Review by SneakTheSnake

Reviewed: 01/03/14

Disneytris? I'm in, at least for a little while.

Making a platformer out of Disney’s Aladdin sure makes sense, as does making a platformer out of The Jungle Book (even if the movie came out several decades before the video game adaptation). Why not take traditional Disney characters and have them play Tetris? Sounds perfectly reasonable to me. This isn’t the only fusion between Disney and puzzle games, but it’s the first. It’s not that bad, either.

This N64 title combines the timeless simplicity of Tetris with a few Disneyesque tricks up its sleeves. Beyond the sleek and whimsical menus are a decent handful of modes, each of which capitalizing on the foundations of Tetris. The game features a very welcome presentation overall, bright and arcade-like.

The main draw is the titular Magical Tetris; it’s a new variety of the game and, in addition to the Disney character license, the game’s main draw. It’s played competitively, and it is essentially Tetris with gimmicks. During gameplay, making successful lines (singularly or up to five at a time) builds up a meter on the left-hand side of the screen. This dumps special dumpster blocks on your opponent, which can both help and hinder. Successful play yields, for your opponent, gigantic Tetris blocks (up to 5x5), as well as oddly shaped tetrominos which don’t confine to the straight-line, L-shape or square varieties. Skilled players can use these garbage blocks to their advantage, which then sends the same type of garbage heading back to the opposite side. The player whose screen fills to the top with blocks loses.

I don’t especially like Magical Tetris; I much prefer the original which, fortunately, is still an option. I don’t like it because I don’t think it’s a good set of choices to attempt to “improve” or play off of the original Tetris formula. It feels just like, well, a bunch of gimmicks. I don’t mind the gameplay structure; players pick one of four Disney characters (Mickey, Donald, Minnie or Goofy) and go off competitively against other characters from the Disney universe. The four narratives intertwine at certain points, which I think is a great plus. All four stories have to do with a rare gem which falls from the sky; big bad Pete and his henchmen want it all to themselves, so the stories mostly have to do with the characters fighting with each other over the brilliant gem.

The game is wrapped in a truly wonderful graphical presentation. I really like the sprite work in Magical Tetris Challenge; the characters animate very well and exude the same energy and personality one sees in the classic cartoon. The 3D work, like the playfields, doesn’t blend well with the 2D sprites or the menus, but the colorful and spirited 2D graphics more than make up for the jarring contrast. Everything is bubbling with personality.

Though the game lacks voicework, the aural experience in Magical Tetris Challenge won’t disappoint either. I would have expected an orchestral score, given this game’s roots, but the designers opted for a rockabilly soundtrack instead. The melodies are catchy, the beats are a strange mix of twang and funk, and they shouldn’t really fit well with the graphics or gameplay at all. And yet again, despite the contrast, the music is enjoyable enough to take in stride. When the concept is this unusual, the music and graphics should go along with it, right?

Magical Tetris Challenge, from a gameplay standpoint, is a bit of a mixed bag. And yet, I recommend this game to all N64 owners, not just Disney or Tetris aficionados. There’s standard Tetris on the N64 if you want it, and there’s Tetrisphere as well; how the N64 got so many Tetris games but no Metroid is beyond me, but this provides a somewhat serviceable, if not quirky, Tetris variant. The game benefits from an impressive graphical presentation and a fun soundtrack. There are even great multiplayer options. Puzzle fans will likely get a kick, then, from Magical Tetris Challenge.

Rating: 7

Product Release: Magical Tetris Challenge (US, 01/14/99)

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