Top Secret File: Tetrisphere
October 15, 1996
Note: This article was originally written in the spring of 1996, with a final update in October 1996, and was online a full year before Tetrisphere was actually released. However, the file was a super-secret article that no one seemed ever to have found on N64 HQ. It was hidden in the root directory, but you had to know the exact filename to get to it. It is now presented in its original, unedited form.
So where did Tetrisphere come from? Well, a tiny Canadian company called H2O Entertainment originally developed a revolutionary puzzle game for the Jaguar called Phear. Why for the Jag? Because the specifications "looked right."
Phear made its worldwide debut at the lackluster 1995 WCES—the last CES with the major video game companies. Phear was a shining star in a sky of darkness. Meanwhile, members of Nintendo's Treehouse team were scouring the floor looking for something new and original in every genre. They were hoping to find 6-10 exclusive Nintendo 64 titles—at least one in every genre—to debut with the system. Without HyperImage (another Jag developer), Nintendo and H2O might have never met...
After the show, Phear disappeared off the face of the earth. Of course there were many rumors as to where it went. The game actually went to the most unexpected of places—to Nintendo. Nintendo had purchased the exclusive worldwide rights to the game after the show. Nintendo knew that they very well may have purchased THE next Tetris.
H2O was one of the first companies to receive Nintendo 64 development kits in early-to-middle July 1995. They begin work on the game approximately 1-2 months later. At the time, they aimed to have the game completed in three months (in time for Shoshinkai.) The game is still being worked on, and as you know, the game wasn't shown at Shoshinkai. Nintendo thought it wouldn't be too good of an idea to show off their games considering they wouldn't be out for awhile.
The name Tetrisphere was developed thanks to Nintendo's marketing machine. Throw the Tetris name on anything, and you know it HAS to be good. Case in point: if you've ever played the Japanese Super Famicom puzzle game, Panel de Pon, then you know it's a superb puzzle game. The American version of that game is called Tetris Attack…some say it's the best puzzle game ever.
Now that we got a little background behind us, we can discuss the gameplay of Tetrisphere. First of all, let's describe the concept: there's this several-layers deep (anywhere from 1 to 8 layers), polygonal sphere in the center of the screen which is made up of Tetris shapes. The object of each level is to properly match all the 3-D Tetris-shaped blocks on each layer of the sphere until you've dug a solid 4x4 block hole into its center to reveal a kanji symbol. So, what's the catch? Not only do you have to match up the proper piece, but also the proper color before the sphere reaches you. In other words, the sphere is constantly moving towards you (it moves quicker on the higher levels), and you have to rotate the sphere to find the proper piece to "blow-up" with the piece you currently have. Delightfully wicked. What makes this even better than the Jaguar version are the polgyon-based background (for an immersive experience) and gameplay enhancements. This is a relatively simple explanation. The game actually has a lot more strategy to it.
Obviously, the translation from Phear to Tetrisphere wouldn't have meant anything unless there were some gameplay enhancements. Two new additions completely help improve the game's gameplay: magic and combos. Sometimes underneath a block there are magic points. Magic points enable you to pull off one of six different types of magic. Maybe a lightning bolt or a tremor which can help you in the one-player mode or harm you opponent in the two-player mode. With the new addition of combos, you can setup for a combo and gain massive amounts of magic. You setup for a combo by putting pieces on top of one another and then starting the chain reaction. Although these enhancements can help you a lot, in all honesty, the game is still pretty much a race to the core using conventional methods. Rewards are there for experienced players, though.
Tetrisphere is going to be a two-player game. Originally, they were thinking about taking advantage of the four controller ports, but they have since decided against four-player play because it just didn't work. The game will also keep track of some multi-player statistics so you can decide who the true champion is.
With this being mostly a real-time, 3-D game, you would expect that the 32 megabits are going to good use. Namely, kick-ass music. Never "phear", as Neil Voss—the musician; I guarantee you'll remember his name after this game—is here! The music of Tetrisphere ranges from techno-industrial to dance to rave. Some of the music even has some vocal samples thrown in. The music of this game is the final part of three part equation to complete the experience (immersive graphics + revolutionary gameplay + mood-fitting music = pure gaming bliss? Hahahaha.) SGI and Nintendo has already said the game has the "best music we've ever heard from a cartridge." It's supposed to sound so good that it's comparable to red-book audio. Wow. As a matter of fact, Nintendo likes the music so much that they're already doing a professionally re-mastered audio CD of it. If we're lucky enough, maybe they'll pack it in with the game. At the same token, the sound effects also really help enhanced the gameplay experience. It just really helps intensify an already intense experience. :-)
So, that's the gist of Tetrisphere. Anyone who understands what the game is about is very excited about it. Immersive graphics, killer sound, revolutionary gameplay…all wrapped up into the most addictive puzzle package since Tetris. This game could quite possibly be better than that classic too. You better have that $60 ready this fall because…"There's Nothing to Phear."