Tetris For iOS Has (Nearly) All Its Pieces In Place [Review]

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As with all classic games, the question about EA’s Tetris for iOS doesn’t have anything to do with whether the core concept is a good one or not (we know that it is), but rather how well the developers have translated it to the world of multi-touch.

Tetris by Electronic Arts
Category: iOS Games
Works With: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch
Price: $0.99 w/ in-app purchases

If you’re a long-time Tetris fan and former Game Boy owner, chances are you’ll have fond memories of Alexey Pajitnov’s classic puzzle game on mobile. The good news, then, is that at its best EA’s Tetris is every bit as revolutionary and addictive as that game was when you first played it.

This is almost entirely down to an innovation called the one-touch mode. The premise of one-touch is simple: as per classic Tetris, new bricks appear at the top of the screen. Instead of manually rotating and sliding them into place, however, you’re presented with four or five different potential places where the bricks can go. You then tap the configuration you want the brick to fall according to, and — boom — it’s in place and you’re on to the next one. If you don’t like the choices you’re presented with you can tap to get different options. There’s a limited amount of time to decide where each brick goes, and if you fail to do this the bricks just fall down in the center. The better you do, the less time you get to make your decision, and the more you level up.

One-touch mode … represents the absolute best that EA’s Tetris has to offer.

One-touch has seen its share of detractors. Some of this criticism centers on the idea that Tetris is already perfect, and that adding another mode that removes core elements of the Tetris gameplaying experience is unnecessary. Respectfully, I disagree. While I’m not claiming that one-touch should replace classic Tetris on every platform, it undisputedly works better with the touch interface than any other control scheme I’ve seen. Essentially, one-touch serve as a nice Tetris speed run that takes the concepts which make the original game superb, and optimizes them for the touchscreen.

To suggest that this is like no Tetris mode you’ve ever played would be wrong (especially for anyone who remembers the slew of knockoffs and variant gimmicks we saw during the 1980s and 90s), but it’s a worthy addition that represents the absolute best that EA’s Tetris has to offer.

The other game modes are a bit more suspect. Worth playing once to see just why one-touch works so well is Marathon mode, which attempts to take classic Tetris gameplay and incorporate swipe gestures and the movement of bricks using your finger. It’s incredibly awkward, and commits the cardinal sin of classic games ported to iOS (or any new generation games device) by making the controls something you need to be aware of constantly. A poor craftsman may blame his tools, but a losing Tetris player is well within his rights to blame shoddy touchscreen controls.

There’s also Galaxy mode, which emphasises power-ups and more contrived, level-based puzzles over endless play. This mode — which was redesigned in a game update that arrived at the end of 2013 — is a nice distraction, but is also where EA’s money-grabbing tendencies become apparent: with the game pleading for microtransactions to unlock levels that, quite frankly, you don’t need to bother unlocking.

This is where the game starts begging for extra money -- and loses a lot of our admiration in the process.

This is where the game starts begging for extra money — and loses a lot of our admiration in the process.

Graphics are another slightly sticky area. I’ve expressed before my reservations about taking classic games and doing nothing to bring them up to date because of a misplaced love of nostalgia. With that said, no one could claim that Tetris hasn’t always been subject to flashy effects and endless graphical remixes — precisely because the underlying game is so simple. From crashing meteorites when you delete a row, to multiplayer versions of the game, to Hatris (where blocks are replaced by falling hats), various versions Tetris throughout its lifespan strongly argue the case that the game wasn’t some untouched relic until EA came along.

Things became even worse after the game’s glory days ended, in fact — since this is when we began to 3-D versions, and variations which played based on biofeedback.

Don’t bother with Galaxy or Marathon mode.

As a result, I’m always trepidatious to see what new developers are going to do to “liven up” a game that really needs no livening. In this way I was pleasantly surprised when all EA’s presentation overhaul meant was a remix of the (insanely memorable) original theme and some wacky transitions when you delete rows. It’s inoffensive, non-distracting and actually looks perfectly fine without compromising gameplay — so I have nothing but nice things to say about it.

In all, Tetris is well worth a download. Apple recently gave the game away for free as part of its Valentine’s Day offer, which prompted this particular review. It’s nothing you won’t be expecting if you’re familiar with Tetris, but one-touch mode does enough to revolutionize the gameplay that if you’ve spent time bemoaning the previous lack of good multi-touch versions of the title you’ll finally be able to rest comfortably.

Just don’t bother with Galaxy or Marathon options.

Screen_Shot_2014-02-18_at_08(1)Game Name: Tetris
The Good: One-touch mode is perfect for translating everything that was great about the original to a touchscreen interface.
The Bad: Other than one-touch, the game modes are a bit rubbish. And there’s that issue of micro-payments to contend with.
The Verdict:
If you’re looking for a Tetris port for your iOS device, this is the best one going. Just stick to one-touch mode though.
Buy from: App Store

Cult of Mac rating: 4/5

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About the author

Luke DormehlLuke Dormehl is a UK-based journalist and author, with a background working in documentary film for Channel 4 and the BBC. He is the author of The Apple Revolution, published by Random House, and is currently writing a book about algorithms for Random House/Penguin to be published in 2014. He also covers the digital humanities for Fast Company. He'd like you a lot if you followed him on Twitter.

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