Since it’s a game that is enjoyed by most anyone from every walk of life, Tetris has become something that cannot seemingly be screwed up - the formula is simple, time-tested, and proven to result in countless hours of playtime. Unfortunately, Tetris Evolution muddles the tetromino-filled waters and puts a black eye on the name due to its lack of innovation, unresponsive controls, mostly poor music, and bloated game design that seems to revolve more around offering up ‘dazzling’ backgrounds and gameplay areas than a satisfying experience to the player.
Given how fool-proof Tetris is, I’m surprised at how mediocre this rendition turned out to be. Responsive controls are a standard feature in all Tetris ports, and yet here, we’re left with consistently unresponsive controls that change the feel of the game. It doesn’t cripple the game, but it does hamper it. This problem is sometimes made even worse when the game is played on Xbox Live, as lag delays the reaction even more. The only upside to this is that it does force you to become a better player as you have to play smarter since you have less time to react to a mistake, but the core control problem shouldn’t exist to begin with.
Unlike the fairly recent Tetris DS, Tetris Evolution doesn’t try any radically new modes to add some spice to the classic gameplay - all it does is add little twists to the core marathon-styled gameplay in an effort to keep it fresh. Fortunately, these twists are done very well, with the “race” option (eliminating a certain amount of lines as quickly as possible) being my favorite. The “cascade” mode built around falling pieces clearing existing lines is also a blast, as is the “score” mode that requires you to achieve a certain score swiftly. A few other modes of play are available, but I didn’t enjoy either the “hotline”, “go low”, or “eraser” modes as much as the other ones. They’re fine for when I want to mix up my regular Tetris playing routine, but I didn’t find them to be anything special.
When lag isn’t an issue, Xbox Live play can be incredibly addictive. Four players can play at once time, and like Tetris DS, I found the online game to be more enjoyable than the offline one. All of the 8 single-player modes are playable online, although the tried-and-true marathon mode seems to be the online favorite. I found that all of the modes translated well to Live, but as with the single player option, marathon mode is the most enjoyable. It turns into a major war of attrition when you have four people playing, since you have to outlast everyone to win. To my pleasant surprise, I didn’t run into anyone who was too upset that they lost - it seems like everyone is just playing to enjoy themselves, and rematches were frequent, with droppers being non-existent.
Visually, Tetris Evolution provides a both a simple and extravagant appearance. The tetromino-dropping playing field can either look very simple or fancy depending on your selections, while its backgrounds can either be photo or video backdrops that can unfortunately get in the way. Unlike Tetris DS, which also featured motion in the background, Evolution’s playing field has a transparent-black surface to it, leading to the colors of the backgrounds sometimes bleeding together with the tetrominos and making it impossible to accurately see just where you should place your piece.
For example, the “Buildings” background shifts to a night-time image after you reach a certain level, leading to the dark blue in its sky to blend in with the dark blue tetromino pieces. Unfortunately, despite having over a dozen video and photo options available (and even more available as XBLA downloads), none of them are simplistic - they’re either scenic or otherwise artistic, and while they might be beautiful, I don’t really think many of them (like the optional pet shop option) are all that fitting for a Tetris game.
I found them to be more distracting than anything else, and the lack of even a simple black background is particularly bothersome since it would eliminate the issue of background colors blending in with tetrominos. The backgrounds came across to me as if someone decided they should just slap a bunch of desktop wallpapers and screensavers onto a Tetris game with no regard to how well they actually fit the game or how they could interfere with play. They’re so basic that they give the game as a whole a very soul-less, sterile look.
The sterile visuals fit the game’s musical selection though, which consists of jazz music befitting a hospital waiting room, a lot of generic rock, and a revamped version of the Russian anthem that has become synonymous with Tetris over the years. When that song plays, I have no qualms whatsoever about the music as it’s a perfectly acceptable modernization of a classic tune - everything else has me quickly switching over to a custom soundtrack for salvation. Most of the sound effects used in Evolution are fine, with some, like the loud and joyous ditty that plays when you get a “tetris” being uplifting.
Unfortunately, the developers saw fit to add in very annoying bleeps when you move side to side, and an unbelievably annoying grinding noise whenever you are on the edges of the playing field and hit the direction of the edge you’re on (IE - you’re on the left-most side of the screen and hit left on the d-pad). I think they were trying to indicate that you’re making a mistake, which is fine, but they did it in the most annoying way humanly possible. I found myself turning down the sound effect volume just to avoid having to hear that , which I rarely have to do.
Despite the A/V shortcomings, I’ve got to give the developers props for making the game so user-customizable. You can choose which songs play when, whether or not just the soundtrack for a particular background plays, whether or not you want a video or photographic background, which theme you want for it, whether or not you’d like the photos to be in a slideshow, what you’d like to see surround the playing field (like a tree, a monster, a blue tuft of fur), and you can even select one of dozens of little avatars to represent you in this game. It’s a shame that they didn’t include more simple-looking options for people who just want to play a simple game of Tetris without a bunch of distracting elements, as they end up doing more harm than good.
While it ends up being a disappointing game due to its bloated backdrops, poor music, and control problems, Tetris Evolution does a fine job at providing players with an enjoyable, basic game of Tetris on the 360. I think it would have been better suited as an XBLA download; the developers would probably would have made it a better overall game since they wouldn’t have been able to cram so many needless background videos and other superfluous gimmicks onto the disc that end up taking away from the experience. As a result of that and its other issues, I can only recommend Tetris Evolution to those who absolutely want a Tetris game on the 360 right now. Others would be wise to just wait for a newer, better-executed version of the classic to hit the system.