You have to stretch hard to find a story that adequately applies to Tetris. The game doesn't lend itself well to cut scenes, voice acting, or animations. Let's face it; addictive it is, a Gone With The Wind it is not. Though Tetris Worlds presents itself as a game based around "you against the end of the universe", what it really boils down to is what Tetris always has been and will remain to be. Four blocks arranged in different shapes falling from the sky; Tetris World's half-hearted attempt to dress it up as more really doesn't change that. Not that it's a bad game. Count the number of times people have turned buildings into multi-story versions of the game, and it's easy to see that people love Tetris. It's addicting, fast, simple, easy to pick up, and yet hard to put down.
Its simplicity, in fact, is part of the problem. It's hard to repackage a game that has remained virtually unchanged since it originally appeared in Russia, and it is no easy task to convince the average buyer that they should pay even bargain prices for a game that can, for all given purposes, be legally downloaded from the Internet for free. What you end up with is an elaborately dressed up classic with strange elements to the gameplay the programmers added in simply to give themselves something to do. Timers that count down, variations on the game, strange little animations, and a wide variety of pretty backgrounds used to demonstrate that you are indeed now on another world. In many respects, the same result could be achieved with a fish tank under your TV, as long as you periodically change the background.
After you cut through the graphic update and storyline (which amounts to a introductory animation that you see at the beginning of the single player story mode), how does the game play? Well, Tetris Worlds contains six separate games, all resembling Tetris, but all with slightly altered rules. Ranging from basic Tetris elimination modes to Dr. Mario style falling blocks, Tetris Worlds actually does contain a fair number of interesting innovations to the game. But even though there is a nice deep queue list, and the ability to switch a piece while it's falling, it isn't anything particularly more exciting than the 119 variations that can be found online at downloads.com. Aside from the ability to play the game in your living room, Tetris Worlds doesn't really offer an experience beyond that of the average shareware program.
Regardless of which variation you play within Tetris Worlds, though, all share a common trait that virtually makes the game pointless. Amongst the many champions who have come to my house to be taught a lesson, it is known as Dancing. However the outside world might refer to it, it's a reference to a peculiar programming decision. As long as the block is being rotated, it never settles. Not only does it not settle, but a persistent player can dance the piece across and over obstacles. As one friend demonstrated for me by playing a game nearly indefinitely (it was actually about an hour and a half before he got bored), even to the point that you could no longer see the blocks since they were descending so fast, dancing allows you to play virtually forever. No matter how fast the block falls, simply pressing the rotate button postpones settling until it's in the position you like. On the upper levels, single player games feel much the same as earlier levels, only without the extended period of time waiting for the blocks to reach the floor. After a certain point, the difficulty simply doesn't increase.
The savior of Tetris Worlds is its two player and online competitive modes. Even then, though, the game has evident limits. Its inability to allow more than two players to play simultaneously on a single Xbox keeps it from truly being a party game, save competition games that quickly lose their interest after a champion is declared. Yet besting a friend at Tetris Worlds is well worth the time it takes to start the game up and invite him over. As you earn points, your enemy finds his game more difficult. Unfortunately, dancing still happens, meaning when you reach the top of the screen, dancing in one corner until your enemy earns enough points to force you out can impede the fun. Numerous times I've watched players with inferior skill dance until the true winner flubbed up and ran his blocks into the ceiling. And at least once I watched two dancers in equally bad straits battle it out in a test of endurance for nearly fifteen minutes. In the end, a spectator stuffed popcorn in one contestant's ear, and the match was settled on a technicality.
If you have an Xbox LIVE account, Tetris World allows you to battle it out with up to three other players simultaneously, which makes for a great deal of fun. Here, dancing is rarely a problem, as chances are that at least one of the three players is good enough to put blocks under you until you die. Online, all pretense of a storyline completely vanish, and the heart of the game shows through. And amazingly enough, when all is said and done, what you have is Tetris. Still addicting, still time consuming, and still a poor showing for your dollars when set on the shelf beside games built from concept on a modern system.