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Homebreviews - part 42: Puzzle Pandemonium

Nathan Strum

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One is a puzzle game with colored blocks that you make disappear! And the other is a puzzle game with colored blocks that you make disappear!


Chetiry (Chris Walton, Zach Matley, Fred Quimby)

Full disclosure: I worked on this game, designing the title screen and cut-scene graphics, and creating the artwork for the label, manual and box.

Chetiry is a 2600 version of the classic game Tetris. I probably don't need to explain it, but in Tetris there are falling shapes, each comprised of four blocks in different arrangements, that you must manipulate so that they build solid rows across the screen. When you complete a row, it disappears and any blocks above it move down. The more rows (up to four) you can complete at a time, the more points you get. If you leave gaps, those rows don't disappear but build up higher and higher. If the rows reach the top, the game ends. The longer you play, the faster the pieces fall, and the less time you have to react.

Chetiy isn't the first 2600 attempt at Tetris. There's also Edtris, Tetris26 (which is an unfinished tech demo), Cubis, Z-Blocks, and 2600Tris. A key element of being able to play Tetris is knowing exactly the size and shape of a gap you have to drop a piece into. Of the other efforts, only Cubis and Tetris26 clearly define individual rows, and only Tetris26 shows both rows and columns. The rest all show the assembled blocks as single-colored masses, making it difficult to judge how wide or deep a particular gap is. Chetiry is unique in that it gives each different shape its own color and retains those colors after they're dropped, so you can easily gauge exactly what's needed to fill each gap. Besides all of the colors being visually impressive, this adds to the authenticity, and more importantly the playability, of Chetiry.

If that were Chetiry's sole selling point, it would still be a significant one, but the game goes far beyond that. Chetiry also has incredible music, familiar to anyone who's played the Gameboy version of Tetris. The title screen has its own music, plus there are three other songs you can choose from during gameplay (or you can turn the music off and just listen to the sound effects). Chetiry also features the cut scenes of rockets launching from the Gameboy version, a lavishly detailed title screen, and high-score saving on the cart - no AtariVox or SaveKey is required. During gameplay, a single line of text shows your score, the number of rows cleared (depending on the game), the game variation you're playing, the current level you're at, and an optional preview of the next shape that will appear. It's a very dense but very useful display, and its inclusion speaks to the level of detail put into this game.

As technically accomplished as Chetiry is, the important thing is how well it plays, and Chetiry is excellent. The controls are perfectly responsive, and the difficulty ramp feels just right. There are four game options: Marathon (which is the default classic Tetris mode), Sprint 25 and Sprint 40 (your goal is to remove 25 or 40 lines and get the highest score in doing so), and my favorite: Ultra! in which you race against the clock to score as many points as possible in 3 minutes. This is an absolute blast if you start at level 9 (and a great way to practice for Marathon). You can start any game at any level from 0-9, and choose from 6 starting depths where some of the rows are already partially filled with blocks. There's also a pause feature, and an option to "fast drop" pieces - but since that's controlled with "up" on the joystick it can be triggered accidentally if you're not careful.

Chetiry is by far the most feature-packed version of Tetris for the 2600, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a couple of minor (and they're very minor) shortcomings with it. Since the 2600 joystick only has one button, you can only rotate the pieces in one direction. An option to select clockwise or counter-clockwise would have been a nice option, or better still, support for Genesis gamepads so you could rotate either way using two buttons. The only other shortcoming is a lack of a two-player mode, but I didn't miss that at all.

Chetiry is an outstanding, faithful, feature-packed port of one of the best and most iconic puzzle games of all time. Very highly recommended.

Chetiry gets a 5/5.


Chunkout 2600 (James Todd)

Chunkout 2600 is a puzzle game that's based on SameGame (aka Chain Shot!). You start with a screen filled with patterns of colored blocks. Selecting a group of two or more adjacent blocks of the same color will make them disappear, causing any remaining blocks above them to fall down and fill the empty spaces, creating new patterns. The more blocks that you clear in a given turn, the more points you will score. To win, you must completely clear all of the blocks from the screen, but the game will also end if the only remaining blocks can't be paired up and removed.

There are four difficulty settings in Chunkout 2600, which determine how many different colors of blocks there are (2, 3, 4 or 5). The more colors there are, the harder it is to clear out a screen since there is a higher likelihood of individual blocks becoming isolated. The settings are selected using the Difficulty switches, but pay careful attention to the manual because the easiest difficulty is with both switches set to A, which is opposite of how Difficulty switches are typically used. Speaking of the manual, the author went to great lengths to craft an elaborate science fiction backstory for Chunkout 2600 - much like Atari did with some of their games. Unfortunately, the manual never "breaks character" and the story is so convoluted it actually fails to clearly describe how to play the game. Fortunately, it's easy enough to figure out once you start playing it.

Sound effects are very sparse, including a short fanfare that repeats over the title screen. Graphics couldn't be simpler - it's a field of colored blocks with a score beneath it. Chunkout 2600 has a very minimal presentation, but that's okay because at its heart is a solid, enjoyable puzzle game, and one that's appropriately challenging at its highest difficulty setting. It's a classic "minute to learn, lifetime to master" game, and the easiest difficulty settings give you a safe place to develop strategies and win some games before moving onto the tougher ones.

Where Chunkout 2600 falls short though, is that there are no preset puzzles. The puzzles are always generated randomly, so you never have an opportunity to go back and replay one. A different but unreleased 2600 version of SameGame - Matchie (by John Payson) had 10,000 preset puzzles that you could choose from, letting you develop strategies, improve your scores, and work out solutions for specific puzzles. While 10,000 is a bit much, had Chunkout 2600 added some preset puzzles as an option, it would have greatly improved its replay value. As it is, it can be frustrating when you get within just a block or two of clearing a puzzle, and don't have the opportunity to go back and try it again.

Even without preset puzzles, Chunkout 2600 is still a fun, challenging puzzle game that's right at home on the Atari 2600. With a good range of difficulty settings, players of all ages and skill levels can enjoy it.

Chunkout 2600 gets a 4/5 (3.5 on a half-point scale)


Up next: Paddle Battle

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Thanks Nathan - nice review - I don’t think it occurred to me to add support for the genesis controller to Chetiry at the time - would probably be straightforward ...

 

Chris

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I'm sure it never occurred to me either. I didn't think about it until 2600Tris was in development, and I noted that he chose to have his pieces rotate the opposite direction of Chetiry. I was so used to playing Chetiry, it was actually difficult adapting to the difference.

 

It was interesting going through and playing the other Tetris ports. Originally I thought about writing reviews for all of them, but I don't have any of the others on carts and my first rule for reviewing games is: I have to actually own a physical copy. They all have pretty significant shortcomings though. The best of the bunch is Cubis, although it has the absolute worst music of any 2600 game that I've ever heard, and as far as I can tell, you can't shut it off.

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