Developer: EA Games
Price: $4.99
Version Reviewed: 1.1.87

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★☆☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★☆☆
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

Tetris is one of the most prolific of all casual games. The falling-block wonder has been around for years, and you can find it lurking on just about any platform, eager to latch onto the unwitting consumer and force them to spend hours bent over the addicting little title. (For newcomers, the goal is to direct the dropping blocks into position in order to complete a solid row, thus clearing the lines.) It’s impossible to ruin Tetris, right? Be careful with those assumptions. The iPhone port does a decent job of bringing Tetris to a new platform, but it leaves some things to be desired, even with the updates since its release.

There’s an obvious lack of a D-pad or keys on the iPhone, and while Tetris thankfully didn’t go the way of Crystal Defenders and try to include a fake D-pad, the controls are somewhat cumbersome. Everything relies on touch controls, and at first, they seem to work. Dragging your finger across the screen moves the tetromino to the left or right, and tapping either side of the screen rotates it. The hold function is there, too; tapping the box marked “hold” will swap your piece with the one currently stored in the hold box. A downward flick yields a hard drop. The controls are fairly intuitive, and there’s also a short tutorial, but I found that they were annoying as the levels progressed. If you’re accustomed to making it past the twelfth level, you’re probably used to rotating the block while moving it. Once you’re at the point where the blocks are falling too fast to pause, it’s almost a necessity. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to swipe and tap the screen at the same time, so at later levels, even talented Tetris players will find themselves struggling thanks to the controls. Sometimes the controls didn’t seem as responsive as they could be, and more than once, I found it impossible to slide that all-important blue block into its spot, even as I was furiously swiping at the screen. Challenge is part of Tetris, certainly, but challenges should be overcome based on skill, not caused by a flawed control scheme.

Most Tetris games also include novelty modes, such as Push in the DS version and Sprint and Ultra in the Facebook app, but this version only comes with Marathon mode and Magic mode. I didn’t find anything “magical” about Magic mode. In each stage, you’re required to clear a certain number of lines to progress, and you acquire tools (items) to help you. The items smack of gimmick; all of them use the touchscreen in so-called innovative ways. One item lets you draw a custom shape; another turns the blocks into “bubble wrap” and lets you pop them. The novelty wears off quickly, and makes the mode far too easy for dedicated players. Marathon mode caps out at level 15 (advanced players will struggle to get there initially thanks to the controls, but what next?), cutting the game off at 150 lines for no apparent reason. Why not extend the solo run? A wireless Battle mode might have extended the life of the game, too, but it’s sadly not present.

The graphics are vibrant, as you’d expect from an official title, and the animations give it a polished feel. You can keep your own music playing after disabling a setting under the app’s Options menu. I didn’t like the soundtrack–where are the classic themes?–but it’s all right. I honestly prefer to silence it, and it was nice of EA to give us that option. Many of the App Store reviews complain about long loading screen and cumbersome menus, but I suspect that those are outdated, and that updates have since fixed many problems–a finger tap cuts off the intro animation, and it’s easy to jump into the app. I’ve noticed lagging at some points during games, which is annoying, but it’s nothing major. I’ve yet to have the app crash on me.

The jump from traditional platforms to a touchscreen device was handled clumsily, true, but Tetris is still a solid game, and I’ve enjoyed playing it, though its flaws dampen the addiction factor. Just remember that five dollars can go a long way in the App Store, and that how much enjoyment you can milk out of this new version of Tetris will depend upon how much you enjoy the game elsewhere. If you’re a Tetris addict, the sheer portability of your iPod or iPhone may well make this version worth your while; otherwise, tread carefully.

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