Monday, December 22, 2014

Tetris Ultimate (PS4)

With this year being the 30th anniversary of the popular Tetris series of games, a new game developed by SoMa Play and published by Ubisoft, Tetris Ultimate, was released in celebration. As a big fan of Tetris, I enjoyed getting a chance to play this game at the Ubisoft Uplay Lounge earlier this year, and so when the game was recently released for PlayStation 4, I did not hesitate to purchase it. After getting some more hands-on time with the game, I found it was just as good as I remembered it being, if not better.

The basic gameplay of Tetris is the same as in previous iterations, so I won’t delve into the particulars of that, but there are some interesting gameplay tweaks that make Tetris Ultimate stand out from its predecessors. There are 6 different modes to pick from: Marathon (play to level 15), Endless (survive as long as you can), Sprint (clear 40 lines), Ultra (play for 3 minutes), Battle, and Battle Ultimate. In Battle mode, the goal is to see who, between 2 to 4 players, can survive the longest, with the ability to send over lines after clearing them to make it tougher for the opponent(s). Battle Ultimate is similar to Battle, but with the addition of power-ups to make it more interesting. As mentioned in the aforementioned Uplay Lounge post, a new power-up will show up after every 7 lines cleared, with each one being a normal Tetris piece that has a unique symbol and an effect that activates once part of the block is cleared, ranging from moving the opponent’s stacked blocks in their matrix to the left for a few turns to clearing an additional few lines from your screen and open up space in your matrix.

Each gameplay mode also has a few options to make for a different experience. For Marathon, Endless, Sprint, and Ultra, there’s Solo, Versus, Team Battle, and Co-Op options; Battle and Battle Ultimate have just the Versus and Team Battle options, as they are specifically meant for multiplayer. The Co-Op option has 2+ players sharing a matrix (including the Next and Hold (done with R1) portions of the layout) in order to reach the given goal, while Team Battle pits 4 players against each other in teams of 2 using this layout for each team. The Multiplayer functions can be done locally or offline, with the option to play locally with provided bots if you so desire, though I chose to play locally with my brother when trying out these modes. Each combination works pretty well and the different options open up a lot of possibilities, providing plenty of replay value. You also have the ability to change certain aspects of the game to have the gameplay match that of previous incarnations of Tetris, which is a very interesting feature, so if you want to you can manipulate it to be just like the ever-popular Game Boy version.

What Battle Ultimate can end up looking like.

There’s also the ability to obtain badges for completing certain tasks, some of which are more demanding than others. There are, of course, really easy ones to accomplish such as trying out Sprint mode and (depending on your skill level) beating someone in a Battle mode, to more labor-intensive ones like playing 30 games with another player and one of the Uplay badges that requires (no kidding) getting 333 cumulative Triples. Some of them also require playing online (which I have no interest in doing), but aside from that these aren’t too bad depending on how dedicated you are, though I think it would be nice if there was some sort of counter for some badges to help keep track of your progress towards obtaining them (otherwise all you have to know is that you’ll have to clear Triples forever if you want the one badge). There are also certain badges you can get that up your rank, referred to as “Belts” (similarly to martial arts), which are meant to display your Tetris skill level, which, combined with the badges, provide some incentive for bragging rights. Though I haven’t really explored this feature, the Uplay badges also allow you to gain units that you can use to acquire special rewards (such as a download of the game’s music).

The graphics are very vibrant and colorful, with some minor details that add to experience once you notice them, such as the hard drop you make producing small debris for a split second and the blocks you are controlling producing a subtle glow that matches the color of said block. The music is also really well-orchestrated, among it a rather interesting mix of the familiar song Korobeiniki (aka Tetris Theme A) associated with the game. At least when playing an option that can be done in Solo, the music starts out softly, almost having a more ethereal vibe to it, but as you level up, the song become more familiar and more intense as it gets faster, all while keeping the same atmosphere. It’s interesting how this is implemented and I would consider it one of my favorite mixes in the Tetris games that I have been able to play.

Also mentioned in the Uplay Lounge post, one small detail that I find fascinating is that, during a game, the light on the DualShock 4 will change color to match that of the block you are currently manipulating, such as the “T” block producing a purple light and the “Z” block a red. Again, it’s a small detail, but it’s one that I think adds something to the experience, even if the player isn’t able to see it directly.

Tetris Ultimate is a package that I think to be worthy of celebrating the Tetris 30-year milestone. The basics are familiar, but there is a good variety of gameplay options and the badges available to acquire add some incentive to keep playing (outside of a love for Tetris) and to explore as much of the game as possible. No matter your skill level, this is a Tetris game that I would recommend, if only so you too can celebrate the longevity of the series. Hopefully the Tetris game and franchise will continue to prosper in the years to come.

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