Another year, another Tetris game, haha. I was curious about Tetris 2 for NES, the only numbered follow-up to the original smash hit. I went into it blind, but it turns out the game is basically a continuation of the type of match-3 gameplay introduced in Dr. Mario. In Dr. Mario you're tasked with clearing viruses by placing pills of the same color next to them (pieces are cleared when four or more of the same color are connected vertically or horizontally). In Tetris 2 the setup is pretty much the same but without the virus/pills skin. Also, in Dr. Mario the puzzle pieces always come in the shape of pills, meaning two squares at a time, whereas in Tetris 2 (as in the original) the pieces always come four squares at a time. Unlike the original Tetris, though, here the puzzle pieces come in odder shapes, to account for the fact that the gameplay centers around matching colors rather than just making lines.
It's been longer than I remembered since I'd played a Dr. Mario game, but now that I've played Tetris 2 I recognize how much of the gameplay is similar to the Dr. Luigi mode in Dr. Luigi, a game released about four years ago that Tetris 2I had played and enjoyed. Like Tetris 2, the Dr. Luigi mode has you using four-square shaped puzzle pieces rather than the usual two-square pieces of the regular Dr. Mario mode, but unlike Tetris 2, in the Dr. Luigi mode the pieces are always shaped like Ls (due to the mode's namesake, naturally). The gravity mechanics are also more obvious in the Dr. Luigi mode as it's clear visually that the L pieces are made up of two 2-square shaped pills, whereas the ways the pieces in Tetris 2 break apart are a little more complicated. In Tetris 2 you can match parts of a single piece and then continue to maneuver the rest of the piece down the well, including rotating the remaining parts. Basically Tetris 2 is more complicated, but I'd have to refresh my memory on the Dr. Luigi mechanics to determine which is more fun overall.
Tetris 2 has a few more wrinkles worth mentioning. The single player mode is pretty typical and fairly humdrum. There's a little cutscene every ten levels you beat, and there's an added twist to the Dr. Mario mechanics in the form of special flashing blocks in every level, one of each of the three colors. If you manage to clear these blocks they automatically clear off all the blocks of the same color, which adds another layer of objectives to the game. You can also clear off all the non-"virus" blocks on the entire board of a color by matching six squares together instead of the usual three, which is super helpful in the vs. CPU mode.
The two player vs. mode and the 1 player vs. CPU mode are where the game really shines. This mode tapped into my obsessive streak in a way that hasn't happened in a good while, but it was partly because I couldn't tell if it was hard because of my lack of skills or because of problems with the game mechanics. A bit of both, probably. In the vs. mode there are a couple of design decisions that seem highly questionable. One is that instead of each player getting their own box that displays the upcoming piece, you share the same piece preview box. This was probably to add to the competitiveness of the game, but it ends up being a big problem since more often than not the piece in the preview box gets "taken" by the other player right when you're about to use it. This completely ruins being able to build any strategy around the next piece, and so instead you end up having to completely ignore the piece preview altogether. Another issue is that like Dr. Mario clearing out the last few pieces at the end of a round can get to be an incredibly tedious marathon. The issue is exacerbated in Tetris 2 because you end up filling the board with pieces at twice the rate as in Dr. Mario (because each piece is four squares instead of Dr. Mario's two). The ability to make a match of six to clear all the non-virus pieces of that color helps, but it isn't enough to keep the end of each round taking ages to finish.
Overall I enjoyed Tetris 2, although it made me appreciate the simpler gameplay of the Dr. Mario games. It'll be interesting to go back and replay more of the Dr. Luigi modes, and, like many puzzle games of the time, Tetris 2 was ported to SNES and Game Boy, so I'll be trying those out eventually as well.
The Doctor is out, but check out these Tetris 2 links anyway: - Entry on Wikipedia - Entry on nindb.net (although the info isn't quite correct, as the NES version doesn't include the puzzle mode) - FAQ at GameFAQs, includes a run-down of all the cutscenes