Right, hands up those of you who’ve never heard of Tetris.Nobody? Good! Because there’s a new Tetris game on the loose on the 3DS called Tetris Ultimate, and we’re going to drop tetrominoes like the bombing of [insert random place] until this review is done.
The odds are fairly high that most of you have played Tetris in one form or another. Many of us older gamers will remember quite fondly the Tengen Tetris that was on the NES waaay back when. In any event, everyone should be fairly familiar with the rules and mores of the game, so this will be a short review.
Tetris Ultimate features many of the same game modes you’re already familiar with. Marathon Mode is you versus 15 levels of the blocks, each level being progressively faster than the last. It’s simple, and gets you right into the action. Endless mode is the same as Marathon, except there’s no upper level limit. Sprint mode is a race against yourself to see how fast you can clear 40 lines, while Ultra gives you three minutes to score as many points as you possibly can. Battle mode and Battle Ultimate mode are both a race to make your opponent lose. Clearing lines makes lines appear underneath your opponent’s lines, and obviously the more lines you clear, the more lines will appear to ruin their day. Battle Ultimate is a weaponized version of this, where souped-up tetrominoes appear. Clearing lines with these special blocks activates special abilities that amount to making your opponent miserable.
Tetris Ultimate also includes a set of Challenge Modes, which will probably appeal more to Tetris fanatics than casual players. The first of these modes, Rotation Lock, changes the rules of Tetris in one small, but horribly significant way: you can’t rotate the tetrominoes. Yep! You have to figure out how best to work with the piece you’ve been dealt. It’s like playing poker without being allowed to send cards back to the dealer; use the hand you have and may the odds be ever in your favour. Invisible mode shows you the tetrominoes that are falling, but not the ones that are already in place, meaning you have to use your memory to remember how the structure looks every time you drop a piece. Master Mode is like playing level 45 of Marathon, and unless your twitch muscle reactions are good enough for catching flying projectiles at over hundreds of meters per second, you’re not going have much luck here. There is, quite literally, no fall speed. The piece appears at the top, you have a microsecond to figure out how to place it, and it’s at the bottom. Escalation mode is a lot like Marathon again, but the number of lines needed to reach the next level increase exponentially. I call this the “Bejeweled method of level progression”.
Then there are the multiplayer modes. If you’re starting to get the idea that there are a lot of modes of play, you’re right. In theory, the multiplayer modes are exactly the same as the single player modes, just with and against other players. There’s both local and online play, but I wasn’t able to playtest these modes. Online multiplayer on the Nintendo 3DS was barren when I tried it, and despite waiting around in lobbies for over 30 minutes, no one appeared. I imagine that this will change as more people acquire the game.
Graphically, you really can’t say much about Tetris. The graphics haven’t changed much since the early days, and don’t truly need to either. The 3D effects on the 3DS were pretty, but not the kind of thing that adds much to the game. I was really disappointed in the music, though. Tetris has always had a fairly good soundtrack of cover versions of Korobeinki, Kalinka, Polovtsian Dances,and other Russian folk tunes and classical pieces. Tetris Ultimate has two pieces of music that I’ve so far been able to find: a really dream-crystal-hippie piano rendition of Korobeiniki used in the menus, and the other is a slightly faster version used while actually playing. Neither are very attractive versions. By contrast, the 2011 Hudson version of Tetris for the 3DS has 13 pieces of music, and some insanely creative modes that showed off a more fun side of Tetris. This is on top of the AR modes, the customizable block styles, and so on.
Tetris Ultimate seems to be, from my perspective, an inferior game to the 2011 Tetris (called Tetris Axis in the U.S.), leastways if you’re playing on the 3DS–and I have both games sitting side-by-side on the 3DS menu. The only real attraction here is Battle Ultimate mode which is a lot more fun than I’d have expected. The rest of the modes are fairly lacklustre, though, and the two pieces of music will likely start to grate after a while. The online is currently ridiculously sparse, but there’s always download play and streetpass–which the older game also supported. Honestly? Get the older one. It’s got more modes, more music, and more players online. And in the eShop, it’s also cheaper (R120 vs Ultimate’s R189). If it were the only Tetris game in the eShop, then it’d be another story, but since a superior version exists…well. I’ll let you come to your own conclusion.
And also, I lied when I said it’d be short review.
Final Score: 6 tetromino prawns out of 10
Developer: Ubisoft Osaka
Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS (reviewed), PS Vita, PS4, Xbox One, PC
RRP: R189 (3DS eShop)
Age Rating: PEGI 3