Tetris Evolution

[6 June 2007]

By Kevin Garcia

Party Like It's 1989

Tetris has gone down in history as one of the most influential games of all time. The simplicity and addictiveness of the gameplay has yet to truly be matched as no game since has so fully captured the imagination of gamers and nongamers alike.

Maybe that’s why THQ decided to put almost no effort whatsoever into the Xbox 360 version.

Tetris Evolution starts with the tried and true concept of Tetris and takes it somewhere it’s never been before: Xbox Live. I mean sure, it’s been on the internet before and it’s been on Xbox before, but it’s never been specifically on Xbox Live. So that’s something.

I grew up with Tetris, both on the Commodore 64 and, most notably, on the original green-screened Game Boy. I loved the game, and wasted hours of my life making those ever-recognizable blocks fit together. My mom loved the 1989 game. She even claimed the Game Boy as hers for a few months solely for the included Tetris cartridge. As great as the game was, however, it needs more if it’s going to be brought to the latest generation of home consoles, and apparently, the creators at THQ have yet to figure out what that “more” should be.

There are ways to make Tetris more fun. This was proved by last year’s version on the Nintendo DS, entitled, brilliantly enough, Tetris DS. Utilizing the capabilities of the system and the icons Nintendo is known for, Tetris DS revitalizes the classic Russian franchise and allows players to play tetromino tennis matches in new and exciting ways.

Evolution does not do this. Heck, even the DS version’s website is more exciting than Tetris Evolution.

I forced my friends to play a few hours worth of Evolution with me. Now, even a bad multiplayer game (like, say, Red Steel) can keep these guys occupied for a half-a-day, but this was torture. After playing traditional Tetris for a few minutes (I kicked their butts in points), we tried the other gameplay options. 

Hotline mode was also, admittedly, pretty interesting, as it made the goal of line-clearing a bit more challenging. The best way to win is allowing the blocks to build up so specific lines can be cleared for more points.

My buddies liked Cascade mode the best, although the specific mechanics of it are still a bit of a mystery to me. By setting up a series of purposefully placed gaps, completing lines will allow floating blocks to drop and potentially complete new lines for more points. Creating combos, as the guys called it, was fun and made for a fast-paced short game. Great for killing a few minutes, tournament-style gameplay or rotating in players when Live isn’t an option. 

Overall, though, the styles of play are not that different from what we’ve come to expect from Tetris. We may as well have been playing Flash Tetris.

The developers did find uses for some of the 360’s features. Shoulder buttons, for example, allow unwanted pieces to be held for later, swapped out for better pieces. Swapping is fun, although it feels an awful lot like cheating considering preparing for each block, no matter how difficult, has been the whole point of Tetris since the beginning. The system’s HD-ready graphics are utilized by neato 3-D backgrounds and the sound is also pretty decent.

Of course, updates also come with problems. In one match, despite my spending most of the game without a line even a fourth of the way from the bottom of the field and my friend nearly filling screen as soon as he was able, because he was able to climb the stairs. Climbing the stairs, as he called it, is rotating the tetromino as fast as he can by repeated button hits. As long as those blocks kept spinning, no new blocks would fall and all he had to do was avoid carpal tunnel syndrome and wait for me to eventually screw up. An annoying experience, but we got a laugh out of it.

And that was about as exciting as the game got. I continued playing the game, as that’s required for any decent review, but I don’t know that I’ll ever crack open its box again. Even the publishers seemed to have little faith in it as the cover design looks like it took all of five minutes to create and the instruction booklet has that exciting black-and-white interior that all the least interesting games have.

To sum: Tetris is a great game, and Tetris Evolution is Tetris, but in the end, that’s all it is.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/tetris-evolution/