How do you mess up Tetris? The answer, clever reader, is not: "Put it on the Nintendo 3DS." The 3DS isn't the problem.
I bring you news (opinion, actually) that the new Tetris, made specially for the Nintendo 3DS is inferior, vastly, to the Tetris made for the Nintendo DS—five years ago. Yet I will not blame the 3DS for this problem, much as it is easy to blame other video game calamities on Nintendo's not-yet-terrific portable machine.
No, the faults of the new Tetris Axis are the faults of the game, not the game machine. They're a reminder that the hardware doesn't really matter. It's the games, people, that make a system great and it's the not-good games that aren't helping my 3DS seem any more awesome.
You Can Judge the Tetris Quality Gap By Their Title Screens
Cutting-edge microprocessors and fancy displays don't make a Tetris great. Tetris was amazing when it was running on late 20th-century technology. It's just blocks falling, I assume you know. And all you need as a player as the ability to turn them move them or speed their fall. We can therefore think of Tetris as the video game version of a Shakespearean text, something that probably will never be improved but can be interpreted and presented in a level commensurate with the talent of the people who decide to re-stage it.
In other words: since you don't have to make the game better, you've got no excuse for making an ugly Tetris.
If Nintendo themselves could make a snazzy Tetris title screen like this in 2006....
...there's no excuse to get a 2011 Tetris Axis title screen in 2011. Blame Hudson, the crew the made this new one. Trust me that even with the glasses-free 3D turned on, the Axis intro is unappealing.
Call me a snob, but aesthetics matter. We're staging gaming's Shakespeare here, a fact I thought I established a few paragraphs ago.
You know you're in trouble when the standard two-tiered menu screen of your fancy new Tetris game....
... looks worse than the one from five years ago. Come on, Hudson, what were you thinking? Text on text?
But Surely Standard, Vanilla Tetris Cannot Be Blemished?
Both 2006's Nintendo-made Tetris DSand 2011's Hudson-made Tetris Axis include multiple modes of Tetris. The new one includes more than 20, which might seem superior to the original game's six, but it's not. I'll get to that in a moment, but surely the most important thing is basic, no-frills Tetris, yes?
This is how they did it in the Nintendo-drenched '06 edition. If you hate Mario you might hate it (apologies for the one-handed playing. I didn't want to intimidate anyone with my skills and/or I needed to hold the camera in my other hand).
This is vanilla Tetris on the 3DS via Tetris Axis. I declare it uglier with bad versions of classical music. But you might like it. Note that you can rotate the board to see it angled. That makes it pop more in 3D, but it also makes the game unplayable, as I demonstrate.
The Tetris Twists Better Be Good
You can make your Tetris game stand out by re-writing the rules of the game. Set Tetris on a sphere, or something. Make matches last only a minute. With the right idea, you can create a new version worth having of a game that everyone already owns. But experiment the wrong way and we get some bad stuff.
First of all, it's cheating to boast that you have more than 20 modes of Tetris when one of them is just the basic game cranked to max speed.
Aside from that, Tetris Axis mixes peculiar ideas like a racing mode and a first-person Tetris with familiar but unexciting puzzle modes. Plus we've got augmented-reality Tetris which is both a silly novelty and a sign that, oh, I hope Hudson didn't think that playing with the 3DS' 3D-graphics and camera tricks would suffice to make this new Tetris worth owning.
Here's the wonderful thing about backwards compatibility: you can play 2006's Tetris DS on the 3DS and even without using 3D, augmented reality, classical music, an appearance by Bomberman and having 14 fewer modes, it's the better Tetris game to play on your 3DS.
Check out just some of the modes. The Metroid mode is a little wacky, but I can live with it. The Zelda mission mode is a charmer; the Donkey Kong one is a great tug-of-war. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Nintendo's in-house designers had the better ideas, but, come on. Hudson, you had a five-year advantage.
Let's Blame The Tetris Company
There is an outfit called The Tetris Company. They enable a game to be branded as an "authentic Tetris game." These games were both authorized.
I have not asked them, but I believe that, by having the ability to allow Tetris games to exist, The Tetris Company also has the ability to make them no longer exist. Hence: you can't buy a new copy of Tetris DS anywhere. It's been out of print for years. On paper, they did the right thing, letting new companies like Majesco, Hudson and EA make new Tetris games for DS, PSP, iPhone, you name it... but sometimes the game they made in 2006—hell, the game Tetris inventor Alexey Pajitnov made in the mid-80's—is great enough.
If you're going to get a Tetris game for the 3DS, remember the thing you may have already learned as a 3DS owner: it's not the 3D that matters; it's not the year the game was made... get the great one. Get 2006's Tetris DS.
(Note: Tetris Axis will be out on October 2 and, to be fair, it does have online multiplayer that I wasn't able to save. That might help the game, but I doubt it'll change the fact that, at best, this new Tetris is an ambitious mediocrity. 3DS gamers deserved a better new Tetris, because, whether hardware is good or bad, you can always have a great Tetris on it.)