The puzzle game used to be the staple of every platform’s portfolio. Be it Tetris, Columns, or Bust-a-Move, no console was complete without a score chasing outing of its own. In an age of Facebook and smartphones, though, those days are long gone, with Tetris the last bastion of a genre that’s largely been left behind. The question is: does the recently released Tetris Ultimate have what it takes to score big on the PlayStation 4 – or is publisher Ubisoft merely banking on brand power to pull the punters in?
We’re assuming that you’re familiar with the basics here; a grid on the screen acts as your play space, which will subsequently fill with varying shapes. These so-called tetronimoes can be joined together, with a complete horizontal line clearing away. You’ll need to eradicate as many of these as possible to earn points, with the speed at which new bricks fall increasing the more that you play. It’s the same formula that has existed since the 1980s, when an industrious Russian programmed the very first version in Moscow.
Modes here range from the bog-standard Marathon, which tasks you with clearing 15 Levels as punctually as possible, right through to the now customary Battle – a deathmatch-esque adaptation of the formula with a power-up riddled variant. Sprint adds a time attack twist to the mix, while Ultra flips the tables and tasks you with attaining as many points as possible in under three minutes. There’s also an Endless option for the truly dextrous, and all of these can be played in co-op or versus with three friends, bots, or strangers.
The problem is that it isn’t a particularly pleasing version of the classic. Unlike recent Nintendo releases, the presentation is very vanilla, with bland blue backdrops and hovering menus serving as the meat of the visual stimulation. Meanwhile, the music is sparse and ethereal, opting for soaring pads and twinkly piano motifs, with none of the head bobbing enthusiasm that you may be more accustomed to. It does pick up pace as you progress with raspy bass lines, but it’s still not an especially enjoyable audio accompaniment. A second song can be unlocked – with Uplay points, of course.
The title does try to inject some interest in multiplayer. Toggling on Tetris Live allows you to compete with others online, and the matchmaking – assuming that you can find an opponent – is swift and reliable. The best part about this is that once you’ve located a lobby, you can pretty much stay in it and take on a rotating pool of challengers for hours. It’s a shame that there isn’t a way to join a playlist with a mix of modes, but this is only a minor irritation – particularly when you’ll have much bigger issues to contend with.
Indeed, the major flaw right now is that the title is borderline broken – at least, when you play it online. Framerate hiccups are frighteningly frequent when you’re connected to the Internet, with other publications reporting that large PlayStation Network friends lists are the culprit. We tried playing offline and did experience an improvement, but considering that the title loses almost all of its appealing functionality in this state, the developer is going to need to get a patch out pronto to solve this bug. Curiously, audio crackling is common regardless of your connection status.
Assuming that you can deal with the title temporarily freezing while you’re trying to put a brick in place, there are badges to collect that map out your progress throughout the game. These increase in difficulty and actually set some pretty tough tasks, but many of them include the repetition of specific actions, and there’s no real easy way to track your progress. The leaderboards at least include a number of filtering options, with the title even setting you increasing targets to beat while you play alone.
Framerate fluctuations render Tetris Ultimate almost unplayable, and while these issues only seem to occur when online, disconnecting tends to strip the title of much of its appeal. Assuming that it’s eventually patched, there’s a no-frills version of an all-time favourite here – but while the multiplayer is well integrated, the overall experience is far too ordinary to really recommend.