With possibly the least likely movie tie-in currently hitting the small screen, Tetris is undergoing yet another revival, so now seems as good a time as any to revisit the falling blocks genre with Papertris.
Papertris’ gameplay is more akin to Columns or Dr Mario than its suffix would suggest, but it’s not the first to piggyback on the name of the game that spawned countless imitators. There’s still a very large overlap across all these titles, both in terms of gameplay and target market. Papertris does little to reinvent the wheel, its core selling point being the non-referential half of its name.
While its gameplay pays plenty of homage to block-puzzlers, its visuals recycle the concept of bringing a paper-based style to the screen. It specifically goes in hard on the ‘sketches on graph paper’ look. Of course, this works well for a game that tasks you with lining things up, and depth — another key twist in the tale — is represented attractively, if not perfectly.
The basics are simple: move the falling pieces, consisting of three blocks each, left and right. You can cycle the coloured blocks, but there’s no piece rotation here: they always fall vertically. Get three (or more) colours next to each other, in any orthogonal direction (i.e. including L shapes) and they disappear. Save from a couple of bonus pieces which destroy whole lines or, in an interesting reversal of fortunes, obscure part of the screen temporarily, that’s pretty much it…
Apart from the game’s coup de grace: what happens when the screen fills up. Normally, you’d expect a game over: that’s the whole point of block puzzlers, right? Papertris wants to be more forgiving than that, though; when you fill the screen, everything moves ‘back’ a bit, towards the distance, giving you a fresh clear well to avoid filling up again. It’s quite a nice gimmick, although the implementation could certainly be cleaner.
In fact, this is the story of Papertris all round, really: more polish required. For a start, the game throws you right in at the deep end, with no tutorial, and apparently no explanation of how to play it from the main menu. It turns out you can access a brief “how to play” screen from the pause menu, but this is far from intuitive, and it still leaves plenty of questions to be answered.
The 3D style also proves somewhat awkward when it comes to the multiple z-layer planes. Blocks in the background are slightly darker than those in the foreground, but it’s not always enough to easily distinguish between them. And that goes double for the new colours that the game gradually introduces as you play. At speed, determining whether two subtly different shades of orangey-brown are the same or not can be really tricky.
Of course, this may be entirely intentional: a part of the game that adds to its difficulty as time passes. If you’re on board with that, it’s fine, but the game definitely poses some accessibility challenges which may limit its appeal. Combined with a font that’s hard to read, and a soft-locking bug I encountered on one occasion, the overall impression is of a budget title that reflects its price point.
Papertris is far from original, with several accessibility flaws. It may fill a gap if you’re bored of ’99 or Effect but, let’s face it, if you’re bored of those, you’re probably bored with life already.