From Below (NES Indie Review)

From Below is Tetris set during a giant squid attack. Or maybe it’s an octopus. Either/or. It’s free-to-play (but you’ll need an NES emulator. I suggest MESEN), and it’s one of the most clever things to happen to the puzzler in years. Seriously, this is inspired. It’s just plain, run-of-the-mill Tetris (purists will be happy to hear you can’t hold a block here) with the twist being a tentacle will pop up and push existing blocks and debris onto the playfield. This one teeny, tiny mechanic adds so much to the experience that it makes Tetris feel fresh. Again. Jeez, has there ever been a game that’s been successfully revamped more times than Tetris? Just when you think you think you’ve seen it all, some developer smacks F5 on it and you find yourself playing Tetris for hours again.

The same blocks. The same goal. One little difference. A whole new experience.

Really, the only difference is the tentacles, which randomly take up a single row the same width as one block component. The tentacles can wreck your progress, but also, rarely, undo holes and mistakes. If you think of them as just another block that’s assigned randomly, in theory, a lucky tentacle draw can actually be used to fix a deeply-buried gap you left from a previous screw-up. If a line forms next to the tentacle, it retracts. Only one arm enters the playfield at a time. Again, it’s such a small inclusion, but that one thing adds layers of complexity and multidimensional strategy to the established formula. And it works so damn brilliantly that I’m stunned nobody thought of this until now. It’s just so damn smart that it makes me laugh. Like, DUH, why hasn’t the official Tetris done this yet? It’s great!

Looks great too! Maybe a touch too darkly shaded, but eh, I loved the look.

There’s two different modes for the cephalopod attack. The default setting is TIMED. Here, the tentacles are not in sync with block drops and will push up every ten seconds regardless of whether you’re in the middle of moving a block or not. You can consider this the “easy mode” as it’s the one that I often could just ignore the tentacles early on and get into a rhythm. I’m the type of Tetris player that needs a few minutes to warm-up anyway. However, late in the game, you might find yourself hosed as you attempt to move a block over, only to have the squid cut you off when its ten second waiting period is up. Once you enter the mindset of “it’s me versus the squid” the dynamic changes so radically that From Below is almost as thrilling as Tetris 99. That shouldn’t even be possible!

Honestly, my biggest problem with From Below is I can consistently get to 200 lines, but once I hit that mark, the game goes so fast and blocks lock in so instantly that I can’t defend anymore. 214 is my high, despite having over a dozen 200-line games.

Then, there’s the deadly FIXED mode. Here, every time you drop a block, the squid makes a move. This is the HARD mode for sure, and also one of the most thrilling versions of Tetris ever created. You won’t believe it at first, but rounds of From Below on FIXED can turn on a dime. One moment, you’re in complete control, and before you know it, you’re desperately trying to find some solution to cut off the squid before it’s too late. Outside of Tetris 99, a game of Tetris has never been more intense.

Like real Tetris, you’ll scream yourself hoarse with “COME ON! GIVE ME A LINE!”

Keeping it real, this would basically just be an added mode for any Tetris release today, in 2022. It’d be hard to market this as a full game, except to NES collectors. But, Matt Hughson has really done something very special here, and I think he deserves to hear it from at least one semi-big game critic. So, here it is: From Below is the best thing to happen to Tetris since Tetris 99. I’ve now played a bit of Tetris Effect, and actually, I like From Below more. I love how seamlessly and intuitively it works with the long-established mechanics and rules. There’s a lesson to be learned here for developers of all stripes: you don’t need to make big, sweeping changes to classic games to create something profound and incredible. One tiny change can have gargantuan results. You know, I always liked that word. “Gargantuan.” I so rarely have an opportunity to use it in a sentence.

From Below was developed by Matt Hughson
Free to Play on NES Emulators. DOWNLOAD HERE

From Below is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

If you want to show your support to Matt for his achievement, you can buy his NES game Witch n’ Wiz for $9.99. A full review of that, and other NES indies, will be happening in February for #IGCvNES Homebrew Month. If you know of an incredible NES homebrew/indie that you think should be included, let me know on Twitter and I’ll at least play it a bit and hot-take it on Twitter.

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

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