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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Retro Review Tuesday: Hatris

After a long Hiatus I bring another Retro Review. With all this time between reviews I could have devoted myself to doing one of those great classics of gaming like one of the super Mario Brothers or Legend of Zelda Games. But  instead I decided to bring you Hatris.

Introduction

Hatris is one of those games that you can't quite explain the existence of. How did one person think this was a good idea, let alone enough of them to finance it, program it, market it and release it? I can't imagine the brainstorming session that came up with: You're two guys working in a hat factory where you stack hats on mannequin heads all day long! Regardless of how it happened, it did in fact to come to fruition. A small segment of the population was rewarded with the inclusion of hats in their puzzle game, which was the only thing that could truly bring these poor unfortunate souls any joy. Hatris was released in four flavors, arcade, Turbo-grafix, NES and Gameboy, I choose to go with the NES version as that's the version I own and first became familiar with.

You'd be forgiven for thinking this was a game about chess with hats, but sadly that's just an unrealized dream.


Overview

The title would lead you to believe that this game is just Tetris with hats. Which is the delusion I was operating under when we purchased the cartridge at a local game shop many years ago. However, in spite of being a puzzle game and being created by Alexey Pajitnov, the original creator of Tetris, it is nothing like Tetris. It's more like Dr. Mario or Yoshi's Cookie. Pretty basic puzzle game stuff.

Controls are easy, this is an NES game so as usual things are generally pretty self explanatory. Start pauses, the D pad moves your hats around, A switches your hats, and B calls one of your hat workers to help you out.

Graphics are adequate. Nothing good, nothing bad. They won't wow you, but they won't distract with their awfulness either.

Soundwise, it's pretty lacking. It changes every level, but none of the levels have particularly memorable music. It's really generic early Nintendo music, repetitive, forgettable and often annoying. My biggest problem with the soundtrack stemmed from a background sound which every song track seemed to utilized and happens to sound like an alarm clock with issues, not the sort of thing that really puts you in a positive puzzle mood. Luckily you can turn it off in the options screen and substitute your own soundtrack.

The Jukebox for music is self explanatory but why are you choosing a shop from what seems to be a mailbox and stage from a (maybe)soda machine.

Gameplay

When you first start the game you're brought to a screen where you can select which "shop"to start off in. Which will change how many hats start the mannequin heads start with and what color the background will be. The level you start off which is pretty self explanatory and you can turn the music on or off. As I said earlier, you'll probably want to check the music out at least once, but I prefer it off.

Assuming you start off with shop zero and level zero you start off with 6 empty mannequin heads and a selection of three hats, a white fedora, a top hat and a baseball cap. The object of the game is very simple You make a stack of 5 matching hats, and they get cleared off. You need to clear a certain number of hats to pass each level. Hats must be stacked vertically one on top of the other to be cleared. If you stack too many mismatched hats your stack will reach the top of the screen and it's game over.


As one would expect with each level that number of hats you need to clear to move on increases. You'll also get three more more types of hat, bowler, wizard and crown, to contend with. For added fun with each round you clear the mannequin heads turn into new and often disturbing shapes, including, but not limited to : a vampire, Frankenstein's monster, a zombie Abraham Lincoln, and a decidedly un-politically correct Native American. Once you've gotten past the shock of all this new stuff it's time to focus on the important job of hat stacking.

Not all hats are created equal, so some hats will drastically raise the height of your stack when stacked with dissimilar hats. The top hats and wizard hats are especially bad for as you'd expect just by looking at them. Crowns however can prove to be an even bigger problem, they're shorter when stacked with mismatched hats, but they don't stack well together. A stack of matched crowns is taller than a stack of matched wizard hats or top hats.

I have some real questions about how this hat factory makes any money this system seem very inefficient

It sounds deceptively simple, but honestly it can get quite difficult rather quickly,  just a few accidental hat placements can spell your doom. Luckily you're not all on your own at the hat factory, you've got two helpers. When you've got enough points you get a small head icon in the upper right hand corner of the screen. These heads correlated to either the top factory worker or the bottom factory worker, they're very similar looking though so it's kind of hard to tell which one is which. In any case when you hit the B button one of them will go onto the playing field and either switch 2 hat stacks (the bottom one) or toss out 5 hats from the bottom (the top one). In addition, as soon as you call them on to the screen the set of hats falling on to the field disappears so even if you aren't particularly in need of their other service you can use this to your advantage when a set of undesirable hats enters the field.

At the end of level 9, for all your hard thankless work in the hat factory you get the supreme pleasure of seeing a vignette which involves the hat factory workers pulling a rabbit and later smiley face out of a top hat before running around the screen. Their aimless running continues until you hit a button, which then brings you to level 10 which just seems to be level one with a different background. I admit I'm not totally sure on that as I didn't make it past level 18 to see if I'd get a new animation.


Ta-Da!



Conclusion


Hatris is a completely crazy concept, and not the fast paced addictive puzzle game you'd expect from a creative genius like Alexey Pajitnov. However that doesn't mean it's bad. It is fun and challenging, while playing it for this review I found myself getting sucked into playing it much longer than I had originally intended. I enjoyed the game but objectively it's very much in the middle in every category. If not for the ridiculous novelty of matching crazy hats, it would be a completely forgettable title.

~Stephanie

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