Tetris is back, and with all the options they’re giving you it’s more ultimate than ever.
Now I don’t profess to be a Tetris professional, or to have played all (or even most of) the versions – my most recent regular player being a PlayStation One version that I had on disk up ”til last year – but I’ve been playing variations on the concept since I was about three and am more than familiar with how the original played.
This version of the game however, is everything it pretends to be and more – offering the most popular gameplay modes alongside a high level of rule customization for the purist and tinkerers. Though I prefer the default setup personally, if you don’t there’s quite a lot you can do to fix that; but we’ll get into that later… for now let’s run through the modes that are included in this version.
First up we have Marathon mode, in which you attempt to clear horizontal lines of tetraminos through fifteen progressively more difficult drop speed levels. This mode isn’t endless, and will be completed once you’ve beaten the fifteenth speed level without touching the inside of the roof with your tetramino matrix. It’s a pretty basic mode, but one that does well to introduce you to the game.
Next we have Battle, which is the first of the two versus only modes. Battle pits you against an opponent (either one of the four AI options or an online foe) in a sudden death match with a twist; cleared lines and level bumps will add random unfilled lines to your opponent’s play area. All added lines appear as grey “shadows” and serve to fill up your play area that much faster while also making it harder to clear what you have possibly planned out (if you’re thinking ahead, as you should). The first of the opponents to touch the inside of the roof of the play area with their matrix will be the loser, making the survivor the winner of the match for surviving.
The third basic gameplay mode is called Sprint, and tasks you with clearing forty lines of tetraminos in your fastest possible time. This mode is all about speed and accuracy, so it’s a good one to hone your skills on if you’ve only got a few minutes – as it shouldn’t take you too long.
Time’s Up mode is the first of the more difficult ones, and has you clearing lines of tetraminos in order to add time to a countdown clock. You start with thirty seconds, so it’s important to get a bit of a cushion in this one with some quick clears if you’re looking to survive long.
Battle Ultimate is the second battle type mode and the only other mode that is 100% versus. As with regular battle mode, you’ll be fighting an opponent – however this time they’ve introduced a series of power ups to shake things up. There’s Buzzsaw which sends three random lines from your matrix into your opponents, Carousel which temporarily shifts their matrix to the left every time they drop a tetramino, Hip to be Square which makes your opponent’s next four drops square tetraminos, Haunted Well which makes your opponent’s blocks invisible for three turns, and Let it Rain which rains tetraminos down on your opponent’s game. This is where things got a little too “new age” for me and I had to back off – but I’m sure the masochistic of you out there might enjoy the challenge of dodging around all of the power ups (or sending them your opponent’s way).
Ultra‘s a three minute challenge mode, giving you just 180 seconds to throw down as many clears as you can in order to obtain a high score. To me it was one of my lesser played modes, but I understand the lure of a mode that has a fixed time – both for score chasing purposes, and a limited amount of play time.
Endless mode is exactly what it suggests; endless… if you’re good enough. Offering an endless succession of speed drop modes which get progressively faster, it’s a true score chasing mode as it pits you against yourself and the randomizer – looking for the highest score you can get without touching the top of the play area with your matrix. Think of it as a variation on Marathon mode that only ends when you mess up; it’s the ultimate challenge for the quick to react Tetris player.
Next we have Landslide mode, where every ten drops you’ll get a random tetramino dump to add to your matrix. To me, it felt like a single player battle mode with a slow but smart opponent that will never lose – and so I avoided it in favour of the next mode… which happens to be my favourite.
Haunted is the mode for those with a memory, ’cause it’s Marathon mode with a twist – you can only see your already set pieces when you lock a new one in (they’re otherwise invisible), and as you level up the viewing of your set pieces becomes less frequent (happening every two lock-ins, then every three, and so on). It’s a mode that relies on memorization, Tetris skills, and logic – and is easily the hardest mode in the game. It’s also my clear favourite, because it trains you for literally every other mode in the game.
All these modes can be played multiplayer (either with AI or an actual opponent online), and the non-battle modes can be played single player as well – giving you plenty of options for play. All the games with single player modes also track your scores, giving you a readout of either the global charts or your friends with a simple toggle. In addition to that, there are also awards and other stats collected, along with a challenge feed to give you new scores to reach for.
Speaking of options, aside from the modes you’re probably wondering what other options you have for customizing play – well, there are quite a few;
Now I’m no expert on all the different rules that have been implemented over the years and changes that have been possible, but that seems like a pretty extensive list of changes to have access to (especially when most of those options have multiple levels). It certainly seems like however you’ve grown up dropping tetraminos, there’s a rule or change to make sure that’s what you get. What more could you ask for?
Looking at the game from a graphical and sound based perspective, it’s clear that the game both runs and sounds new-age. Gone are the bland single tone tetraminos of the original version, and gone is the original version of that familiar Tetris chiptune – however in their place are the coloured blocks many of us have come to know over the years, and a remixed Tetris tune that’ll appeal better to the current generation of up-and-comers. Despite these changes, the game runs smooth even at higher speeds (or at least the ones I could reach) and seems to be rock solid in all graphical and audio areas – something that has proven well worth the wait to experience.
As for the game itself, it’s very solid. In all my gameplay with Ultimate on Vita I never encountered a single in-game crash, graphical glitch, multiplayer disconnection, or issue in general – aside from one small nag of a crash. I couldn’t figure out what the cause was exactly (it almost felt random), but certain times when starting the game from the bubble it would hang right before the “Press X to Start” screen; a simple closing of the game and then reopening it usually remedying the issue (though annoying).
It may be a little more pricy than some expected – debuting at $15 US, £12, or €15 – but it’s notable that it comes with the Challenge DLC that the PlayStation 4 version doesn’t come with built-in, and if you buy the PlayStation 4 version with the DLC it actually costs more than the already complete Vita version does.
If you combine that cheaper entry price with just how solid the game runs on Vita and the added portability compared to other versions… you have me wondering why you’re reading this review instead of playing this game. Tetris Ultimate is simply a must have for any Tetris fan of the past, and a must try for any puzzle fan out there today.