Games have never been known for their astounding storylines. The necessarily repetitive nature of gaming is perhaps forever going to be at odds with the kind of storytelling we're used to from films and books. But wait! HeroCraft has found the ultimate method for relaying a story through the medium of games. It's that most lyrical of entertainment archetypes. Yes, it's Tetris.
Every regular reader of Pocket Gamer must know of Tetris, but for the sake of everyone else who stumbled onto this review after accidentally googling 'Romance tryst', in Tetris, blocks fall from the top of the screen and you need to match them up to make a wall of sorts. Except once you've made a solid bit of wall, it disappears. It's a bit like building a house on quicksand as a cowboy builder, and it will probably drive you mad. It's addictive.
RomanceTris subverts the classic formula a bit though. Here, the lines of bricks don't disappear when they fall to the bottom. Instead, they reveal part of a picture that tells a modern version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. We won't go into the storyline here, because if you don't know about either Tetris or Romeo and Juliet you probably don't know how to operate The Internet either.
Aside from this twist on the classic game, there's also a number of power-ups and special bricks that add to the Tetris blueprint. The most interesting of these is the Particle brick. Every now and then, instead of getting a standard-shaped block, you'll get a yellow cluster of these special bricks. They break apart once they get to the bottom, flowing out into any gaps or tricky holes on the surface.
Other power-ups include a paint pot that fills-in any gaps you may have missed earlier directly below where it lands, and the two Swipe power-ups that either fill or clear the two nearest lines of blocks. The pictures that you unlock, of which there are nine, are well-drawn with a sort of half-realistic airbrushed style. To say they tell the story by themselves would be a grand overstatement, for which reason there's a textual cut-scene between levels to fill in this gap, but they're nice to look at.
So far so quirky, but a tragic turn is never too far away in Shakespeare, and RomanceTris is unfortunately beset with an astounding sense of pointlessness. This is rather odd when adding a point is precisely what this game does to the classic Tetris. In grafting a storyline onto an abstract gaming concept, much of the magic is lost. Without that compulsive, score-hunting challenge, each level is a bit of a dirge. Sure, it's a reasonably pretty dirge with some worthy additional gameplay features, but it's a dirge nevertheless.
On top of that, the script writer seems to be taking some serious liberties with the source material. On your first play-through, the story is told in sombre and serious tones. Sure, it lacks a certain pizzazz, but it relays Shakespeare's ideas well enough. Carry on though, and the game is replayed with a progressive text-speak vernacular. Here's a sampler from when this new narrator, who is most definitely not the real Slim Shady, takes over:
"Mebbe thingz were not 2 tragic? Da 2 Kewlest l33t familiz lived, ate, drunk... even no familiz! Clanz!!! And they fought each otha in da seriouz way"
Whether this sort of talk makes you laugh or grimace and consider stocking up on Paracetamol for your own Romeo and Juliet style ending, any amusement probably isn't going to last for a full repeat performance.
An oddly mistranslated idea that has some of the comic flavour of a badly localised Japanese RPG, RomanceTris is a curious thing. Some of the elements it adds to the Tetris formula are valid, and it's certainly a fairly well-executed game, but when the curtain falls, the fact that RomanceTris isn't particularly fun can't be ignored.