As a huge fan of the Tetris franchise, and someone who was addicted to EA’s Tetris for the PS3 in 2011, I was beyond stoked when Tetris Ultimate was previewed this past summer at E3. While everyone else was getting excited about the new AAA releases that were being previewed, I was excited to have a new iteration of Tetris to play on the PS4. Tetris is such a complex game, which seems so simple, but can be anything but. I was excited to see what Ubisoft would bring to the franchise, as it celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year.
Sadly, what I ended up getting was a remarkably shallow game, with gameplay that somehow was worse than its predecessor. After playing this game for more than just a few hours, I couldn’t believe that somehow Ubisoft had managed to screw up Tetris. Tetris, a game which hasn’t really changed much in thirty years. The basic mechanics of the game remain unchanged, so I was floored that this new game was such a step backwards.
The core feature of any Tetris game in the modern era is the Marathon mode. It was the first game mode I tackled, playing from stage 1-15. The changes made to the gameplay were immediately evident, and very frustrating. With the last PlayStation release of Tetris, the gameplay felt smooth, as you moved the pieces around the matrix. If you wanted to move a block from one side of the matrix to the other, it was simple enough to hold down the direction button, and the piece would smoothly and quickly move across the matrix in response. In this new release, however, such a simple operation has been compromised. Now, if you hold down the button for the piece to move, it feels like a delayed reaction, and isn’t quick or responsive. This is a major problem as you get farther and farther in the game, and the pace picks up. Instead, you end up having to quickly tap the directional pad for each block of movement, which is simply frustrating. It makes the gameplay feel much more sluggish than you want in a game like Tetris.
A game mode that wasn’t present in the prior release but sees release here is a new Endless mode, which is just as it says, an endless mode which gets increasingly faster and faster as you move farther and farther through the stages. The highest achievement level triggers for passing the 28
stage. The mode is a welcome addition, but also a maddening one as playing through the levels becomes an arduous chore because of the slowed down gameplay input.
There’s not a lot of variety in this new release of Tetris, which is ironic given the name of this particular release. Besides the Marathon and Endless game modes, there’s a sprint option to see how quickly you can clear a set amount of lines, and an Ultra mode to see how many points you can score within a specific timed window. Those are all well and good, but they’re not nearly as imaginative and inventive as the variations that were in EA’s release of Tetris for PS3. That release had challenge modes which were larger variations on the Tetris theme, as opposed to just being timed challenges which don’t actually alter the gameplay. Battle modes definitely focus more on the multiplayer experience, but at the expense of the solo player. The quirky variations found in EA’s prior release made for compelling modes to keep replaying, whereas the battle mode feels played out.
The online gameplay has expanded from the EA release, which is appreciated, as you can now play Marathon mode online with opponents, as opposed to only being able to do battle modes against online competitors. However, the matchmaking is beyond slow, even when other gamers are located to start a game with. In EA’s release, you would build up points and then level up, and be matched accordingly with rival players. The matchmaking thus far doesn’t seem nearly as evolved in Ubisoft’s version, pairing players who have purple belts (in my case) with those who are clearly novices. It makes the online experience much more frustrating both for those who are just getting into the game, and those who are Tetris experts. It’s the equivalent of a brand new Call of Duty player going up against a player who has reached Prestige level. There might be a bit of fun on the side of the Prestige player, as they destroy their opponent mercilessly, but it gets old real fast.
For those who have the opportunity to play multiplayer with a local friend, the changes are unfortunate. Previously, I could play Marathon mode with my wife, and once I finished the mode, it would allow her to keep playing until she finished the mode as well. Now, when the first player completes the game, the entire game ends, which is unsatisfying for the second player, who may be a skilled yet somewhat slower Tetris player. The Endless mode is a good alternative then, as it doesn’t end, but it takes away a core mode from being one that can be enjoyed with friends.
In terms of levelling up in this game, you can go up different “belts” based on your completion of Marathon mode, as well as how far you get in Endless mode. It feels a bit lazy and lacking real finesse in the levelling up system. The leaderboards are simplified in this new game, which is frustrating as well. If you’re not in the Top 30 players, you can’t even see where you would place in the overall board, not to mention how close your score might be to the next rung up the ladder. I hate to make constant comparisons to EA’s Tetris release, but it’s unavoidable when a product released nearly four years ago is superior to the so-called “Ultimate” version of the game. Even the menu system is clunky and not as refined and straight forward as the prior game. As for the trophies in this game, once again they’re frustratingly put together and conceived, as it’s not clearly set up to determine what you have to do to earn each trophy.
After months of waiting for more information on Tetris Ultimate, and being excited about its eventual release, I have to say that I was very disappointed with the product that ended up being released. The changes and subtractions from prior iterations of the game make it feel more barebones, lacking successful features from the past. I was hoping and expecting this to truly be an Ultimate version of the game yet was sadly disappointed and let down.