Tetris is one of the few games that needs no introduction. If you say "Tetris" to anyone, from your gran to your younger siblings, everyone knows what you're talking about - and chances are, everyone's played it at least once. Or, if you're like us, you've played it tens of thousands of times, and got slightly addicted to its block-dropping action. So, with 2015 marking the 30th Anniversary of the game, and a new generation of consoles out that have yet to be blessed by Tetris' appearance, what better way to mark the birthday of the game that some Americans believed was secret Soviet propaganda, than with an all new instalment - this time known as Tetris Ultimate.
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Perhaps surprisingly, despite the somewhat grandiose name, this is far from the "ultimate" version of Tetris. A £7.99 download with a handful of modes, this isn't as inventive as either Tetris DS, or Tetris Party Deluxe, which made its Wii debut five years ago, and it doesn't try to be. Instead, it's a fairly by the numbers tribute to the most famous puzzle game of all time - with a impressively hefty amount of multiplayer features.
As with other Tetris games, Tetris Ultimate comes complete with the fairly standard battle mode, where up to four players can face off in a block busting battle, either online or locally on the same console. As always, clearing two or more lines will send some grey blocks over to one of your opponents, pushing them ever closer to the top of the screen, and their inevitable demise. Battle Ultimate mode, meanwhile, adds in a few bonus power-ups for good measure, asking you to create a line using a power-up block to unleash its effect on your friends - from the slightly confusing Carousel, which cycles all of your pieces to the left for a few seconds, to the totally fubar-ing Haunted Well, which makes all of your opponent's tetrominos invisible - bar the one they're trying to place. While it's fun enough, neither of these two modes are anything really new - and the randomness of who gets the extra lines you send, or power-ups you use can be a bit frustrating, especially if it's you with the bad luck.
Happily, though, it's not just competitive multiplayer that Tetris Ultimate provides, as it also comes with a whole host of co-op modes too. The Marathon (play to level 15), Endless (play "forever"), Sprint (clear 40 lines as fast as you can) and Ultra (clear as many lines as you can in 3 minutes) modes all support four-player co-op, either online or off - and it's about as mental as it sounds.
Giving you one giant grid to play on, with each player taking control of a certain chunk of it, it's up to you to work together with your team mates to create perfect lines that stretch across the entire grid, with nary a gap in sight - and as you'd likely imagine, when you're having to rely on an entire team to make no mistakes, that's easier said than done. Even the speed you play at is important - if one player's a lot slower than the rest, it's no use if you've made a perfect grid full of completed lines with no gaps at all - unless they can do the same in their section, the lines won't clear, and you'll be the one who ends up getting a game over. It's a different type of Tetris, requiring a totally different style of play - and one that's a lot of fun, even if it does lead to a few (friendly) arguments!
Outside of the multiplayer modes, though, there isn't actually all that much more to Tetris Ultimate. For all intents and purposes, it's just Tetris. Don't get us wrong, that's definitely not a bad thing - but it'd be nice to see a few more modes in here to keep things interesting. A puzzle mode, for example - or even a changing background as found in Tetris DS would have helped keep things fresh - but instead, all we have is a dull dark blue background that never changes, paired with a soundtrack that takes the upbeat Tetris tune and turns it into something that wouldn't seem out of place at a funeral - or at the very least in a Tetris inspired murder drama.
With several modes that are only playable against an opponent, it's something of a relief for those of us without a regular play partner that you can choose to either team up with, or play against, one of four different AI "bots" - but, sadly, this isn't as handy as it sounds. With just four bots on offer, each with a different difficulty level, it's beyond daft that each bot can only be used once - so if you want to play a team versus game against the computer, you can't just set all the computer players as easy - instead, you'll have to divvy up the easy, medium and hard bots between the two teams. Why it won't let you stack the game with three normal bots, or even three hard ones is anyone's guess - but for those who don't have anyone around to regularly play against, it's worth bearing in mind.
By way of offering the game some sort of replay value, Tetris Ultimate also has a kind of in game ranking system for you to climb the ladder of, and a number of trophies/awards to be earnt. Unfortunately, you can only rank up by clearing a certain level in Marathon mode (reach level 20, 24, 28, etc), which seems a bit of an oversight, as rather than gaining XP for clearing lines, or something similar, reaching the max level will be well beyond the grasp of anyone but the world's greatest Tetris ninjas, seeing as anything beyond level 15 is way too fast for us. With Tetrominos instantly dropping, you don't even have time to blink before that L piece has perched itself in the most awkward place possible - and probably had a few more pieces latch next to it. It's seriously superhuman stuff - but it also means you can never be a true Tetris master until you've beaten it.
The trophies are similarly disappointing. From playing 30 games with friends (which should be easy if you have two controllers), to dropping 80 Tetrominos per minute, finishing Sprint mode in under 60 seconds, or clearing 30 lines a minute (which should be easy if you have four hands and eyes), there's a decent spread here, but again, perhaps slightly too many that are only really going to be achievable by the Tetris elite, rather than the everyman.
Still, at a budget price, and with plentiful multiplayer options - including the much appreciated support for local multiplayer - and co-op play - Tetris Ultimate is nothing to be sniffed at. If you're a Tetris fiend like certain members of the Everybody Plays staff, you'll certainly get your money's worth here, whether you're playing in multiplayer, or on your own - and let's face it. If you're looking for a game to eat up a few short minutes (which soon becomes half an hour, which soon becomes several hours), there's none more pick up and play, and few with more "one more go" appeal than Tetris.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4