If there’s one game that everybody should know, including your parents (heck, probably even your grandparents), it’s Tetris. Ever since its first release over 30 years ago, the blocky puzzle title has had countless people hooked. Even more countless, is the number of editions and versions the curiously addictive game has seen. It’s been on just about every platform you can think of, including, believe it or not, graphing calculators, and seen some sort of attention from just about everybody walking planet earth. But hey, that’s just me generalising like a boss – let’s backtrack for a second, and assume that you’re a very, very, very rare person who has no idea what the hell Tetris is.
Tetris is a puzzle game created by Russian video game designer, Alexey Pajitnov. The goal is to control falling tetrominoes (various shapes made up of 4 blocks), and line them up horizontally. Doing so causes the newly formed line to disappear, and rewards the player with points. As the game proceeds, the tetrominoes fall faster and faster, making it harder to place them carefully. The game ends when the screen becomes too full, and the fallen blocks reach the very top.
It’s a classic, addictive formula, and one that, 3 decades later, is pretty difficult to build upon and innovate into something truly unique. You know what they say though… “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and that’s exactly what Ubisoft have tried to do with their take on the old school title, with their modern version called Tetris Ultimate. It’s been out consoles for quite a while now, but finally, it’s made its way to PC too. Being a closet fan of the the ancient blocky puzzler, I dived into it expecting to feel that nostalgic magic rekindling.
Except, I really didn’t, but only because getting Tetris Ultimate to run proved to be an absolute headache. Somehow, with a game of this nature and its not-at-all-demanding visuals or processing power, I kept getting booted back to my desktop without so much as an explanation.
After some troubleshooting, I realised that the reason for this was because the game, for some reason, defaults to a resolution of 2560 x 1440. Being a mere mortal only owning a monitor capable of running 1080p visuals, I had to adjust this setting down to 1920 x 1080. You’d think it’s an option that would only need changing once, but it wasn’t. Each time I booted up Tetris Ultimate, I had to navigate to the visual menu to change it, unless I wanted to get kicked back to desktop after selecting any of the game modes of course.
Call me old fashioned, but I grew up playing Tetris on my very original Game Boy. For that reason, I much prefer playing the classic with a controller as opposed to a standard keyboard. Unfortunately, support for that seems very limited, if the experience with my Xbox One input peripheral is anything to go by. Plugging it in caused Tetris to think I had the analogue glued to a left position, making navigating the menu, let alone playing the game, all but impossible.
The above is really the only glaring criticisms I have though, because once I got everything sorted out, and got over the fact that I had to play with a keyboard, I got to play Tetris Ultimate, and you know what? That classic spark is definitely still there, but it comes in different flavours thanks to the various game modes.
There’s Marathon, which tasks players with reaching level 15 (quite a feat, I’ll have you know). Doing so unlocks Endless mode, which is really what the original Tetris was all about – blocks keep falling, and clearing a certain amount of lines causes the difficulty modifier to ramp up.
So yes, if want something akin to what you played all those years ago, you’ll certainly find some enjoyment. If you want something a little different however, there are some interesting new modes to get lost in too.
Time’s Up for example, is a mode that has a timer that starts at 30 seconds. Precious extra seconds to make it last longer can be earned by clearing lines. It’s rather addictive, and stressful, but still very enjoyable.
Haunted mode is a treat for those who really want to test their memory along with their placement skills. This particular mode infuriated me to no end, but in a good way (if such a thing is even possible). Blocks flash for about a second at the start of each turn, after which everything will disappear and become invisible, leaving you to guess where you placed your last tetromino. One horrible misstep leads to another, which leads to a dozen more, which quickly results in a game over. Still, clearing a few lines in this mode is quite satisfying.
If you’re the social type, there are some co-op modes to be enjoyed too. I can’t comment on whether the online matchmaking system is any good however, because, sadly, I couldn’t find anybody to play against. Thankfully, there’s AI that can sit in, in the absence of real people, but that substitution is only enjoyable for a very limited time.
Still, if you want to give it a bash, there are two battle modes, one of which (Battle Ultimate) is all about throwing various obstacles into your opponents way. I would’ve loved to give this a bash against real people, but unfortunately, I couldn’t. This is a hiccup for a game of this nature on the PC in my opinion, as if I were playing on console, it would be very easy to sit back on a couch, scrounge up a remote or three, and play against friends in real life, as opposed to people online.
Honestly, once I got everything working, I quite enjoyed Tetris Ultimate. I can’t help but feel that there is some sort of spark missing though. Granted, trying to innovate on a 30 year old title is a challenge no doubt, but it feels like Ubisoft barely tried past their addition of the several game modes.
Visually, the game is rather bland. The menu seems a bit wonky, and to my surprise, even lags a little now and then. In-game, the blocks and everything else also boring to look at, and forming a line causes them to simply, well, disappear. I suppose this is to keep things feeling classic. I just wish something was done to make Tetris Ultimate truly stand out.
Even the soundtrack is lacking. Korobeiniki, the timeless tune that has plagued the game forever, is there, albeit in the form of several remixes. They’re catchy, yet somehow become boring and forgetful after a little while. With a tune that iconic and memorable, I somehow find this impossible to believe.
Otherwise, look, if you’re on the search for a Tetris title, I guess you can’t do worse than Tetris Ultimate. At R99, it’s not expensive at all. I do think that Ubisoft could’ve done so much more though, if not with the core gameplay, then at least with sprucing up everything else to be something that makes the title stand out. Unfortunately, it really doesn’t, and remains… ordinary.
Last Updated: January 11, 2016