We're going to assume you know exactly what Tetris is, so let's jump right into why Tetris DS may be the best version of this seminal falling-block puzzler you've ever played. Aside from the unchanging-but-ever-popular regular game (which is dressed up with some Mario themes), there are five other ways to bust some blocks - a handful of which you can take online.
On the left pair of screen above, you'll see 10 people fighting in Standard mode with just one copy of the game. You can do this with or without the kinds of power-ups the Mario crew throw around: things like line-clearing turtle shells and yellow stars that only give you the long, blue blocks. The Mario Kart lightning bolt even shows up. It makes it so your opponents can't rotate the damn blocks. How cheap is that? You wouldn't think an online, four-player Tetris match could heat up like a skull-thumping deathmatch, but oh, it can.
To the right is what you see while playing single-player Tetris. As you bang away the blocks, Mario runs through some classic levels from the NES days. It's kind of pointless, really. Not obtrusive, but not an essential part of the experience, either. But it's kind of cool, just the same.
One of the most unique new game modes is the Catch game. You control a blocky core that's slowly rising up a classic Metroid tunnel. Pieces are slowly falling from above, and the goal is to rotate the core, not the blocks, and make a 4x4 object. Once you do, you've got 10 seconds until that 4x4 block explodes and annihilates any pieces near it. So - try to make the biggest chunk of blocks around that 4x4 mess to clear as many pieces as possible.
Catch isn't online, and not being able to move the falling pieces takes some getting used to, but for anyone to do something genuinely new with Tetris at this point is worth shouting about. Will you play it more than the other games? That's questionable.
Next is the Zelda-themed Mission mode. As the pieces fall, your health slowly leaks away. To stay alive, you've gotta do whatever the top screen tells you. In the example shown above, it's just clearing three lines at once. But when you have to clear three lines using only the L-shaped blocks, things get frustrating. This one's for serious nuts, especially when you're trying to do this online. Thought you were pretty good at Tetris, huh? There's always somebody a million times better. It's quite disturbing.
Say hello to the most furious game of Tetris you've ever played. Push is a two-player, online-enabled, tug-of-war match that keeps your teeth clenched and your toes tight. You and the other player stack blocks in the center of the same area (it's the green horizontal line near the top of this screen), feeding off each other's layout. By clearing two or more lines at a time, you push the stack closer to one of the the flaming red lines of death that form the top and bottom borders of the playfield. When it looks like you're about to burn, you can still pull off a full-blown, four-line tetris and shoot the stack back in the other guy's face. It's a constant back-and-forth mess that makes Tetris DS worth buying all by itself.
On the other end of the stress-spectrum is Puzzle mode. You sit and stare at one set of blocks that only needs a few pieces to clear completely. But which blocks, and in what order? Puzzle mode lets you take your sweet time, but in the end it's more trial-and-error than anything else - you can keep blindly throwing blocks until something works. Good to see the graphics from the 15 year-old NES game Yoshi's Cookie getting work, though.
Finally, there's the Balloon Fight-drenched Touch game. Instead of falling blocks, you've got a tower of pieces that you can physically move and rotate with the stylus. At the top of the stack is a crate of balloons. Clear enough of the lines to make the crate touch the grass below, and pow - you've done it.
Touch forces you to almost think backwards from normal Tetris gaming. The answer's already there, you've just got to move stuff around and find it. This, too, is a time-free zone, so there's no pressure.
Tetris DS lets you take on stackers from around the world using the Wi-Fi Connection, but only with Standard and Push modes. While those are arguably the two best versions, a little variation would have been nice. But even with those limitations, there's hours upon infinite hours to be spent clearing blocks all over again - just like we did with the original Game Boy 15 years ago.