It's been a long time coming, but Jonny's Fortress review is now ready for your devouring. Watch out...this one's spicy.
Let’s get this out of the way: Fortress isn’t a very good Tetris clone. That’d be perfectly fine if it tried to add a lot of new ideas to the classic formula, and at first glance, that appears to be the case. Looking at the box, Majesco makes the game out to be some sort of action or strategy game where you get to fire cannons and magic at the enemy, and you get to employ all sorts of these little "Twerp" fellows to help you out. Technically, I guess that is an accurate description of the game, but all of that stuff happens on a purely indirect basis. The Fortress gameplay is based entirely on dropping Tetris blocks; there is little strategy and scarcely any "action" to it.
So Fortress is a Tetris-style puzzle game...what’s wrong with that? Hell, I love Tetris to death and wouldn’t mind a well-executed clone with a few innovative twists. It’s too bad that Fortress doesn’t even get that much right. My biggest gripe is that the playing field is too wide and too high for you to see anything on the screen at once. Not only does this drastically slow down the gameplay (because you have to let the pieces fall a good bit before deciding where to place them), but it also creates a lot of situations where a falling piece will get stuck on one side where you can’t use it. I don’t mind that in Tetris because it’s always my fault...because of Fortress’s view problems, it’s always the game’s fault. The other major issue is control, which is clunky at best. Pieces move left and right very slowly unless you tap the D-pad for each column you want to move over, pressing down doesn’t make the piece fall much faster at all, and pressing up instantly locks the piece in its current position – it's almost impossible to scoot it over at the last second.
Of course, the game’s big departure from Tetris is the presence of an opponent, which you must destroy. I quickly learned, however, that this aspect of the game is much more important to the marketing than the actual gameplay. The interaction between you and the other guy (computer or a second player, it doesn’t much matter) is almost nil. The only time you’ll even take a glance at the opponent’s fortress is when you get to aim one of the all-too-rare suicide bombers; coincidentally, that’s the only time you’ll get to directly attack the opponent at all. Cannons and summoned monsters are totally automated, and even their position in your fortress seems to be arbitrary. On top of that, winning a battle actually has little to do with attacking the other guy’s fortress, and I don’t think it’s even possible to totally destroy his crib with your attacks. You win by earning a certain amount of points, and points accumulate when you build sections of your fortress. Thus, you can very feasibly win a game without a single cannon or wizard tower, which begs the question: "Why are those things even included, and why are we made to think they are the focal point of gameplay?"
Ironically, the game’s developers have left these and other questions for you to figure out on your own. There’s absolutely zero in-game tutorial help, and although the instruction manual explains the mechanics sufficiently, it never manages to lay out the point of the game very well. Then there’s the utter lack of features in the game...Blitz mode removes the safe building period and changes some of the scoring rules, and Tournament mode is just four regular battles strung together. There’s nothing to unlock, and the cartridge doesn’t even save your scores.
Fortress isn’t an entirely poor game, but it is mediocre enough for me to withhold any real praise. The basic premise is a cool one; I just have to think that sometime during development, the project turned out to be too ambitious for the team’s capabilities and/or timeframe, and they ended up cutting a lot of the gameplay and extra features. What we end up with is a disappointing shell of what could have been...and an actual gameplay setup that can’t even maintain a mild level of entertainment for more than the first hour or two of playing.