Ryan’s Corner: The Other Tetris DS

Tetris is no stranger to developer and contract issues. After all, it is famously known for the rights fiasco in the late ’80s. Nintendo was awarded the ability to release official Tetris games on the NES and Game Boy, leaving SEGA and Tengen’s versions in the dust. This wouldn’t be the only time Nintendo got to work with the incredibly popular puzzler, either. Some Tetris games found themselves at home on Nintendo plaforms, and eventually, Nintendo themselves got to develop one of their own for the DS.

Tetris DS is my personal favorite in the series. The reason why that is can be pretty obvious: It’s a massive love-letter to classic Nintendo gaming while also being a superbly executed game of Tetris! The selection of modes are easily some of the freshest the series has to offer, and the online play (back when it was usable, anyway) was as intense as it was fun to experience. The game would go on to be acclaimed by critics and sell over two million copies before Nintendo’s license for the series expired.

Little would anyone know that there was actually another Tetris DS being made long before Nintendo got the opportunity, though. Enter THQ, who secured rights to the series in the early 2000s. With it, they published Tetris Worlds for the Game Boy Advance, Xbox, Playstation 2, PC, and Gamecube. With the rights still at hand, they got development team TOSE — who some may know for The Legendary Starfy, among other things — to work on a new version of Tetris for the DS.

It never came out.

Somewhere down the road, THQ and The Tetris Company raised their eyebrows at each other and the former wasn’t having any of that. THQ’s 2005 financial report had this to say about the issue:

On April 14, 2005, THQ filed a complaint against The Tetris Company, LLC (“Tetris”) in the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles. The complaint alleges that Tetris breached its license agreement and certain oral agreements with THQ, which prevented THQ from releasing a Tetris product for the Nintendo DS system as planned in March 2005. Additionally, Tetris has indicated that it believes the term of THQ’s license agreement with Tetris may have expired on March 24, 2005, despite THQ’s compliance with the requirements for renewal pursuant to the terms of the license. Our complaint seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief against Tetris, as well as a judicial declaration that the term of THQ’s license agreement with Tetris extends to March 24, 2007.

So yeah, THQ’s/TOSE’s Tetris DS was canned pretty early on. For well over a decade, it wasn’t ever heard of again. That is, until last year when someone from The Cutting Room Floor got a hold of a prototype of the game. The build is dated December 2004, months before the game would have been released (and over a year before Nintendo would release their version).

It’s almost full-featured, actually. There is a variety of game modes that have already been implemented into the build, and a few of them even take on concepts that modes from other Tetris games hadn’t done before. I recommend reading through TCRF’s documentation on the build to see all the details of its content. It’s a very interesting read, and it explains everything the build and the game’s own press releases have to offer.

It’s otherwise the usual Tetris you know and love — just with some lack of polish, what with this being a prototype and all. Even if it did see the light of day, however, I probably still would’ve preferred Nintendo taking the reigns. It just doesn’t feel the same without the homages to Nintendo’s NES classics. I’m also not a fan of the small size of the playing field, and how the bottom screen just occupies a way-too-close zoom-in on it. There definitely was potential, but at the same time, it also appears to be somewhat misguided.

Eventually, THQ got to publish Tetris Evolution on the Xbox 360. It’s likely they did indeed get that contract extension they were looking for. As for Tetris DS, it was never to be seen again…until it was dug up and analyzed, anyway.

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