Tetris HD Review
The puzzle game that became a global phenomenon in the ‘80s has gone through many different incarnations. Some turned out better than others but at its core, Tetris has always been an entertaining, even addictive experience that appeals to just about anyone with a pulse. So when Tetris HD dropped onto the PlayStation Network, we just had to take a look at the latest and greatest in the world of fast-paced brick-dropping. For the most part, it’s an inspired take on a classic and although I miss the traditional formula (fill up a screen with tiles, and it’s Game Over), it’s interesting to see EA’s creative ideas, designed to add some spice to a simple world. It’s quick, surprisingly flashy for a Tetris game, and loaded with enough single-player and multiplayer action to keep most satisfied for hours. It’s just one of those games you can pick up and play at any given time, and that’s a plus.
The instant you start your first puzzle, you will notice EA’s design choice: downplay the backdrop and put the emphasis squarely on the falling pieces. The tiles are all brightly colored and that vibrancy leaps off the screen, thanks in part to the contrast provided by a very dark atmosphere. While it’s true that some of this pleasant polish diminishes when other players step into the fray, the graphical presentation still hits its mark. I still remember playing Tetris on the original GameBoy and to compare that memory of fuzzy black-and-white action with this sharp high-definition display is actually a little jarring. Sometimes, I thought the design somehow felt domineering, in that it took the focus away from the puzzle, but I think that was all in my head. For the most part, despite the fact that widescreen isn’t well utilized for multiple players, this is an agreeable, dynamic visual display that enhances the overall experience.
The sound is hit or miss, depending on your personal preference. I’m indifferent when it comes to the music; I really spent most of my time focusing on the task at hand, and most of the sound drifted into the background. I will say that the effects seemed very much in-my-face, as the clicking of the bricks seemed overly emphasized; it got annoying after a while. I finally had to tone it down in the options menu and I would recommend that new players lower the effects slider right off the bat. Beyond that, there isn’t much to talk about. The effects and music are just as sharp and clear as the graphics and in general, the technical presentation is about as slick as one could expect. After all, Tetris isn’t really about “slick” anything; it’s about the puzzle, and that’s that. It’s nice to see a fair mount of effort put into the visuals and sound but really, some of it almost seems unnecessary.
As I just said, it’s all about the gameplay. And thanks to the responsive, reliable control and the puzzle variations, Tetris HD can hold your interest for quite some time. As I hinted at in the intro, this isn’t the same game that gripped a nation several decades ago: there are a total of 12 variants that ask you to clear 40 lines while operating within a certain range of conditions. And in all that, there isn’t one simple puzzle where the tiles fall faster and faster, and you just have to avoid the screen filling up with badly placed pieces. No, that has been cast aside for fresher, more complex challenges. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but I still felt a little miffed and disoriented. It’s not that I didn’t like the new examples of puzzle-based creativity; it’s just one feels a little lost at first, and you sort of go, “wait…this is Tetris?” It really is, though; you just have to make a few mental adjustments.
Variants like Gravity, Laser, and Treadmill really change things up a lot, and you may end up having a personal favorite. Others might just confuse you; I didn’t really like Treadmill because the sideways shifting didn’t resonate with me, and in truth, it never really clicked. But I liked the progression because of the diversity and constantly changing demands. And while the purists say there should never be a feature that lets you rotate or move a block after it lands, they might change their mind after playing Tetris HD. You have five seconds to rotate a title and slide it about the surface; you just can’t push it through other bricks. It adds another level of strategy to the gameplay and keeps you on your toes, as does the preview window, which can be turned off if you don’t like the added assist. On top of which, you can sample each of the various styles with up to four players, and that’s a bonus.
Battle Mode is a big highlight and it reminded me of the Versus mode in Bust a Move. Those who remember the latter will recall a feature that was capable of enraging a competitive friend: when you cleared out some bubbles, those bubbles would pop up on your opponent’s screen; if you cleared a ton of ‘em at once, a crapload would show up on your buddy’s screen and he’d freak out. That same feature is in the latest Tetris iteration, as any cleared lines of tiles will appear on your opponent’s board, making for an intense yet still lighthearted one-on-one confrontation. There’s also the option of power-ups and if you want to shake things up, Timed Battle Mode can test your nerves. Online play features the standard leaderboards and a pretty cool ranking system so even if you don’t have anyone to play with, you can always hop online and have a blast. So regardless of when or how you choose to play, the game will typically deliver the goods and ease the tension of a long, hard day.
Tetris HD is a solid entry in the long-running series and while it sometimes doesn’t look or feel like any title of old, it still has a lot going for it. In fact, one could argue there’s more to do here than in any previous installment. The design choice might not resonate with some and the sound is a little off at first but besides that, there’s not much worth complaining about. As far as puzzle games go, this franchise will always reign as one of the best, so it’s probably a good idea to have it around for a rainy day.
1/13/2011 Ben Dutka