When I think about the games that have really affected me (emotionally or intellectually), it’s not very high on the list, but the game I’ve probably played the most in my life is Tetris.
As a teenager, I stole my family’s NES console (which was very old, even then) and hooked it up in my room, where I played it endlessly as a de-stressor in high school while listening to angsty albums. I played it obsessively again the awkward year I spent back at my folks’ after college, unemployed and adrift, desperately needing a distraction.
All of this is to say: I *know* block puzzle games.
And Quatros Origins, developed by God As A Cucumber, is a good block puzzle game (Also, bonus points for what might be the best name for anything, much less a game design company, that I've seen all year).
The basis is Tetris: falling blocks, fit them together to clear rows of blocks, repeat until the blocks start falling so quickly you'd need the reaction time of The Flash on six shots of espresso to stop them from piling up and ending the game. But Quatros Origins has enough neat tricks up its sleeve to feel different from, and just as fun as, its predecessor.
The major new twist is that the playing space rotates ninety degrees after every block drops (Get it? TWIST? ‘Cause it turns? BOW BEFORE MY MAJESTIC PUNNERY). This makes it so every block affects not only the plane it was placed on, but the other three planes, as well. It gives the game a somewhat more frantic feel, because it's much more difficult to plan where you want the next piece to go when you can't quite remember what the adjacent plane looks like. Quatros Origins is something you start playing more with instinct than tactics, but the more you play, the more you adjust to thinking in this new, multi-surface world.
It also messes with your Tetris reflexes. There are several new shapes, which are made up of five blocks instead of four. They don't come along too often, but these shapes, like a plus sign and a T-shape, can really throw you off when you've built your strategy around the standard Tetris shapes. That adds a nice bit of challenge to Quatros Origins, even for seasoned Tetris veterans.
The look and sound of the game are great, too. The graphics have a very nice, modern, three-dimensional design to them. The sound effects make every cleared line feel like an explosive accomplishment. As far as the music goes, it's well-composed and very fitting for the puzzle genre. If you play for long enough, you'll probably want to mute the music and listen to something else, but that says more about the nature of listening to the same song for an extended period of time than it does about the song itself.
One place where Quatros Origins is a little lacking is in gameplay explanations.
This is understandable, since everyone and the ghostly specters of their triple-great-grandparents have played Tetris, but there are a few quirks in the game that could use some clarification. For example, there are occasionally colored blocks within the shapes, but I'm not clear on their purpose. Presumably, there's some sort of point bonus involved with them? But I'm not about to take my eyes away from the falling shapes to figure that out. It's not a big thing, and it doesn't really affect my enjoyment of the game, but it was something that made me squint at my computer screen like Fry.
(At this point, I should note that I played an advanced copy of Quatros Origins, and it’s possible some changes will be made before the release! I was going to write a bit complaining about how the game doesn’t tell you what the keyboard controls are, but between the time I started writing this review and the time I’m writing this sentence, God As A Cucumber made an update to add a control configuration screen. So if this goes up and the game has recently been turned into an FPS, I take no responsibility for the accuracy of this review.)
Overall, Quatros Origins is just a really solid game. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does give the wheel a shiny new coat of paint and puts on some treads so the wheel can go to more exciting places.
Pure puzzle games aren’t the flashiest titles around, but they inhabit an important place in the gaming pantheon: they focus your thoughts while passing the time, whether you need a distraction from waiting for your frozen pizza to cook or from the ever-depressing news of the world. If you’ve enjoyed the time you’ve spent throughout your life rotating little pieces around and fitting them together, you’ll really like the chance to do it again on a larger scale in Quatros Origins.