You’ve played Tetris. Everybody has played it at one time, as surely as everybody breathes air. It’s one of the most recognizable video games of all time, and it’s definitely the most popular puzzle game of all time. Heck, you probably owned the original brick-thick incarnation of the Game Boy because of its Tetris cart pack-in. Right?
In a world where you can practically reach up into a tree and pluck a Tetris game from its branches, news of a new installment isn’t all that interesting. EA’s iOS “revamp,” however, gives the franchise a sleek aesthetic makeover, and adds some good ideas that lend much-needed precision to touchscreen Tetris. Unfortunately, the game’s best ideas are blunted by constant ads for EA’s distribution platform, Origin, as well as general begging for microtransactions.
The premise behind Tetris is as old as time, or at least it extends back into the ’80s. You fit vaguely letter-shaped blocks into each other, then swear at the screen until the game gives up its coveted “I” piece. You clear lines in this manner, ideally four at a time. Depending on your preferred play method, you can shoot for a high score, or challenge yourself to create as many lines as possible before the letter blocks stack up to the top of the screen and ignite the apocalypse.
This ain’t your daddy’s Tetris.
Playing Tetris successfully requires accuracy. It’s not enough to let blocks fall where it will; you must turn them, move them, slide them into nooks and crannies in the space of a bare half-second. Even a virtual d-pad is no substitute for the real thing when you’re driving a Tetris block. EA’s iOS solution is clever, even if it might put off some Tetris veterans: the “One Touch” mode. Simply, your blocks are suspended in the air, at the top of the screen. Shadows below mark possible drop zones. You can even cycle your blocks to observe a fresh set of possibilities. You have a certain amount of time to ponder, so as in original Tetris, you must think quickly.
By now, Tetris purists have no doubt pulled a face and said, “Ew, no.” They can’t be blamed. At first, playing with One Touch does feel distasteful, like being asked to swallow bugs. But when you toy around with it for a while, you come to appreciate it as (if nothing else) a whole new way to experience an old classic.
Besides which, EA’s Tetris insists that you revert to the old-fashioned way of doing things for the game’s “Marathon” mode (which instructs you to clear a certain number of lines), and you receive a grim reminder of how difficult it is to play traditional Tetris on a touch screen.
Digging with elbow pieces.
So kudos to EA for a new perspective on Tetris, in addition to funky music and a cool futuristic theme. Now, we come to the jeers. Whenever you’re on the game’s menu screen, you’re subjected to constant advertising for EA’s game distribution platform, Origin. It’s okay for EA to tell us about Origin, but it’s something else to be roused constantly with cries of, “Hey…HEY! Look at this! Sign up, wouldya?”
Then there’s the issue of microtransactions. EA’s Tetris costs 99 cents to download. That’s fine. Less fine is the fact that much of the game’s content, including alternate music tracks and new levels, must be bought with “T-Coins.” You earn T-Coins as you play, but as you might expect, you don’t earn a whole lot in a huge hurry. The idea (of course) is to buy more with real-world money. You can even pay for a monthly subscription to the “T-Club” (Only $2.99 a month, kids!!) to earn “15% more T-Coins and lines!”
There is a place in the modern gaming world for the free-to-play formula, and shoe-horning it into a classic title is not the time, nor the place. Especially if a game isn’t free to begin with.
It’s a shame EA rattles its tin cup so loudly, because otherwise, Tetris for iOS has some intriguing ideas. Even if you don’t pony up any cash for microtransactions, there’s still enough content for plenty of on-the-go Tetris gaming. Purists will want to steer clear, however: the game’s traditional Marathon mode is hindered by touch screen troubles, and One Touch mode doesn’t feel much like “real” Tetris. Don’t despair, though. You can always dust off the Game Boy.