Monday, July 10, 2017

In-Flight Tetris

While this blog normally covers video games or movies under certain parameters, sometimes we dare to go outside the box and review something weird. In this case, we have In-Flight Tetris, a version of the popular game Tetris that can only be played on airlines which feature in-flight entertainment. As a major fan of Tetris, upon spotting this game when perusing my options on a couple recent flights I took, I knew I had to check it out.

The game offers three different modes of play: Marathon, Forty Lines and Ultra. Marathon is the basic mode of Tetris where you can play indefinitely, though most games have a cap where the game will end once you clear Level 15. Due to the conditions in which I played the game (more on that later), I was not able to discern a level cap, if any, however Marathon still proves to be solid entertainment. Forty Lines, as per the name, is a mode that ends once you clear 40 lines, with the goal of clearing them as fast as you can. Ultra is essentially the opposite of Forty Lines, where you must clear as many lines as you can within a time limit; most Tetris games give Ultra a limit of 3 minutes, however in this version you only have 2 minutes. In general, the game is geared towards shorter bursts of play, which is better suited for air travel and adds to the addictive nature of Tetris.

Some sample gameplay (Marathon mode pictured).

Since the in-flight entertainment is provided via a touchscreen, the game plays using touchscreen controls, which involve tapping and swiping the screen to manipulate pieces. While the game is certainly playable this way, your performance can be greatly affected by outside forces since to the screen is placed on the back of the seat in front of you (in the case of the front row of a section of an aircraft, the screen is presumably placed on the wall in front of you). Such outside forces can include turbulence and how the person in front of you positions their seat, which can easily lead to a lot of mistakes.

First Class passengers are known on flights to get special accommodations. As I discovered first-hand, one of these benefits is a remote attached to the seat, which can be used to control the screen as an alternative to touch controls. On the back of said remote is a keyboard/game pad, allowing a different way to play the gaming options available. While this did work for In-Flight Tetris, the controls are a little awkward, since, while generally following an Xbox controller's face buttons, Y is used for confirm rather than A, which takes some getting used to. On top of this, the control stick provided is rather sensitive, which can also lead to making numerous mistakes that can ultimately cost you the game.

The graphics are actually pretty decent, with a general background aesthetic modeled after aviation and a usage of bright colors. The game also uses a ghosting effect to display where the next block will fall, presumably to make it accessible for more casual Tetris players. The game includes a special mix of “Tetris Theme A” (aka “Korobeiniki”) that is more comparable to elevator music or “muzak”, which is actually more appropriate for an airline environment. There are also some sounds cues during gameplay that appear to be recycled from previous Tetris iterations (including Tetris Elements and possibly Tetris Worlds), though this didn’t really bother me that much. You can’t actually hear anything though unless you are using a headset, which can be connected via a headphone jack located underneath the screen (between seats in First Class; earbuds will suffice either way); your airline may provide you with a headset, though it is generally recommended that you bring your own.

In-Flight Tetris is an interesting variation on the long-standing puzzle game, one that I would recommend to anyone looking for something to keep them busy on a flight, to say nothing of any passengers who happen to enjoy Tetris. Since I played it on an American Airlines flight, I have no idea what the general availability of the game is amongst other airlines, though this may depend entirely on which one you choose to fly with. In any case, if the game is available to you and you find yourself on a particularly long flight, and/or have a good grasp on the provided controller, In-Flight Tetris may keep you occupied for a good while. And remember, please fly responsibly.

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