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Review: Tetris

Posted by on January 10th, 2011 | 0 Comments | Tags:

There are a lot of things to be said in a Tetris review preamble: It’s one of the great grandfathers of modern games. It’s so ubiquitous that there is a version of Tetris on nearly every gaming platform (and several non-gaming platforms as well). However, these facts are irrelevant; if you wanted to learn these things about Tetris, then you would be browsing Wikipedia instead. I imagine, rather, that you are here to find out whether this latest version of Tetris on the Playstation Network is worth your $10.

It is.

Tetris may have trouble distinguishing itself from other versions of the game (particularly the inferior minis version, also available on PSN) because of it’s lack of a unique name. However, spend any amount of time with the game and it quickly becomes apparent that this is the definitive version of Tetris. The last game that came this close was the first version available for Nintendo DS, and before that the original Gameboy game. Without hyperbole, this game is the way Tetris was meant to be played.

The game is presented in beautiful 1080p. This might seem like the wrong game to devote this kind of attention to: after all, it’s based on simple block shapes that resemble giant pixels. Still, the pieces, grids, score boxes, line clear animations, and all the other graphical touches really shine. Even the background, which is a wavy pattern with a number of different customizations, looks gorgeous. The background is more than just a backdrop; it makes a wave when lines are cleared (and makes bigger waves with bigger clears) and also pulses when a timer is nearing its end. Little touches like this really accent the presentation and make the whole experience look amazing.

The soundtrack is also top-notch, being a remix of the game’s original score. I really wish there was a way to play the individual tracks from the options menu, or select which tracks play in certain modes, because there are some very good selections that are unfortunately all tied to specific modes. The sound effects have a very crystal-ish feel and fit the crisp visuals, though a couple effects can get particularly overwhelming; in a four-player battle, that piece-rotate sound goes off a lot. Though the soundtrack is great, hearing the same songs can eventually wear on you. Thankfully, the game supports custom soundtracks over all modes, even online. It is the best custom soundtrack support I have ever witnessed, fading from game soundtrack to custom song and fading back into game soundtrack when a playlist is finished. It even works alongside voice chat in multiplayer.

Tetris’ single-player modes consist of the basic Marathon (play until you lose) and 40 Lines (clear 40 lines as fast as possible). There are also several variants on 40 Lines included, such as a grid that shifts one square right each turn, a grid slowly filling up from the bottom, or a mode where gravity pulls loose Tetrinomo pieces down for possible Cascade line clears. Each variant is a welcome piece of originality and bring their own unique twist to Tetris. Most of them are locked from the outset, though they become available fairly quickly with a few exceptions. A couple of them require very specific, challenging accomplishments in other modes in order to unlock, which is a bit disappointing.

The first time you start a play session, you are informed that you are not connected to EA Online and prompted to do so. It would be nice to be able to enable this connection by default. It’s a minor annoyance, however; once connected to EA Online, the game’s leaderboard support kicks in. Every single-player mode keeps a score box of the next score closest to yours, and updates as you surpass them. This is the kind of real-time leaderboard support we are coming to expect in modern games, and I’m very happy to see Tetris get this right. If competing against your friends’ scores isn’t enough, you can access the Challenge mode and play directly against their best replay. That’s right: EA Online is recording your best replays on their servers for your friends to access, view, and compete against. The only thing missing here is a YouTube upload feature.

There are an even larger variety of multiplayer modes. All the single player 40 Line variants can be played simultaneously with up to four local players. Sadly, additional players cannot sign in to a profile (and are left as Guests) and their scores are never uploaded to leaderboards; several times I was beaten by my wife on my own account, but her impressive score will never be known to the world until she quits the game and repeats the performance under her own profile. In addition, there are a variety of competitive battle modes that support anywhere from two to six players, depending on type. They can be played either against local opponent or online challenegers, although you cannot mix the two, which is my biggest complaint. One mode, “Timed Battle”, has a button to add “Random Opponent” but I honestly had my doubt that they were actual people given their consistently poor performance. An interesting new concept is the four-player Team Battle mode, where each player can choose an Offensive or Defensive role as part of a two-person team. The final mode is a co-operative two-player grid; there is no opponent or game mode more challenging than trying to co-ordinate Tetris clears with another person. These modes are an excellent addition to Tetris and play smoothly over the Playstation Network. I ran into zero lag, but did find difficulty finding opponents for some game modes at certain times of day.

There are so many more details I could gush about, but for the sake of keeping this review a reasonable length, I’ll mention a few of them briefly. The game refers to a lot of advanced Tetris terms like “t-spins” and “TPM” in its scoring, and thankfully features a glossary to explain these terms. It’s awesome that the game scores you on so many different statistics, giving beginning and intermediate players a chance to step their game up. If you really want to see how it’s done, the Master Replay feature is the place to check for some truly mind-bending Tetris play from all the available single-player modes. Finally, if you were old enough to experience Tetris in the arcade, you can replicate the experience here: my arcade stick worked perfectly in the game.

You may have noticed that I have listed a number of criticisms against Tetris, but in all honesty, they are minor quibbles against an otherwise stellar game. When I first picked it up, I had to wonder how this game had any right being so good; then I found out it was developed by Montreal’s Behaviour Interactive, the same studio behind Doritos Crash Course on XBLA. I hope they take my “minor quibbles” to heart for a future patch.

My initial impression of Tetris (which I posted to Twitter) remains valid under scrutinized review: this game is pure sex. Stop reading this review right now and get it.

For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.

General Info

  • Unable to mix local & online players