I was looking for a shorter game to play, and so I thought I'd finally check out Tetris DX. The game didn't really have much to recommend it, except that it was a slightly enhanced version of the original black and white Game Boy classic, and, in fact, a launch title for the Game Boy color when it was released in the fall of 1998.

Most likely only video game history buffs like myself really care about the minutiae of the different versions of Tetris, of which I've reported on four thus far: the aforementioned Game Boy classic, Natsume's Tetris Plus, Nintendo's 8-bit nostlagia-fest, Tetris DS, and Hudson Soft's Tetris Party Live. Being an older game Tetris DX lacks some of the things that have become part of the modern standard, including more than one preview piece, a hold box (which lets you set aside a piece for later use), and shadows plus a hard drop (an outline of the current piece appears in the well below, and you can press up to make it fall immediately to the bottom), but going back to the basics didn't feel like it put a damper on the fun at all. Basically the core gameplay of Tetris is awesomely addictive pretty much any way it's presented.

This iteration lacks the Nintendo cameos that the original had and replaces the now-iconic music with three tracks that seem more early 90's sounding, and adds the ability to save profiles along with highest scores by name, and also three new modes: get the highest score possible in three minutes, clear 40 lines the fastest possible, and vs. CPU. The vs. CPU mode is fairly challenging, and there's an interesting twist where you can battle yourself. The way this works is that the CPU mimics your play style, which presumably is purely on a statistical basis as the game records what percentage of lines you cleared during the unlimited marathon mode were four at a time, three at a time, two at a time, or one at a time (which, incidentally, caps out at level 30). The game records these statistics for the three profiles stored on the cartridge, so you can have the CPU mimic the other two users as well.

All in all this was a fun old-school version of the great Tetris gameplay that probably everyone knows and loves. Anyone with any other version probably doesn't really need to check this one out, but it was nice to cross this very minor first-party Nintendo release off my list.

Color these Tetris DX links:
- Video of the different possible endings (involving rockets being launched into outer space) you can get in the marathon mode
- Video of what is presumably the best possible ending, which is a virtual fireworks show, you can get in the time attack mode (I must have gotten the worst possible ending because my fireworks didn't make shapes.)
- As a side note: I'm guessing the vs. CPU mode doesn't have any endings, as I beat the mode on level 9 without any acknowledgement from the game
- The game also includes three cute little animations if you let the start screen play (the FAQ says you have to press buttons to see them all, but they actually just cycle through)
- A note on GameFAQs says that you can increase the probability of the I piece appearing by moving them from side to side as they fall. Interesting, if it's true.
- Entry at nintendo.wikia.com
- Obscure details at tetris.wikia.com
- Entry at Wikipedia

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I picked up Teslagrad during an indie sale on the Wii U's eShop not too long ago just based on some good reviews I'd seen about it, and although I'd only planned on checking it out for a few minutes, before I knew it I had finished it in just two marathon sessions. The game is often described as being a Metroidvania (i.e. adventure game with a focus on exploration), but the game is actually much more of a straightforward platformer with puzzle elements. The game is arranged so that there's a long vertical corridor with series of rooms coming off of it, and each series of rooms basically functions as a mini-level. The map is nicely arranged so that each offshoot of the main corridor offers a new twist to the mechanics or a memorable hook, so that even though there are only a handful of power-ups the game doesn't ever get boring (except at the very end when you're required to collect a certain number of what I'd previously assumed to be optional trinkets).

The game's mechanics are based on electromagnetism, which I can't say I know much about in particular, but there's a fairly smooth learning curve and soon you'll be manipulating polarities (represented by the colors blue and red) like a pro: there were times I distinctly felt as powerful as Magneto from the X-Men comics/movies, and without having to wear that goofy helmet. The art style is distinctive, although I found that there were some places it fell short, in particular the main character's artwork felt too flat and unexpressive. The music and setting are atmospheric, and although there are sections that get pretty frustrating and sometimes just feel like flat out bad design as opposed to a challenge, the frustration is offset by unlimited lives so getting through them is for the most part just a matter of repetition and patience (which old-school gamers should be able to stomach, but younger gamers may not).

The game was definitely one of the more fun and memorable platformers I've played lately, but for me the game falls short of true greatness. Part of this is that there was more trial-and-error gameplay than I usually like, and the aforementioned dips in the quality of the art style. But the main reason I felt the game didn't sustain itself through to the end is that after you get through every room you're tasked with revisiting them to collect the otherwise optional trinkets (in this case, scrolls). Up to that point the "rooms as platformer levels" structure worked very well, but having to revisit rooms without any upgrade to make the second time through take less time basically means the game becomes artificially doubled since in the worst case you're replaying every section twice. In reality the game only requires you to locate less than half of the total number of scrolls (15 out of 36), but once I realized that tracking down more than the minimum would just be retreading the exact same ground I completely lost interest in extending my time with the game and went straight to the final battle. Apparently I didn't miss much since there are only two endings, one if you get the minimum and one where you get all 36, but this seems like a poor design choice and shoehorning a Metroidvania-like experience into a game that at its heart isn't a Metroidvania at all. Being able to warp to arbitrary rooms at this point in the game would've helped. I also have to mention that the game crashed on me three or four times, invariably when I was stuck in a difficult room trying and over and over again to get past a particularly annoying section. I also encountered a glitch where apparently a door was supposed to open but didn't and I couldn't progress and had to reset. Apparently I'm not the only person who experienced crashes with the Wii U version, although as that reviewer points out, the auto-save means that I was never in danger of losing significant amounts of progress.

