There are video games, and then there’s Tetris. The former is always evolving, always aiming to push the envelope just a little bit further. Tetris, on the other hand, is unchanging. It’s an icon.
More than the 30 years after Alexey Pajitnov unleashed his sensational reflex-puzzler on the world, it really hasn’t changed a whole lot. A handful of play variants have been introduced, opening the door to competitive multiplayer match-ups and specifically focused challenges, but Tetris in its original form stands as a model of design perfection.
Ubisoft’s Tetris Ultimate is an acknowledgement of that. More definitive collection than evolved sequel, the upcoming release celebrates Pajitnov’s 30-year-old creation by gathering together an assortment of different takes on the core game — including the original, of course — while giving players new ways to tweak difficulty settings and track performance. All with a sharp HD presentation wrapped around it.
At the heart of Tetris Ultimate is a main menu that wouldn’t be out of place in a touch-based game, with large, square buttons leading into each of the different modes and sub-menus. There are six modes in all, five of which should be familiar to fans that have kept up through the years.
Marathon is the most traditional, challenging players to get up to and clear level 15. Endless raises the cap up to level 30, but the game doesn’t end if you get there; it just keeps going until the falling Tetrominoes get the best of you. Ultra serves up a three-minute high score challenge. Sprint tasks players with clearing 40 lines as soon as possible. And Battle is a head-to-head showdown for up to four players.
The newcomer is Power-Up Battle, which works in roughly the same way as the other competitive mode, but with one notable difference: power-ups. There’s Carousel, which makes your opponent’s playing space shift to the left after each move. Hip To Be Square, identified by its mustache icon (naturally), afflicts those affected with four square Tetrominoes in a row. There’s also Let It Rain, which dumps a bunch of garbage pieces into your opponent’s playing field, and Buzz Saw, a defensive power-up that cuts away some of your unfinished lines.
To use a power-up, you’ve got to watch for Tetrominoes marked with special icons that denote which power-up they unleash. To use them, simply clear a line using one or more of these specially marked Tetrominoes. You can also clear a line with one of those blocks inside it after it’s fallen, but the power-up icon disappears after a short time, leaving a regular block behind.
For those that don’t have anyone to play with, it’s still possible to get competitive by assigning AI bots to any open slots. The simple social/multiplayer interface is quickly accessible to the right of the main menu screen’s tiles. There’s a listing of online friends to ease the process of sending invites and, below that, a selection of AI bots marked by their skill level. Simply select one to add it to your next game, just as you would with someone from your friends list.
In addition to the assortment of play modes, Tetris Ultimate also includes features designed to appeal to the most hardcore fans. A stat screen pops up after each play session, running through everything from how many blocks of each type fell to what kind of line combos you cleared. There’s also a lengthy list of difficulty tweaks that allow players to modify virtually every Tetris rule imaginable.
Want to be able to see block previews of the next two, or three (or more) Tetrominoes? You can adjust that here. Sadistically turn off the ability to rotate falling pieces? That’s here too. You can even revert the random block drops from the current model — which ensures that a straight-line Tetromino drops at least once for every seven that fall — to the original algorithm, which was completely random.
The great strength of Tetris Ultimate is that it doesn’t appear to be attempting to reinvent itself. The original game is virtually untouchable, especially with the handful of small-yet-meaningful changes that it’s gone through over the past 30 years. Ultimate seems like it’s been built to appeal to every type of Tetris fan. Look for the blocks to start falling again on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this summer, and then on Nintendo 3DS, PC, and PlayStation Vita in the fall.