Tetris for Dummies.
When Alexey Pajitnov conceived Tetris, he based it on a simplification of a popular puzzle game called Pentominoes. Instead of five blocks per piece, he reduced the shapes down to four blocks. Trioncube takes another step, reducing piece composition to three blocks. In fact, all of the shapes found in Trioncube were created simply by removing a block from each of the standard Tetris pieces. While Pajitnov’s move was genius, he had already found the point of perfection, and Trioncube’s further simplification just removes most of the fun from the game.
Like Catch Mode in Tetris DS, the goal of Trioncube is not to clear lines, but to clear squares. Formation of a 3-by-3 square will begin a time-limited combo. Every additional 3-by-3 square (they can overlap) will yield bonuses. Chains continue until the blocks reach the top of the screen, a 3-by-3 formation is not created, or a time limit expires. Once the chain disappears, all blocks in a chain’s column, but not in the chain, collapse. Heavy Tetris players may need to take a few minutes to remind themselves that the goal is to create blocks, not lines.
Not every stage is exactly the same; while some have different sets of pieces (still made up of three blocks), other stages may have debris that occasionally falls into the playing field. Some stages require the player to clear a given amount of blocks, while other stages have the player racing against a computer player. Another variation reduces the time given to complete combos.
During the game, the top screen simply represents the player’s status through cute, simple Flash-like animated sequences. Even during competitive stages, the enemy’s playfield is shown as a tiny set of pixels on the bottom screen rather than on the more logical top screen.
The game features a Story mode, and what a strange story it is. The main character is a bounty hunter who pilots a penguin-shaped spaceship named Pengo. The commissioned hero travels the solar system in an attempt to find the princess of Earth, who has been captured by the demon-like King Pluto. Another bounty hunter named Hellmetal is also trying to rescue the princess and claim the king’s reward. Despite recovering her several times, constant mishap results in the repeated loss of the princess. The ship is attacked by monsters, bombarded by space debris, and sucked towards a black hole. Each of these events represents a different gameplay alteration, with Pengo’s power generated by block combos.
Animated scenes between each stage tell the story and are concluded by an intermission from the evil overlord King Pluto. The comic foil of the game, King Pluto tells his subjects often nonsensical statements, such as “there’s no more toilet paper," eliciting cheers. Though sometimes humorous, the story is extremely repetitious to the point of the game sheepishly calling attention to this fact, with liberal use of adverbs such as “still" and “again" found in the majority of stage descriptions.
The human characters are oddly devoid of any emotion, despite their perilous journeys. This was obviously a style choice, which adds to the overall wackiness of the game. Despite its shortcomings, the ending of the story is an actual laugh-out-loud moment. In all, Story Mode contains 45 stages, andafter these stages are completed, players must go through a harder version of the same stages.
The game also features a ten-stage Arcade Mode as well as the obligatory Endless Mode. In addition, VS Mode offers single-card two player games and multi-card games with up to four players. During the game, players gain money from completing combos as well as stages. This money can be used to buy graphics and sound themes. The two theme types can be selected independently of one another, allowing for some truly bizarre presentation.
In the end, Trioncube is just too simple for its own good, proving that a fancy presentation isn’t necessarily sufficient to overcome an inherent lack of depth. Namco realized its simplicity in its budget release price, but even this reduced cost doesn’t make the game worth buying. Just stick to the Flash demo.