Separating the WOFFles from the Square Pancakes

The WOFF! formula came about pretty naturally. As we poked and prodded different early games, we discovered what made for good episodes and what was a little more difficult. Since we’re essentially a book club, we tend to gravitate towards games with a strong narrative focus. When that’s not available, we hope that we can focus on deep mechanics. This doesn’t always happen, however. Take, for instance, our episode on Zombies Ate My Neighbors. I like that game a lot, I like that episode, but it was a challenge to record because we’re used to dealing with plot beats in tandem with gameplay. If you look back on our episodes, any game that lacks a strong story (Mario games, Sonic, Heroes of Might and Magic) makes for a different feeling episode. Not necessarily worse but different.

What this means is that there are games out there that I think are worth talking about, that are absolutely fantastic, overlooked or otherwise noteworthy that, sadly, would make lousy episodes of the show. Like The New Tetris. This 1999 Tetris variant is my favorite puzzle game. I love Bust-A-Move until my colorblindness makes it unplayable. Peggle is chaotic bliss. Lumines is a flawless synthesis of visual and audio style. But The New Tetris is truly something special.

Tetris has been called a perfect game. And I’d recommend watching that video because I think his points are more or less inarguable. But Tetris didn’t truly gain my love until it was “New.” If you’ve never played this variant, I’ll break it down for you. Regular Tetris rules apply with one added wrinkle: creating a perfect 4x4 “block” of tetronimoes causes the block to solidify. If you construct one out of all different kinds of blocks, you get a shameful graphite colored compromise. BUT if you manage to create a block out of four of the same kind of block (possible with every shape other than those shitty Zs) then you get a gold block. When you clear a line with one of these blocks, you get a score multiplier. Silver is shitty, gold is great. Got it?

What does this do? It adds an entire dimension to the game. Not like those shitty Tetris Axis games, no, it adds an element of risk and reward. Do you keep your lines down? Fine. Play it safe. Non flavored for you. Why don’t you go home to your regular hummus and white bread and just die already. But for the true challengers of the unknown, every piece presents you with a choice. Do you make the line or hold out for the piece you need to create your golden god? Oh lord, how many more “Z”s do I need to endure, Job-like, before you grant me the “L” I need? Just one more piece. I can hold out just one more piece… This element has always been a part of Tetris because of the long block but by ramping up that tension, you, well, ramp up the tension. And that's a good thing

Other design new additions complement this. The game gives you a preview pane of three pieces rather than one. If you see that “L” on the distant horizon, you’re already planning what to do with your current piece and the next two in order to not fuck up your square. You’re considering multiple angles, all while dealing with the grim inevitability of never ending falling blocks. It introduces shaky human chaos into the ecstasy of order and for that, I’ll always love it.

See, perfection is sort of boring. A guiding philosophy of WOFF! is that it’s not a greatest hits tape. Sure, every once in a while we grabnab a slab of Link to the Past to remind ourselves that perfection exists. But we spend a lot more time in the flawed gems and questionable nostalgia categories and that’s where our best episodes come from. Perfection doesn’t inspire passion. It’s curse is that it comes out of the box already being taken for granted. Like Mathewmatosis says, when was the last time you heard a serious examination of the elements of tetris?

Now, we could do a split EP episode with New Tetris but it’d more or less be the content of this blog. There just isn’t enough to say about it other than that it’s fucking excellent. Try it! Go ahead, I’ll wait. What? Can’t find it? That’s right! It’s fucking tragic! Not only is this game hard to find but to my knowledge, this game mode has only been re-released on the largely disappointing Tetris Worlds release which includes, I might add, that shitty permanent spinning thing. You might have to google this game to play it but I think you’ll be glad you did.