When a new Tetris game comes out, I know to expect a few common modes. Marathon and Cascade, and a few new ones as well as some sort of feature that brings out the individuality of its platform. Tetris DS offered new Nintendo-flavored gameplay, some touch-based control, and WiFi multiplayer. Tetris Worlds on the Xbox introduced Xbox Live gameplay. Tetris Evolution, the $29.99 Xbox 360 Tetris title, doesn't actually offer a lot of new stuff. Is it still worth picking up?
Here you'll find eight single-player game modes. Familiar modes like Marathon, Cascade, and Score make a repeat appearance. There are also a few styles I'd never heard of. The first was Ultra-you race against the clock, clearing lines and scoring as many points as possible in the said amount of time. There's Race, which I found to be particularly addictive in my quest to earn Achievement points-you set out to clear 10, 25, or 40 lines as quickly as possible. Points don't matter in this gameplay mode, so setting up huge line clears isn't as necessary-it's all about quick drops and speedy fingers. Hotline and Eraser are quite similar-there are highlighted lines on the board that must be cleared to earn points. The latter ends only when the designated lines are eliminated. Go Low, the final option, distributes points based on the height of the block that clears a line. The goal is to keep the blocks from rising too far above the bottom of the matrix.
All of the gameplay modes are fun to play. For God's sake, it's Tetris! I found myself nonchalantly popping in the game, expecting to play a few rounds and then having to peel my wireless controller out of my hands to go about my normal life. The addictive gameplay accompanied by addictive Achievement collection accompanied by addictive Xbox Live gameplay-well, that's gaming crack if I've ever seen it. Still, Tetris Evolution falls short of being one of the better Tetris games for one sole reason: you have to play it with an Xbox 360 controller. The Xbox 360 controller, which I find ideal for sports games and shooters, is hardly favorable for any sort of 2D experience. The analog stick just doesn't work well for a Tetris game, and the finicky directional pad will work against you from time to time. You will occasionally try to move a falling piece around the board and accidentally just slightly touch the directional pad in an upward direction, sending the piece hard-dropping to the bottom of the board. It's annoying, it causes a lot of gaps, and it can even ruin your round of Tetris. Clearly this controller just doesn't work for the game as well as others do. Still, that's hardly the game's fault-after all, Microsoft called for the directional pad design, not THQ or Mass Media.
Multiplayer (same-screen or Xbox Live) is a blast, but that's to be expected. It's unfortunate, though, that only four players are supported in any given game mode. After all, Tetris DS allowed 10 players to connect wirelessly and clear lines together. The three modes of play in multiplayer matches are Versus (clear lines to plug up the bottom of your opponent's matrix), Hotseat (cooperative Tetris, where players alternatively control pieces as they fall), and Independent (non-competitive play). Versus is obviously the standard Xbox Live mode of play, but I thought Hotseat was an interesting idea-clearing lines back and forth with a friend is an interesting and different concept. One of the perks in Tetris Evolution is the customizable icons, skins, and backgrounds-the icons and skins appear when you play on Xbox Live and allow you to show a bit of your personality, but the backgrounds, I felt, were just really distracting. Fortunately they can be set to still or slideshow settings rather than full-motion video, but truthfully I'd have almost preferred a static or black background.
Tetris Evolution is mostly a no-frills Tetris compilation. It is offered at the low price of $29.99, which I think is pretty fair for a totally-capable Xbox Live-enhanced, Achievement-loaded Xbox 360 game. Tetris fans will enjoy Xbox Live multiplayer and familiar modes in high definition, and newcomers-well, if Tetris newcomers really exist-will enjoy the nice selection of different gameplay styles. Still, I must warn any player of the finicky Xbox 360 controls; they can definitely hamper the otherwise addictive and fun experience and turn it into a frustrating one.