Tetris is one of those universally and identifiable games. Those few that come along and everyone agree truly shaped and influenced the medium we love, if even from a rudimentary and very foundational level. Trying to redefine what Tetris is for the 30th anniversary of one of gaming’s truest and most pure titles is no easy task. While Tetris Ultimate does some interesting things here and there, it’s the lack of any big feeling of change, technical snags, and realization that at its core, Tetris hasn’t changed in 30 years for a good reason.
Tetris Ultimate comes from Ubisoft at a time when new and interesting things are being done from the ground up in puzzle games. With titles like Spelunky, Rogue Legacy, The Binding of Isaac, and many more doing interesting things with the tried and true rogue-like formula, puzzlers seem to have been a bit left behind, but perhaps for a good reason; they’re already pretty solid. Tetris Ultimate has the core mechanic of what made the original 1985 game so fun, the simple falling, rotating, and stacking that gradually increases in speed to match the tension of blocks reaching the top of the screen remains a great puzzle concept. I remember vividly my first Tetris experiences on my Game Boy, losing hours to the t-blocks and desperately hoping for the straight row to finish out my right side.
Returning players will be glad to hear that what made Tetris great still does – and with some additions like four-player multiplayer, online matchups, and AI bots to challenge your skills with there will definitely be something here for the fans. Tetris Ultimate features the standard Marathon mode, where players must try to get to level 15 and rack up the highest total, as well as a bevy of new modes to give a crack (from Ubisoft);
· Endless – Go as high as level 30 and keep clearing lines as long as possible.
· Ultra – Get your highest score before time runs out in this three-minute challenge.
· Sprint – Clear 40 lines as quickly as you can.
· Battle – Go head-to-head to knock out your opponents.
· Power-Up Battle – Be the last person playing after using crazy power-ups! Go on the offensive with Carousel and make your opponent’s Well shift to the left after each move, or trigger Let it Rain and dump garbage down on top of them. Buzz Saw helps you out by clearing away a number of your lines – especially useful when you’re in a spot of trouble.
In addition to these new spins, we’ve got Time’s Up (clearing lines extends your time), Haunted (Marathon mode with the twist of your pieces disappearing after they’re placed), and Landslide (speed is increased and junk blocks are thrown out more to put a wrench in even the best plans). These modes were added as DLC to the base game back in June, but join the PC release from the outset. As I was excited to see what kind of changes to expect and mixups the team at Ubisoft might have dreamt up, I was pretty disappointed when trying to launch any of these three modes crashed the game, repeatedly. After multiple attempts in each mode, we’re talking at least 5 attempts on each mode with the game crashing entirely out to my desktop, and a few reboots of the computer to be sure, I was about over it. After jumping into a standard game of Marathon and quickly deciding I was still wanting something a bit more exciting, I was finally able to get into all three modes. Nothing changed with my setup, but it seemed the game was just temperamental.
Each of the new modes prove to bring some sort of value to Tetris, with endless being the most straightforward and one that seems like shoe in for any game of this type. Haunted on the other hand was just frustrating, as placement revealed your entire board for a split second then blinked then to invisible. It might be an interesting mode, but in my time with it, I just got annoyed. Landslide was pretty fun and at least introduced some chaos to what could be called a pretty slow and methodical game for the most part, so it definitely served the purpose of “new stuff”.
Some of the ambience of the game in general was just a bit strange, as the theme that most players will recognized has been remixed and rehashed into a sort of spacey, tense tune, more atmospheric for sure but it lost a lot of the charm that the original theme had. With no clear way to change the track to another, or if there were multiple tracks playing during the game they seemed so similar that they just bled together. While the overall blocks and such don’t progress or evolve much from the classic formula, the background has a space-screensaver feel that adds to the music, but I can’t say to a great degree to make it truly feel interesting. Overall while playing the focus is still on the blocks as there really isn’t much else to grab attention.
+ Still Tetris
+ 4-Player matches are good competition
+ Leaderboards and feed are good ways to continually find challenge
– Crashing repeatedly
– Strange music and theme
– Some modes are more annoying than challenging or interesting
The Bottom Line
Tetris Ultimate proves that the classic formula still works, and perhaps should be left be. The best features of the new game come from four-player versus, co-op, and things like leaderboards and an activity feed. Unfortunately, with technical issues abound and some design choices that grate on the player over time Tetris Ultimate just doesn’t feel like it does the title justice. It doesn’t ring as the “Ultimate” version of the old Russian puzzler. The game still functions as it should, and some new modes are halfway interesting, but the sum of the parts just doesn’t add up to a great version of Tetris. If you’ve already got a version of Tetris, you’re better off sticking with it, as Tetris Ultimate will really only show value to those craving the 4-player experience, or if you’re truly hungry for the latest Tetris release. Otherwise if you’re on PC and want a Tetris game, you can literally play it free on the official Tetris website.