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Review: 'Tetris,' Updated, and Other Arranging Games

When "Tetris" first appeared in the United States 20 years ago, it took many gamers by surprise.

Even in an era when the pixilated "Super Mario Bros." was state-of-the-art, "Tetris" looked primitive. How could a game that consisted solely of arranging falling blocks be so addictive?

And, yet, "Tetris" — the creation of Russian computer programmer Alexey Pajitnov — is unquestionably one of the most influential video games in the industry's history.

It didn't make Pajitnov rich, but its presence on the original Game Boy helped Nintendo establish its long-running dominance of portable gaming.

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More importantly, "Tetris" inspired dozens, if not hundreds, of imitators. Any game that involves pattern or color matching, from "Bejeweled" to "Lumines" to "Zuma," owes a debt to Pajitnov. And I suspect that many of those older players who enjoy casual gaming on the Web probably cut their teeth on "Tetris."

As console graphics get more elaborate and lifelike, how does an elegant gem like "Tetris" hold up?

— "Tetris Evolution" (THQ, for the Xbox 360, $29.99): It seems almost wasteful to use an Xbox 360 and a high-def TV to play "Tetris." THQ tries to compensate for the game's visual simplicity by cluttering up the background with wacky videos, but they only distract from the action.

The real draw here is the addition of Xbox Live support, which lets you challenge Tetrisheads all over the world.

The standard goal is familiar — clog up your opponent's screen by clearing lines on your own — but trying to work your way up the worldwide leaderboard is an addictive challenge.

"Evolution" adds some scoring twists to the classic formula: You may have a time limit, or you may only score points for clearing blocks in a particular area of the board.

But there aren't enough new features to justify the $30 price tag; "Tetris Evolution" should have been a $10 Xbox Live download.

Two stars out of four.

— "Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords" (D3 Publisher, for the Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable, $29.99): "Puzzle Quest" takes a familiar block-matching game — "Bejeweled," essentially — and weds it to a sweeping role-playing epic, a la "Final Fantasy Tactics."

As in many a classic RPG, you begin by creating a character, male or female, in one of four classes: druid, knight, warrior or wizard. Then you take on a series of quests, but your battles take place on a puzzle grid.

Line up three or more skulls and you damage your opponent; line up coins to collect money. If you line up colored cells you collect mana, which you can use to cast spells.

The combat element adds some fresh strategy to the "Bejeweled" format: Should you match skulls to dish out easy damage, or collect mana to build up more dangerous spells? Or should you grab the bucks you need to buy more powerful armor?

"Puzzle Quest" is a must-have for anyone who loves both RPGs and puzzles, and will probably delight anyone who's a fan of either genre.

Three-and-a-half stars.

— "Meteos: Disney Magic" (Disney, for the Nintendo DS, $29.99): "Meteos" was one of the very best games from the early days of the DS, but it's become a somewhat elusive collector's item.

Fortunately, newcomers to the DS now have a chance to enjoy this challenging puzzler, now all dressed up in Disney-colored packaging.

"Meteos" is a "match-three" game, like "Bejeweled," in which you use the DS stylus to slide blocks vertically or horizontally.

Matched blocks shoot toward the top of the screen, lifting all the blocks above them; to clear the blocks, typically, you have to make at least one more match before the whole pile comes back to earth.

The differences between the original "Meteos" and "Disney Magic" are largely cosmetic, thanks mostly to cameos by Cinderella, the Lion King and other cartoon heroes.

But even if Disney leaves you cold, "Meteos" is an essential game for any DS library.

Three stars.