Monday, December 26, 2011

Review: Not Tetris 2 (Mac)

Tetris has changed, apparently. There are so many versions of the seminal block puzzle title that small variations can make all the difference in selecting which one to play. I have spent my time with Tetris almost exclusively on the NES and Game Boy, and have been surprised at how difficult it is for me to accept how the game controls on other platforms. I gave the recent PSN iteration a spin only to find the change in what the up and down buttons do quite debilitating. I like to think I'm pretty good at Tetris, but faced with the option of reeducating my synapses, I've decided to stick with what I know.

This revelation has left my desires for fresh takes on the Tetris formula to come from games that diverge significantly from the original structure (Tetrisphere, Tetris Attack, etc).  This way I wouldn't have to overwrite any of those twitch instincts I've have developed over the years.  This must be the sort of thing that drives the hardcore fighting game community crazy as their prized title gets tweaked in successive sequels and updates.  I own a copy of Street Fighter: Anniversary Collection which allows you to select 5 versions of Street Fighter II Chun Li's.  To the uninitiated, it's confounding.

In no way did I expect Not Tetris 2 (NT2) to tie into any of these issues, because it appeared to be more of a mildly amusing gag than a real game.  NT2 is visually the Game Boy version of Tetris, monochrome design and all, but with a physics-based play structure.  It's pretty amusing to have pieces capable of 360 degree rotation, bouncing and spinning off one another, and ultimately building an unfixable mess that fills up the entire space.  When I first began playing NT2, it was just that; actually playing well seemed not only impossible, but against the tongue-in-cheek spirit of the game.

But I kept playing it.

The goal shifted from simply figuring our how to play NT2 to how achieve a higher score.  This is something that in the long term, my old Tetris games never truly provided because they're lacking an internal battery to retain leaderboards.  I developed various strategies to best tackle NT2.  Firstly you have to approach block stacking with greater patience and care than classic Tetris because of the delicate rotational balancing required to place pieces in specific crevices.  You can press a piece up against the side wall to get it in a "right angle" position, which is helpful to maximize your early game before things get messy.  If you've got a decent pile built up at the bottom, I found that holding the "down" button as you place new pieces will slam them with extra force that can occasionally trigger a line clear somewhere below (line clears are based on horizontal block density).

I could continue divulging my strategies, but I should note that I reached a point where my feelings toward the game turned about face: I hit a 9999 point cap.  This made me feel conflicted about the whole play experience.  It seemed like maybe I had been playing something that wasn't really meant to be played.  I come from an art background, which has taught me that you shouldn't always believe what an artist says about their own work.  Artists have every right to lie about what a piece means or what their inspiration was.  Heck, maybe the explanation is its own separate piece of performance art!  Was NT2 a game, despite itself?

The amount of time I spent with NT2 dropped dramatically after reaching the cap.  Modern story-driven games add meta-game achievements, side quests, and multiplayer modes to flesh out their worlds, which also keeps us playing them longer.  Old arcade games like Tetris need that high-score mechanic to incentivize replay.  I suppose in this regard that I've "beat" NT2, but that's not something I'd quote in the game's favor, even if it's cool to say about a Tetris game.

Not Tetris 2 is definitely worth experiencing, but as for seriously playing it, that depends on personal discretion, and perhaps a releveling of what to expect from a free, interactive experiment.  Download Not Tetris 2 for free here.

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