Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Tetris Online
Release Date: October 3, 2007
Tetris has been around since the dawn of gaming, and it's even older than quite a few gamers. It was designed by a Russian programmer in 1985 and has sold on virtually every gaming platform ever since. It's difficult to fault the game itself, since it's the foundation of almost every block-based puzzler released. It's probably right up there with chess as one of the nerdiest things to master.
It's no surprise that even with the flood of Tetris titles on the market, Xbox Live Arcade, contender for casual gaming champion, released its own version. Titled Tetris Splash and going for 800 Microsoft points ($10), Tetris Splash does little to nothing to make it stand out from the crowd. It has two single-player modes and two online modes, as well as the option for local competition.
The entire concept for Tetris Splash seems to be, "What if we combined a screensaver of an aquarium with Tetris?" Unfortunately, this concept led to one of the most uninspired versions of Tetris to date. At least Tetris Worlds and Tetris DS tried to do something a little different to relieve the monotony of a 20-year-old game, but Splash makes no strides in the series.
For those who have only just started playing video games in the past 10 minutes, Tetris is a game about clearing lines. You're given a rectangle into which different kinds of "tetraminos" are dropped. These shapes have to be lined up so that a single row of blocks is completed, and then that row will disappear. It's as easy as that, but the simplicity and fun of it has really stood the test of time. You simply can't fault Tetris for being what it is.
Tetris Splash's two single-player modes are Marathon and 40-line, which would be more aptly titled "classic" and "score attack," respectively. In marathon games, you simply clear lines as much as you can, and every time you clear 10 lines, you are moved up a level. Higher levels bring higher difficulty in the form of increased drop speed. Once you reach level eight or nine, you really need to have a quick finger (and an even quicker brain) to keep up and stop the blocks from stacking sky-high.
The 40-line gameplay mode is intended for the more strategic Tetris players. The challenge is to get as high a score as you possibly can while clearing only 40 lines from the Tetris grid. In order to understand how to do this, you first need to figure out how the scoring works. Your score is constantly increasing, but it increases more the faster and more efficiently you play the game. You're awarded extra points for dropping blocks faster or instantly. Your score also goes up when you clear a line, but you get a higher score for clearing two, three, or even four lines (a "Tetris") at once. You can also try to combo, which will raise your score even higher. You can pull of a combo simply by clearing a line, and then clearing another line with the next block dropped. Combos require some freaky strategy and planning to pull off, but they're the key to a quick victory in multiplayer or even just top scores in single-player.
Tetris Splash proudly advertises the infinite spin, despite some vocal criticism in the past. Ever since its introduction, it's been maintained that the ability to spin a block that's touching bottom to keep it in play is a game-breaking technique, but Tetris Splash shows the player how to do it in the tutorial. There's even an achievement for clearing lines with it. It's sad to see it used in serious play, but for most gamers, it's a welcome relief from the tension brought on by those quickly dropping blocks. It remains a serious hindrance to multiplayer battles, though, and seeing it used successfully can make the blood boil.
The multiplayer is the same as it was back in the days of the NES. In local two-player matches, you try to out-line your opponent. Lines you score are generally counted against your opponent and added to the bottom of his grid with one block missing. The last man standing wins. The same rules are applied in online matches, only you are playing against up to five other people. Instead of taking them on all at once, you are randomly paired with another person within the match, and the pairing changes quickly and constantly. It gives a pretty good general feel of taking on everyone at once, and keeps any one person from being dominated.
There's also the option of entering a ranked match, where you're matched up with people with similar ranks and try to come out on top and improve your ranking. It's all straight out of Halo 3, only of course much, much brainier.
The quick-play options for player matches in Tetris Splash generally pair you up quickly and efficiently, no matter when you're doing it, which is nice. Tetris is a casual game in some senses of the word, and being able to just pick up and play against anyone is pretty nice. The ranked matches are a bit more sparse, sadly, so it's hard to find people of your own skill level to play against.
The music is pretty good, which is to be expected of a puzzle game. If you don't have good music, you're just pushing blocks around a grid in a fish tank, so it's good to see they still put a little effort into that. The Korobeiniki remix is really happy and a great perk-up whenever it comes on. It's just too bad there's no option to control the music, which is randomized between just a few tracks.
The graphics are, well … tetraminos are still just tetraminos. In the background, you have a constantly active aquarium. You can opt to download some themes and new fish for your aquarium for anywhere from 50-150 Microsoft points. You can also forgo the Tetris while you're at it and just set it to screen-saver mode. Now this is the epitome of gaming!
At the rather steep price of $10, it's hard to recommend tTetris Splash. If you want your aquarium to look nice, the fact that it costs more is an even bigger blow to the game. If it had something, anything new I feel like I could recommend, I'd fully endorse it, but I can't do that here. Only consider Tetris Splash if you have some sort of Tetris collection fetish.