Dragging Tetris-style puzzling into the third dimension

Just as modern films suffer when they have an ill-fitting layer of 3D effects applied as an afterthought, so a classic 2D gaming franchise can be ruined by forcing it to enter the third dimension. Fortunately, Tetra3D – evidently an attempt to “update” the Tetris formula – has enough going for it to avoid such a disaster.

The premise remains the same – rotate a bunch of falling geometric shapes so that they slot into place to form complete lines, thus disappearing. It’s in the details that Tetra3D differs, and necessarily so.

Wisely, while the blocks being dropped are of a familiar (though not identical) shape, the developer of Tetra3D evidently understands that 3D worlds bring with them a completely different set of challenges. Accordingly, Tetra3D lacks the immediacy and flow of a typical 2D Tetris-type game.

Forming lines is no longer simple. With the introduction of a third dimension, you need to lay out a solid slab of interconnected blocks within a cuboid playing area. It’s a bit like tiling your kitchen floor, but with odd primary-coloured tiles. And fun.

Tetra3D

Another area in which 3D complicates things is by upping the number of planes of movement. With the view fixed to an isometric perspective (though this can be rotated to all four corner points), there are touch controls to spin your blocks in three possible ways. This lets you align each block in any way you want, and serves to make you think of those familiar T-shaped blocks in a whole new light.

Of course, these extra considerations require a lot more brain-processing time. Fortunately, then, no block in Tetra3D starts dropping until its rather generous (at first) time bar fills up. This gives you time to align your block and shuffle it into place by dragging your finger across the screen, a helpful shadow showing exactly where it’s going to drop. A vertical slider allows you to drop blocks before the timer expires, so you can dictate the pace of each game.

This slider initially struck me as an awkward conceit, but it soon established itself as a highlight of Tetra3D‘s particularly tight control scheme. You see, the 3D perspective inevitably leads to some misplaced blocks, leaving annoying overhangs and troublesome gaps. The slider allows you to lower your block until it’s touching the ground, then slide it laterally to fill in any awkward nooks.

We shouldn’t leave that point about misplaced blocks unaddressed, though. Despite its excellent control scheme, Tetra3D doesn’t quite nail things when it comes to the 3D perspective.

In situations were you’ve built up a fair few levels (perhaps to set up a multi-level combo) it can be all but impossible to get an accurate view of lower-lying blocks. This isn’t helped by the limited “four corners” camera control, which works well most of the time, but can’t cope with the situation mentioned above. A free-camera facility (perhaps using a two-fingered drag) would have helped here, as would the ability to make the higher blocks temporarily transparent. Tetra3D is evidently a work in progress, though, so we’re hopeful of improvements.

There’s just the one mode of play, which is comprised of playing through and rising up the levels until you can no longer take the pace. Or until your bus turns up. Although you can tinker with some of the starting conditions, it’s easy to be left wanting more – a puzzle mode that requires you to complete a pre-laid level, perhaps, or a mode with a much stricter time element.

Still, the way the developer has created a successful, playable 3D Tetris of sorts is enough of an achievement to warrant a recommendation. It’s tricky to make a block-based puzzler that fully utilizes the third dimension while remaining fun and accessible, but Tetra3D achieves just that.