was worth mentioning. Also worth mentioning is the extremely cheap item, Switch.  This particular item allows you to swap playing fields with another person.  It seems innocent enough until you realize you can stack your board for failure, then use the item to basically make your opponent instantly lose.  I used it in one of my first online matches and defeated the other three players I was up against using this strategy.  No one else was using this method that I observed, but I’m sure with time, it will become popular.

Keeping track of how you’re doing against the world can be done with the Records options.  The game doesn’t automatically download stats online, so you’re encouraged to do it daily to keep it up to date on your system.  Records also houses an achievement system of sorts, though you’ll get no notification that you’ve accomplished these in-game.  Each mode has challenges to complete and details what needs to be done.

For fans of P. I. Tchaikovsky or Russian classical music, the soundtrack will be right up your alley.  Tracks from The Nutcracker and Swan Lake along with many others have been remixed to give a more modern feeling while playing.  Others have been left to their original form, but still provide decent background listening.  My favorite remix is probably The Two Larks (Les Doux Alouettes) which was originally composed by Theodor Leschetizky.  This track is one of the few songs in the game that was not by a Russian, but originally written by a Polish composer.  For those who don’t care for any of the music presented, there’s an option to turn it off.  This must be done for each mode you play however and as far as I’ve examined, no universal way to set all modes to “BGM Off”.

When it comes to the actual look of the game, it’s not bad.  The stereoscopic 3D is done nicely in many modes, though I found myself shutting it off more often than not.  This was due to it being a distraction in a few modes, such as Master Mode, that kept me from completely focusing.  As for the Tetriminos themselves, the fact that you’re given three different styles of blocks to choose from is a plus.  Miis don’t look too horrible either, except when they’re dancing.  I will say though that the styles of clothes and hats to choose from aren’t too diverse.

This was a game I had been looking forward to since E3 and now that it’s here, I’m feeling ambivalent.  On one hand, the new modes offer more fun ways to play Tetris, but on the other, it doesn’t have that polish I’ve come to expect from previous Tetris games.  Still, with that said, there’s still more good that outweighs the bad and it’s at least worth it to check it out.

Thanks to Nintendo for furnishing us a copy of the game!