My annoyance with the last, fairly pointless, collection requirement just contributed to my overall feeling that the game was solid but lacked that extra bit of polish that a company like Nintendo's games have that make their games more than the sum of their parts, and really special experiences. Granted, this may seem overly harsh considering that this is the Norwegian developer, Rain Games', debut (I think), but I definitely applaud them for what they did achieve and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what they have in store for their next game.

Zap these Teslagrad links:
- Glowing review at Nintendo Life
- Entry at Steam
- Entry at Metacritic
- Entry at howlongtobeat.com
- Entry at Wikipedia

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I've become a pretty big fan of the Art Style series, which is a series of mostly puzzle games developed by skip Ltd. and published by Nintendo. The next one I tackled was Art Style: Boxlife. I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I knew the game was about constructing boxes, which I originally thought sounded like it would be more tedious than fun.

By now I should've known not to underestimate the geniuses at skip Ltd. Boxlife is easily on par with the other entries in the series I've played, and is one of the best puzzle games I've ever played, period. The review at Nintendo Life has a good run-down of the game's mechanics, features, and modes, but basically you're tasked with cutting out 6-piece shapes from a given board and then folding them to form boxes. In that sense it's rather like a more tactile version of tangram puzzles, but the game gets satisfyingly (and eventually, rage-inducingly) difficult. The main mode introduces new shapes one at a time (you'll be surprised at how many different ways there are to make a box out of six squares), and although you'll start off just searching for the shapes, eventually you'll recognize it's faster to look for particular categories of patterns, e.g. four squares in a row with one square connected on one side, and one square on the other.

Although I debated about promoting this game to my favorite games of all time list, I think one of the sure signs of a great game is that it gives you a unique feeling of pleasure. In this case I found myself feeling like not just a factory worker, as the game suggests, but as a seamstress or a tailor, cutting patterns from cloth while trying not waste any, or as a sculptor, chiselling away at a hunk of marble trying to find the pattern hidden underneath. As with the other games in the series, this entry is also bursting with charm. The "la la la" of the opening music, the box-shaped visuals, the mini-sim life aspects, the animal sounds that reflect how quickly you finished solving a puzzle (with an elephant's triumphant bugling call indicating the fastest times), everything adds up to an extremely polished experience. I was also struck with how, like Art Style: PiCTOBiTS, the game is so dependent on the DSi's unique controls. IGN's Craig Harris's comment that PiCTOBiTS is “an extremely unique... puzzle game that could only work on a system with precise, pinpoint controls like the Nintendo DS and its stylus driven touch screen” exactly applies here as well, and the pixel-perfect precision of the controls really make this an experience as opposed to just another puzzle game.

In Nintendo fashion the game favors density over padding, so there aren't a plethora of levels or modes, but the game ramps up the difficulty quickly and replaying levels to get perfect scores is worthwhile as it hones your mastery of the game's mechanics. The later levels become much more about using logic to find the solution instead of just recognizing the different puzzle piece shapes, and I was reassured when I saw that Totilo at Kotaku also failed to complete the final level, which feels about twice as hard as the second to last level (already fairly challenging). Regardless of that downer, the game is extremely polished and memorable, and like manna for serious puzzle fans.

Assemble these Art Style: Boxlife links:
- Audio of the original Japanese ending credits, at Tiny Cartridge
- Entry at Metacritic

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Although I've had Dance Dance Revolution Konamix for ages, I wasn't able to play it for most of that time due to living on a second floor apartment with thin walls/floors/ceilings. (The game even helpfully provides a warning that states "Be careful... not to disturb others with step vibrations.") Anyway, after moving to a place where there's no neighbor to annoy underneath me I've been able to finally try out DDR myself.

Basically the game was what I expected it would be, which is a straightforward dance game. "Straightforward" definitely doesn't mean easy, though. Each track is given a rating out of 9 feet (not sure why they didn't just rate them out of 10) and divided into three categories, "Basic", "Trick", and "Maniac". I started off with the Basic and although it took a little while to find my "footing", I got to a point where I was able to do pretty well. The Trick level is significantly more difficult, as it has many more 16th-note steps, i.e. twice the speed as regular steps, as well as many more complicated two-foot steps, often requiring you to jump from one two-foot step to another two-foot step. I barely touched the Maniac level, as Trick was tricky enough for me.

