This won't be a long review, after all, everyone knows what Tetris is, right?! Ok, for those of you that've been living under a rock for the past twenty-odd years, it's a puzzle game that sees different shaped blocks (tetriminos) drop down, and by turning and manoeuvring these blocks the player must connect them together to make completed lines that then disappear, turning into points in the process.
Tetris Ultimate doesn't do much to the original formula, at least in the main game, and the features that you've come to know like the back of your hand via a lifetime of playing the game all endure here. There's fifteen different levels with the blocks dropping at increasingly dizzying speeds, you get bonuses for clearing four lines at the same time, for spinning t-blocks to clear lines, and for removing every last block from the board.
Included here are the standard game types that players have come to know so well. There's the Marathon mode, whereby you start on the ever-so-slow level one and go up a difficulty with every ten lines cleared, until level fifteen comes around and there's a constant bombardment of blocks and your reactions need to be razor-sharp.
There's the Sprint mode whereby forty lines need to be cleared as quickly as possible, and a timed Ultra mode where you have three minutes to accumulate as many points as possible. These are both nice to play when you want a blast of Tetris, rather than play a fifteen minute plus Marathon or Endless game that requires prolonged concentration.
There's two competitive modes that can be played against the AI, and these can also be played online against human opposition (Battle has you compete with up to four opponents, Battle Ultimate has special blocks drop that, when cleared, grant players power-ups to either help clear their own lines or heap misery on the competition). We had trouble getting matches with some lengthy waiting times, and with the game only out a few days, this is going to be a worry for those who revel in the competitive side of the game. You can play other variants in multiplayer, not just the Battle modes, sometimes with several players competing, which certainly spices things up. We preferred the 1vs1 games over the larger groups, but no doubt others will prefer the chaos of competing with multiple players (if and when you lose, you can practice while you wait for the next round). There's also an asynchronous mode whereby you can tackle the replays of friends and of those on the leaderboards, so at least you can see how you measure up against others, even if you can't always play live matches.
There's a variety of challenges modes that can be unlocked; nice little alternatives to the more recognised modes. There's Invisible where the tetriminos disappear once they've locked in place, and Rotation Lock where the blocks' orientation is fixed and you have to make do with what drops. Escalation requires you to clear more and more lines as your rise through the levels, while Master sees the tetriminos drop instantly. These modes are unlocked as you earn badges in the main game for completing actions or trying out different features, and from what we've heard they're 3DS exclusive (though time will tell if they remain so, or whether they'll end up on the different versions of the game).
There's leaderboards if you want to measure your skills against those at the very top of the game, and the asynchronous modes are a welcome way of interacting with the best players. There's community features, but they didn't make it much easier to get a game, players can rally around a game type that they like, and while it didn't help us find people to play, perhaps this will grow over time. At the end of the day we were a little underwhelmed by the online side of things.
Visually there's not that much to report. It's Tetris after all, and there's only so much you can do with coloured blocks. We played on the 3DS version (which was nice, it felt like this latest entry in the series kicked off where the whole thing started; on a Nintendo handheld), and you can see your Mii U's face in the game as you play, and personal bests are on screen so you know what you're aiming at.
While the UI and visuals are basic but clean, the accompanying soundtrack didn't really fill us with joy. The iconic theme has been reworked into new, futuristic arrangements, but it wasn't long before we slid the volume right down. To this day we still prefer the original tune, but even that doesn't stand up to constant repetition.
So it's Tetris, that much is clear. But is it Ultimate? Well, it's as ultimate as a Tetris collection can be. The game itself is timeless; a magnificent puzzle game that has resisted the ageing process and remains as addictive and as brilliant as it ever has been. The additional baubles that have been hung on the tree don't really add all that much, but they do make for a comprehensive offering for those wanting a more expansive experience and a bit of variety. When it comes down to it, for fans of the iconic puzzler, Tetris Ultimate is a solid title that delivers exactly what you'd expect it to; blocks that drop and aching thumbs.