Time to play: Build brick by brick

Business | Tech Technology

Video gamers can be judgmental, just like anybody else. And by gamers, I mean me. In my last column, I sarcastically mentioned that millions of Tetris clones exist in the world of free games. I implied that innovation is missing in such games. Well, I have to admit now that there is at least one positive exception. This game is based on a principle similar to Tetris but adds an alluring new angle to the classic gameplay.

Before revealing this column’s game recommendation, let’s dig a bit deeper into Tetris itself, the grandfather of modern video games. Thanks to Russian scientist Alexey Pajitnov’s love for puzzles and gaming, we now have one of the most famous video games ever. In 1984, he developed Tetris in his free time on an Electronika 60. Later, the game was ported to the IBM PC. After becoming a success in Russia, Tetris was released on PCs in North America and Europe in 1987. Henk Rogers, a video game designer and publisher, saw the game during a trade show in Las Vegas and was immediately convinced of its potential. He bought the handheld rights, and in 1989, Nintendo’s Game Boy was released together with Tetris. Accurate sales numbers for the game are hard to find, as it has been released on more than 50 different platforms so far, but according to the official website of the game, “hundreds of millions of Tetris products have been sold.” It is fair to say that Tetris is one of the most famous, groundbreaking and long-lasting video games of all time. This is because of its gameplay: simple, yet fun enough to keep coming back to.

Enough of history, though. This week, I present you with an ideal lunch or study-break puzzle game based on a real classic: 99 Bricks.

Published in October 2008 and created by the Dutch developer WeirdBeard, the game looks similar to Tetris and still uses the beloved bricks, but there are two important parts missing: namely, both side walls. Plus, 99 Bricks adds one new enthralling yet simple aspect: physics. And unlike Tetris, you don’t need to keep the tower low; you have to do the exact opposite. The higher the tower, the better the score. But you’ll soon discover that putting one brick above the other won’t get you far. Without the two side walls, and with gravity pulling, you have to plan your construction carefully. After a while (depending on your architectural skills), the top starts to sway, first slowly, but then faster, until every new block becomes a threat. If you don’t manage to stabilize it, the tower will crash and you’ll need to start from further below with your foundation messed up. To build the tower, 99 Bricks gives you, as its name hints, 99 bricks. These can fall off your tower or leave holes in your construction if not properly placed. With the arrows on your keyboard, you can navigate and flip the bricks. The Z-key allows you to zoom out to see your tower in its full glory or its fall, which is sad, but still funny to watch. By pressing the C-key, you can skip bricks if they are not helpful to you at the moment, but you’ll also lose one brick, so make clever decisions. If you are interrupted during the game, just click outside the playing field and you’ll be automatically in pause mode.

99 Bricks might not have the most complex gameplay, but Tetris didn’t either, and the latter became one of the most successful video games ever. A game does not always have to be extremely innovative to grab you. Well-proven gameplay mixed with creative new elements can also be the recipe for a great game.

In my next column, I’ll switch genres again and explore a retro-style MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game), so stay tuned.