We’ve already seen with the impressive launch-day Minis line-up that they seem to be attracting lots of small independent developers who have been drawn in by the relatively low cost and ease of use of the programme, so it’s also encouraging to see the big guns like EA also throwing its hat in the ring. In EA’s case, they’re leading from the front, with a port of one of the most famous video games of all time, the legendary classic of all classics, Tetris!
If you’re going to re-package a classic then you better make sure you get it right or you’re going to make a lot of people very angry indeed. You need to update and upgrade it without losing the essence of the original, and that can be quite tricky with a game as unfathomably addictive as Tetris. We all know it’s almost impossible to put down once you get started, and everyone’s heard the story of that bloke who got imprisoned for four months for refusing to stop playing Tetris on a flight from Glasgow. We all understood, we’ve all been there, we all know the fatal pull of ‘just one more go…’ If EA’s Minis version doesn’t have that, then you might just as well bin it right away, no matter how pretty and shiny it looks.
Well, we can all breathe a sigh of relief, because this latest version preserves that all-important addictive quality of the Game Boy classic, maintaining the heart and soul of the gameplay, while also giving the visuals a bit of a polish to bring them up to date. There are two main modes on offer, Marathon and Variant.
Marathon mode is essentially the original, unadulterated Tetris, where you must move and rotate falling Tetriminos to form horizontal lines which will then fall away preventing the screen (or Matrix) from filling up (is there anyone out there who doesn’t know this?!). There are 150 lines over 15 levels to clear, but you don’t have to start at Level 1, you can pick whichever level you want to start at. Good luck jumping in cold on some of the faster levels though!
Essentially, the Marathon experience is very much the same as it ever was, with slight variations in the controls of course. For the PSP Minis version, you use the circle and X buttons to rotate the shapes and the d-pad to move them around the screen. It’s all very easy to pick up and very intuitive. The object is, as ever, to clear lines, multiple ones at once if possible, and rack up huge points totals. Clear four lines or more at once to score a Tetris for the most points. Alternatively pull off other special moves such as T-Spins (rotating T-shaped Tetriminos into T-shaped slots) to score extra points. If you want to know exactly how you’ve earned your points, the comprehensive Statistics screen that appears after each game provides a wealth of information, such as most points earned per line and number of T-Spins.
The few mild tweaks for this latest edition of the game are subtle enough to enhance the experience ever so slightly without making things too easy. The ability to press the R or L button to place a Tetrimino on Hold in the top left-hand corner until you figure out where you want to put it is useful, as is the ability to see the next four upcoming Tetriminos on the right of the screen, but you can choose to ignore both of these innovations if you want and continue to play the traditional way. You can even opt to turn off extra visual enhancements such as the Tips or the ghost blocks.
Variant, the other featured mode alongside Marathon, is essentially a challenge mode, where you are tasked with clearing 40 lines on each of 12 different challenges. Three Variants are initially unlocked by default, and you must complete other Variants to unlock the rest. It really is quite tough, and even the very first Variant, Origin, will take some doing!
There are a couple of really neat extra touches that you can select from the main menu, namely Pro Trainer and Highlights. What I like about these two options is that they treat Tetris-playing almost as a serious sport that you can train up and study for, complete with replays of your best moments, kind of like Madden for Tetris fans! Pro Trainer comprises a very handy Glossary which explains some of the most important terms in the game, and Master Replay, which features unlockable demos of expert Tetris players completing different Variants. Highlights mode is where you get a chance to shine as a Tetris expert, with any of the Feats that you have managed to pull off so far displayed.
Overall, this is a very solid version of a classic game. It’s interesting to note that EA have gone for a much more hardcore Tetris experience here than with their iPhone version, which has more of an arcade feel with fun options such as bubble wrap to pop. This Minis version of Tetris is very much a purist’s version, which will be a relief to many but possibly a disappointment to some. It’s also priced a little steeply compared to the other Minis, but maybe Sony will rectify that if enough people complain!