Originally created 08/30/99

New Tetris a must-have game

Remember the first time you played "Tetris?"

Sitting in front of the tube for hours, hands sweaty, spouse or parents yelling at you to come to dinner, come to bed, SHUT OFF THAT TV!

Well, be prepared to start that stuff all over again. "The New Tetris" is coming your way, courtesy of Nintendo for the N64. It's not a huge change from the original, but it's enough to make it a must-have for any puzzle fan.

As you might recall, the game is played by arranging different shapes so that they fill lines across the game field. When one line is cleared, the shapes drop down a line and the speed with which they appear increases slightly. The object is to continue clearing lines without allowing the piles of shapes to reach the top of the field. If that happens, it's game over.

"The New Tetris" has a much more attractive look; darker, more complex graphically. The object, as in the past, is to clear as many lines as you can. However, this time there's a goal: Clear a set number of lines, which can take many games over many days, and gain access to one of seven "wonders." Each offers new graphics -- and new music.

I loved the music. Video-game music usually is so annoying that I shut it off if I have that option. But with "The New Tetris," I found myself looking forward to the tunes; they really make the game more fun to play. Graphics are utilitarian but attractive; the only action on the screen is the game pieces moving, and the background just sort of blends and vanishes. Control is simple, using the d-pad, not the joy stick.

As you begin, you'll see the next three shapes just to the right of the playing field, along with one piece to the left. That single piece is a "hold" piece. If you don't like the piece that's coming down, a quick tap on the left shoulder button will swap the pieces. Be careful, though. Once you swap, you can't change your mind. The next piece must be on the field before you can swap again.

Another enhancement is the multi-square. If you form one -- a 4-by-4 square made of different shapes -- it turns silver. Clearing lines included in the multi-square will get you bonus lines. Then there's the more difficult mono-square, made by creating a 4-by-4 square with four pieces of the same shape. This square will turn to gold, and clearing parts will net you more bonus lines.

There's also a nice selection of games. "Marathon" simply lets you play and collect lines until the game is going so fast that the pieces hit the top and you have to start again. In "Sprint," the object is to clear as many lines as you can in three minutes. In an "Ultra" game, the object is to clear 150 lines as quickly as possible.

Up to four players can be involved in any of the three games. And you get to play dirty. Mess with your opponent by sending him "garbage," unfinished lines that push his game pieces up from the bottom. But you have to clear at least two lines at once to use this feature.

With four controllers, this is a game that can replace a night of a Scrabble or Monopoly. By adjusting the level of difficulty, you can tune it to age and proficiency levels.

"The New Tetris" is a nice advance of the original game. If you've never played "Tetris," here's your chance to join the millions of gamers who love the challenge. For puzzle fans, it's still top dog.

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