As I was reading up on the history of the DDR series, I was reminded that Parappa the Rapper is considered to be the first influential rhythm game. I also read up on DDR's direct predecessor, the Beatmania series, which looks exactly like Guitar Hero but with 5 buttons and a turntable. Some more history: apparently this game is from the 4th group of DDR games. The first two iterations, DDR and DDR 2nd mix received PS versions only in Japan, although the third game did spawn the first version to be released in the US.

Anyway, there's not a whole lot more I need to get into. If you know anything about the DDR series you know what to expect. The music was pretty decent, and had a good mix of techno, R&B, etc., and the on-screen dance characters were fairly entertaining. No story mode or anything, but it's definitely not needed. My only complaint is that the ranking system is a bit too rigid, as you're only awarded an A if you get a full combo, i.e. "perfect" or "great" on every step with none missed.

Although the game is fun and requires much more activity than other fitness-oriented games I've played, I'm not enough of a high score chaser or perfectionist to play it for extended periods of time. Still, there's no denying the series' cultural impact and influence, so much so that it's earned a place on my "Greatest Games of All Time" list. I'm sure I'll be visiting its other entries, but for now I'm going to shelve this one in favor of a newer (to me, anyway), shinier fitness-oriented game. Stay tuned...

Sweat to these Dance Dance Revolution Konamix links:
- There are tons of great videos of people playing DDR games. Here's a Japanese guy in an arcade, a 5 year old, and a mom with her 9 year old.
- Video of a project where a student programmed a robot to play DDR
- Someone's typed up the lyrics to all the tracks
- Entry at Wikipedia
- Info on unlockables at GameFAQs

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The game escapeVektor caught my attention a while back because Nintendo Life gave its first incarnation, on WiiWare, a rave review. The game has been commonly described as as cross between Pac-Man and Qix. I sort of remember a freeware game called Boxer that featured pretty much identical gameplay where you played as a green diamond who outlined orange boxes worth different points while trying to avoid the red circle enemies. I've never been able to find out more info about that game (if anyone has heard of it, I would be extremely grateful if you let me know!), but while searching online I came across another game that seems to have similar gameplay that was released on Game Boy and is called Amazing Penguin.

Anyway, back to the main topic. escapeVektor has subsequently become available on 3DS and PS Vita. Usually I try to play the first game in a series, but the WiiWare release only includes one of four chapters. That one chapter is plenty substantial, though, and would take a few hours to get through without trying to get all the platinum medals for shortest times. As it is once I got past the first chapter in the 3DS release and tried out chapter two and the new bonus levels I didn't feel very motivated to continue playing the game. The gameplay in general is pretty solid, though. The concept is simple: trace around the map's rectangular boxes while avoiding enemies. You're armed with a speed boost that gradually refills and bombs that destroy most enemies, and basically you get more points the more boxes on the map you complete without using a bomb. That scoring mechanic adds a nice increase in challenge that definitely makes the game more interesting, and as a long-time Pac-Man fan I enjoyed this game for similar reasons as why I enjoy Pac-Man games.

The game has a minimalist approach to its visuals that feels a bit dated nowadays, but is fine. There's a sliver of a story that kept me somewhat engaged, and there's an emphasis on leaderboards if you're into that sort of thing. One of the biggest complaints about the game is that the game is by default zoomed in so that you can't see much of the board at one time. As Edge's review puts it: "you’re forced to squeeze the zoom button [the R button on the 3DS] throughout to make it playable, with no option to toggle it". This was definitely an annoyance, and something that presumably gave the WiiWare version an advantage since it's on a large screen and more zoomed out. The problem with the zoomed in view reminded me of when I played the version of Pac-Mania that had appeared on the GBA version of Pac-Man Collection, but the problem wasn't as pronounced because the zoom wasn't quite so close and the general speed wasn't as fast. Avoiding enemies isn't too much of a problem in this game since you can outrun them, but the biggest annoyance problem is definitely the turrets that shoot bullets: you really can't see them at all until it's too late, and they were easily my most common cause for "dying" (although actually in this game you have unlimited tries). There's a good variety in stages, although the bigger ones do get a bit tedious. The stages are often symmetrical, which helps ameliorate the problem of the zoom level as it makes it easier to remember where hazards are placed.

All in all I enjoyed the game and agree that it's very polished, but, like I said, once I finished the first chapter I'd had enough. There are four chapters in this release compared to the one chapter of the WiiWare release, and that includes 150 levels (compared to 30 in the WiiWare release), although I think that that total includes the bonus levels that seem to be repeats of the regular levels but with new objectives, such as "eraser mode", where "if you go over any claimed lines which border unfilled cells you will turn those lines back to empty". Collecting all the medals was mildly diverting, although there's a fair amount of trial and error involved because you're not just trying to find the quickest path to cover all of the map, but the quickest route. That route is dependent on where the enemies who are patrolling are at each moment, and the only way to know if you can squeak by an enemy at just the right time is by trying it. Anyway, the gameplay is solid and fans of Pac-Man game who are into chasing high scores would probably enjoy it.

Capture these escapeVektor links:
- Official site
- Review of the 3DS version at Nintendo Life
- A behind the scenes look with the developers, at Nintendo Life
- Entry on the 3DS version at Metacritic

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