3D Tetris
  • Genre:
    • Puzzle
  • Platform:
    • Virtual Boy
  • Developer:
    • T&E Soft
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • US 03/22/1996
Score: 60%

This review was published on 06/10/2016.

3D Tetris is a falling blocks puzzle video game developed by T&E Soft and published by Nintendo for the Virtual Boy. It was originally and exclusively released in North America on March 22, 1996. There was supposed to be a Japanese version called Polygo Block released in February 1996, but it never came out. Additionally, this is the last officially licensed Virtual Boy game ever released. By the way, 3D Tetris has absolutely no relation to V-Tetris, which was another Virtual Boy title exclusively released in Japan in 1995. As its name implies, 3D Tetris is based on the original game designed by a Russian scientist named Alexey Pajitnov in the 1980s. Despite that, however, 3D Tetris is very different from the original. It's actually more similar to a game released in 1989 called Block Out, which was considered the logical extension of Tetris into the third dimension. So how does 3D Tetris stack up to the original? The fact that they still make regular 2D Tetris games today while 3D Tetris has been forever lost to the ages should provide the answer. In other words, it's worse.

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Graphically, this game looks awful. The graphics are certainly impressive from a technological perspective, as these are some of the most advanced 3D effects on the Virtual Boy, but from an artistic standpoint, they're terrible. The combination of the Virtual Boy's red and black color scheme and all the rotating wireframe polygonal objects will undoubtedly make your eyes bleed. That's no joke; this game literally causes significant eyestrain when played for extended periods. The low frame rate further exacerbates the issue. The only aspect of the graphics that look good is the block characters, which are highly detailed 2D sprites. You see some of these guys on the menus, but their main purpose is to be used as a preview of the next block that's in line to fall. However, it's not always immediately obvious which character represents which block, meaning you have to memorize them all, so even this is flawed.

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The main thing you'll be staring at while playing this game is a 3D wireframe rectangle referred to as the "well." It looks more like a tall rectangular building, if you ask me. This well is composed of five layers stacked on top of each other. Blocks, also rendered as 3D wireframe models, will fall from the top of the well to the bottom, passing through all the layers, and you use the left d-pad to control their descent. The A and B buttons rotate the blocks horizontally, the right d-pad rotates them vertically, and the R button drops them faster. Shadows show you where the blocks will land, which is useful due to the three dimensional perspective. Once a block lands, it'll be filled in with a solid red color, and your control will shift to the next block in line. Generally, the objective is to completely fill a layer of the well with blocks, leaving no empty spaces. Doing so will erase the current blocks from the well. As you can probably tell from this paragraph, controlling this game is a nightmare. It gets worse, too.

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Believe it or not, this puzzle game has camera controls. For the most part, you'll be viewing the well from the top at a slight angle, but the camera will slowly move around as you play the game. The developers realized that this is really distracting, so you can lock the camera into a specific position by pressing the select button. Pressing the L button will quickly change the viewpoint to several different positions, one of which includes a bird's eye view. Holding down the L button while pressing the left d-pad will also let you look at the well from different sides. Unfortunately, it's really hard to adjust the camera while playing. There's also something to the right side of the screen that will show you a 2D representation of all the well's layers and the current blocks that are in them. This is to help you keep track of empty spaces you can't see in the event that blocks are covering them. Even with all the camera options, it's extremely difficult to tell what's what when there are too many blocks.

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There are three main modes that are further divided into several sub-modes. In the standard endless mode, an endless amount of blocks will fall and you're tasked with getting as many points as possible before losing. How do you lose? Well, whenever the well gets stacked with more blocks than it has layers, it'll lose its lowest layer. Lose all of the layers and the game is lost. You can still win back lost layers by clearing blocks, though. Almost all of the other modes share the same losing conditions. Then there's another mode called Clear It! In Clear It, your job is to clear five layers of blocks in order to move on to the next level; rinse and repeat until you beat them all. Whenever you begin a level, there will already be some blocks in the well, and the higher levels have more blocks. Both of these modes are similar to the ones in real Tetris, just with a touch more insanity.

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The second major mode is Center-Fill. This is just like the main mode, but with the exception of an immovable, indestructible pyramid shaped block at the center of the lowest layer of the well. Any block directly placed on the pyramid will disappear. The goal here is to place blocks around this pyramid in symmetrical patterns. When that has been achieved, placing a block on the pyramid will cause it and all the other symmetrical blocks of that layer to be cleared. Depending on the complexity, height, and the amount of blocks in the symmetrical layer, you'll be awarded a different amount of points. As for how you figure out these symmetrical patterns, you don't. The game itself provides no information on this, so you either need to read the instruction manual or refer to an external guide. You can attempt to discover the patterns yourself through trial and error, but that's a fool's errand.

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The last main mode is Puzzle mode. Puzzle mode has you constructing 3D models of various objects using the blocks that fall into the well. Prior to starting, you'll be shown the full model, but it disappears the moment you start assembling it. You then have to build the model out of memory with the blocks you're given, though you do get hints on the right side of the screen. If you place a block in the wrong spot, you instantly lose. Once you successfully complete the polygonal model, you'll move on to the next stage, but not before being rewarded with a short 3D animation featuring the model you just created. There are twenty stages in all and they each feature a 3D model of a different object, like a racecar, a snake, and a pair of sunglasses. This is the most enjoyable mode of the game, but it's fairly difficult.

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While the original Tetris excelled at being a simple game anyone could enjoy, 3D Tetris is a complicated mess. It's so complicated, in fact, that most of this review was spent on explaining how the game works. Controlling the game is awkward, looking at the graphics is downright painful, and everything moves at a snail's pace. On the bright side, Puzzle mode is fun, and the game actually saves your high scores. Conceptually, 3D Tetris may not be all bad, but it suffers from some pretty poor execution.

Word Count: 1,286

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