Tetris is quite possibly the most perfect video game ever created. No matter who you are, the concept is understandable. It's the epitome of "easy to play, difficult to master". It's also a venerable brand, and as such, there have been a multitude of attempts to cash in on the name. In 1999, The Next Tetris was all the rage on Playstation, PC, Dreamcast, etc., but the Nintendo 64 was playing a whole different game. It was better than next. It was something new.
The New Tetris for Nintendo 64 does what all the best Tetris games do: Stay close to the source material. At its core, it's Tetris through and through. But the layers surrounding that core? Now we're talking. Subtle new rules and a clever sense of style made this new Tetris the best Tetris. Let's start with the presentation.
The New Tetris's "premise" centers around uncovering the 7 wonders of the world. The lines you make in any play mode all count towards a running total that applies to the building of said wonders. With each new wonder created, you unlock a stage to play on, complete with new music to play to. And what music it is. The New Tetris's score is a spectacular, mostly dance/club inspired aweome-fest, with some very ethnic flavors thrown in for good measure. Its composer, Neil Voss (who also composed for the also -awesome Tetrisphere), truly outdid himself with this one. Given the game's visual style, the obvious route would have been to make the music fairly classical. Instead, Voss went high energy, and it paid off in spades. But speaking of the visuals...
This was the era when polygons were still coming into their own. For the most part, other games from this time are chunky, blocky messes. In contrast, The New Tetris eschews ploygons in favor of pre-rendered sprites. The result is a visual style that holds up surprisingly well by today's standards. Moving sprites around also lends to the game's overall tight feel, which is another area at which it excells. Responsive controls are a must in a good Tetris game, and The New Tetris delivers.
Perhaps the most important success of this game is its gameplay design. It incorporates several modern Tetris traits that have become standard today, such as a 4-player mode, shadow blocks, and reserve blocks. What set this apart is the new "square" feature. If the player can manage to make a 4x4 square out of 4 tetriminos, they fuse together to form one giant block. If the 4 pieces are the same, it forms a gold "monosquare", and if they are different, they form a silver "multisquare". If you make lines that include a row from these squares, those lines are worth 5 or 10 lines each, respectively. This affords players a new way to rack up insane scores, as well as a different way of looking at the pieces falling into your well. As each block comes into play, you now have to consider whether it's worth risking setting up a square, instead of safely playing the piece to clear some lines. It's a layer of depth that really adds to the formula, and it's also completely optional, so everybody wins, no matter what your play style is.
Then there's the addition of the Spin move. This can be used as a last ditch effort to save yourself in dire situations. Basically, if you can manage to spin a piece into a crevice that results in creating a line, all blocks underneath that line separate from one another, and fall into themselves. (Check it out!) It kills any gold or silver squares you've built, and sometimes leaves a mess behind, but if done correctly, they can clear out almost an entire screen of garbage in a single move, turning the tide of a competitive match in seconds.
Even though this game was developed by H2O Entertainment and published by Nintendo, Tetris is one of those properties that still exists today, and is licensed out all the time. Sadly, that means if Nintendo wants to put this game up on their eShop, they would have to renegotiate the use of the Tetris name from The Tetris Company, and given that there is currently a Tetris game available on the Wii U in the form of the sub-par Tetris Ultimate, the likelihood of this classic resurfacing is pretty slim. On the other hand, it isn't exactly difficult to track down in its original form. Nintendo 64 consoles can be had for less than $100, and the cart on its own goes for a paltry $12 on eBay.
If you're into Tetris, this is the game to get. It's among the best Tetris games ever made (even in some ways besting the sublime Tetris DS) and as a 4-player party puzzler, it can't be topped. Let's hope that someday a new Tetris game can match this Net Tetris's style.