How is it that Tringo has become so popular? Why, its association with gambling, of course.
Platforms: Game Boy Advance
Display Artist: Donnerwood Media/David A. Palmer Productions
Number of players: 1-2
ESRB rating: Everyone
Developer: David A. Palmer Productions
US release date: 2006-05-16
Tringo, recognized as one of the first real world products created within a virtual space, is actually a moniker cleverly combining the games this puzzler mimics (Tetris and Bingo). In addition to its unusual creation, it's also become something of an online phenomenon. Typically played in groups, the rules are shockingly simple. Each participant gets a five-by-five grid card, marked off into 25 individual spaces. Every ten seconds or so, a geometric shape appears consisting of anywhere between one and five blocks. The object is for each competitor to place the item within the framework. The creation of solid combos -– 2x2x2, 3x3x3, etc. -– earns a certain amount of points. The individual with the highest total wins, taking home the prize.
Sounds relatively easy, right? So how is it that Tringo has become so popular? Why, its association with gambling, of course. Second Life, a 3-D Internet world from San Francisco-based Linden Labs has championed the multiplayer experience, featuring it as part of its interactive space and even offering its "Linden Dollars" as betting currency. And now, the company has licensed its first non-wagering version to Nintendo. Available for the Game Boy Advance (and also playable via the GBA slot on the DS) this clever, if creatively inert, game fails in one of the first rules of player interactivity -- it may be easy to learn, but once you've covered the basics, there's very little to master.
The game play is very similar to the online experience, with a couple of significant differences. The handheld version offers both single and multiplayer action, and offers a few variable modes to hopefully amplify the overall interest factor. In addition, you can modify the backgrounds, add your name (or any handle you choose) for High Score recognition, and turn off the typical '80s arcade soundtrack that plays constantly in the background.
There are also three different levels of individual play provided. There is Classic Tringo (fill in the grid in the allotted time, using all the available pieces), Timed Tringo (where you are given a specific amount of time -– 1, 2 or 3 minutes -– to make as many combinations are possible) or Infinite Tringo. The latter is actually poorly named, since you can't just go on handheld pell mell, making combos until you're blue in the fingers. Every once in a while, blue blocker squares show up, which prevent the creation of certain combinations. Along the way, you get puzzle pieces that contain a bomb icon. You can use these to hopefully clear up the obstructions. It is those little blue buttons that make it harder and harder to fill the grid, meaning that, after a certain period of time (definitely not infinity) Tringo will stop you from continuing.
As entertainment, most videogames can easily be classified as part of the well-known law of diminishing returns, and Tringo definitely fits the bill. Unlike the first part of its name, there is no sense of accomplishment, as in Tetris. There are no levels to clear, no lines of strategic solvency to obtain. You either make combinations or you don't. If there is some manner of hidden finesse, a way to extend your enjoyment of the title, Tringo is not giving away those hints. Instead, you find yourself repeating moves, endlessly looking for another angle to explore or employ, and realizing something rather significant -– only wagering would make this game tolerable for long periods of time. It's exasperating, and a little futile. The random manner in which the pieces are presented (a tiny area near the top of the grid gives you a preview of what to expect next) does little to foster fun, and scores routinely stay in the 150 to 250 range. It can all be greatly frustrating, especially when you're counting on a specific type of tile to make a killer combo.
The other facet of the contest -– the Bingo element -– is obviously linked to a cash payout. There is very little reason beyond the inherent element of non-gratuitous gambling that makes such a number-acknowledging exercise interesting. Sadly, there is no monetary aspect of Tringo. Instead, the goal is to best the high scores offered, and in the multiplayer mode, defeat your fellow Tringuists. While the competition facet may be fun for a while, the end result is still the same -– lining up pieces in a 5x5 grid in hopes of making a few more points. And just to add an additional bit of annoyance, failing to use a piece –- or "passing" on it -- results in a seven point deduction.
For those who are already hopelessly addicted to this average amusement, a Game Boy Advance version must seem like a godsend. There's no better way to increase your odds of winning than having a home version to practice on day in and day out. But for newbies to the experience –- including this writer -– Tringo is not a long haul experience. It doesn't offer the sense of puzzle solving and anticipation of other Tetris-esque titles, and really falls down in the area of goals and a sense of achievement. As a glorified time waster, you can do a lot worse. But if you are looking for the reason behind Tringo's immense popularity, this substandard derivation is not it.