Since its debut on the PC in the mid-'80s, Tetris has appeared on countless digital devices, from handhelds and cell phones to consoles and calculators. Yet in the four years since the launch of the PlayStation 3, the system has never played host to the most famous puzzle game in video game history. Well, weep no more PS3 owners, because this crisp new version of Tetris delivers the classic block-maneuvering action to the PlayStation Network in fine form. There are many variants that challenge your skills in creative ways and force you to adapt your time-tested line-clearing tactics, and every variant can be played with up to four players locally. Online modes both competitive and cooperative offer further variety and challenge, bolstered by a ranking system and online leaderboards. This isn't the definitive version of Tetris that it could have been, due to some minor flaws and notable omissions, but it's still a high-quality package that earns its place among the best Tetris incarnations.
The presentation puts the emphasis right where it should be: on the pieces. All the pieces are brightly colored and stand out starkly against the dark background. The controls respond with alacrity, letting you be as quick and nimble as your fingers allow. Surrounding the matrix are small boxes that display pertinent information, including your current score and the top score from your friends list (which may be yours!), as well as the piece you have held in reserve and the next piece to enter the matrix. These last two windows are present in every variant, and with no option to turn them off, those who prefer to take the next piece as it comes just have to studiously ignore the preview. You can determine whether or not you want to see a silhouette that shows where your current piece will fall, but that's about it in terms of gameplay customization. Thankfully, there are sliders for the audio elements. The array of clicks that sound off when you move, rotate, and land pieces can be highly annoying at the default level, but a simple visit to the options screen can lower them to an unobstrusive, if not quite pleasing, volume.
All of this allows you to experience the thrills of Tetris unimpeded. Stacking pieces and clearing lines as the pieces fall faster and faster is still an addictive challenge, and the agony of a missed placement and the ecstasy of a clutch maneuver are as bitter and sweet as they ever were. Striving to earn a high score and go the distance in Marathon mode is an engaging pursuit, but Tetris has more in store for you than the classic experience you have probably had before. Twelve variants challenge you to clear 40 lines under a range of different conditions, some more exotic than others. You may not have much trouble with Gravity, a variant that lets loose blocks fall down into gaps below them rather than hover vexingly in place, but the sideways-shifting matrix in Treadmill is likely to mess with your perception. In addition to changing the way you view the matrix, some variants target specific facets of gameplay. You can keep the descending ceiling in Laser at bay by using hard drops, while Chill is much easier if you keep the matrix as empty as possible so as to prevent your blocks from freezing and becoming tougher to clear. Adapting your Tetris intuition is an engaging challenge, and though some modes lose their novelty appeal more quickly than others, the variant-specific leaderboards and overall game completion percentage provide extra motivation to master each mode.
Each variant can also be played with up to four players locally, and as you might expect, it's a lot of fun to compete with your friends. Unfortunately, Tetris doesn't make the best use of widescreen displays, so when three or four matrices are displayed onscreen, they look smaller than they should. There's a bunch of dead space around the margins of the screen, and though the action certainly isn't too small to enjoy, you can't help but feel that the layout could have made better use of the space. Also, any local players are merely numbered guests, as far as the game is concerned. This means that any great scores you register while playing as a guest won't be recorded in any way, and there's no way to track your progress over an afternoon of competitive local play. This is a disappointing shortcoming, but you can still have leaderboard battles against players who share your console. You can post scores to the online leaderboards from multiple users on the same console using the same copy of the game, providing each user is linked to a free EA online account.
While the indirect competition of leaderboards is all well and good, the satisfaction of clearing lines and sending them directly into your opponent's matrix makes Battle mode a blast. You can compete against up to three other players locally or online (no mixing the two) in these electrifying matches in which your actions have a direct effect on your opponents, and vice versa. Optional power-ups add another strategic element to the mix, making for some of the most dynamic Tetris action available. You can also compete in Timed Battle mode, both locally against friends or online against up to five saved replays. The latter option may seem strange, but you'll never lack for replays to compete against, and they make for some surprisingly good competition once you reach a rank commensurate with your skill level.
Two other multiplayer modes offer yet more twists on familiar formulas. Team Battle is a two-vs.-two affair that works much like Battle mode with one significant twist. At any time, the players can designate whether they are attacking or defending. Lines cleared while attacking go into the opponents' matrices, and lines cleared while defending lessen any accumulated lines your opponents have sent your way. You have to be ready to nimbly switch roles to balance staying alive against pressing the attack, and staying on top of the action is tricky. You can coordinate with your teammate via voice chat to better strategize, and as an added incentive for teamwork, you receive a bonus for lines cleared while you are both in the same battle stance. And for those who prefer to embrace the cooperative side of Tetris, there is now a cooperative side of Tetris. Shared mode lets two players attempt to clear lines in the same matrix. You receive your own pieces and have your own territory, with two overlapping columns in the middle that you share with your teammate. Coordination is key, lest you both endanger yourselves by stacking high and waiting for an I-piece, and judicious use of the piece-swapping ability can help get you out of tight spots.
Though the game is full of great variants and multiplayer options, any new version of Tetris must contend with the weight of history. Over the years features have come and gone, and there are two elements that bear mentioning in addition to the ones already discussed. First, there is no play-until-the-matrix-fills-up mode in this version; every mode has a goal number of lines that you must complete in order to clear the level. Clear the highest level and you win the game. Second, the "infinite spin" has been replaced by the "five-second spin." When a piece lands on a surface, you can still rotate it and slide it around the surface as obstacles permit. In other incarnations of Tetris, you could keep rotating as long as you like, but in this one, your piece locks into place after about five seconds. Some of these changes may be welcomed, while some omissions will be mourned, and it's a shame that this version does not strive for the comprehensiveness that Tetris deserves. Giving players options like hiding the preview window or playing until their fingers fail could have made this the definitive version instead of just another entry.
Yet this entry is packed with plenty of Tetris content to enjoy, so even if you've played the puzzle classic to death on some other platform, there's something to entice you back in this version. From smart variations that play off the core mechanics of the game to a bevy of competitive and cooperative options, there's a lot to enjoy, and the core action is still wonderfully addictive. Though the presentation doesn't take full advantage of the wide screens many people will be playing the game on, and there are some structural oversights, $9.99 is a good price for the countless hours you can spend in the mesmerizing rhythm of Tetris. Unless you're utterly burned out on line-clearing and piece-dropping, it's time to set a high score, brag about it to your dad, then go to sleep and dream of L-pieces while he loses sleep trying to beat you.