Tetris, designed and released by comrade Alexey Pajitnov in 1984, has gone on to be one of the most enduring puzzle games ever made. It's simple design (make a row of blocks from one side of the screen to the other) and ever increasing challenge gives it that ideal combination of "easy to understand" and "hard to master", letting anyone play it but only allowing the truly gifted to reach the upper echelons.
It was the Game Boy's killer app in 1989, and it should come as no great surprise that there's a brand new version of it in 2012. Just the latest of many, in fact, and you can play the "line blocks up" title on pretty much any gaming device ever released. So what makes Tetris for iPad, the latest version of the game for the platform, worthy of your attention?
For a start, the presentation is top notch. It's quite different to any other version of the game we've seen, with a killer neo-retro aesthetic that keeps things to an almost minimalist level, while still oozing polish from every pixel. If there was ever any proof necessary that it's not the pixels that count, and that it's what you do with them, Tetris for iPad should top the list.
The modes, while few in number, are also solid and - without exception - deliver a compelling, block-laden experience. Of particular note is the new "one touch" mode which, while a bit confusing at first, is - in effect - actually an amazingly simple control system that is ideally suited to touch-based input. The way it works is straightforward: A block appears at the top and a number of shadow versions of that piece appear at the bottom. Simply tap one of them to make the block appear there, or click the "cycle" button to show some more random options to choose from.
Another fun mode is Galaxy, where a number of puzzles (grouped into planets) await. The goal here is to clear some pre-placed "garbage" blocks, using as few Tetriminos (the groups of blocks that fall from the top of the screen) as possible.
Galaxy mode also packs a number of powerups, allowing you to significantly alter the situation in your favour - if you can afford it. This is where things get interesting. The powerups definitely help, but to use them you need to spend in-game currency. You can earn this stuff by playing the game, of course, but there's also a shop that allows people with access to a suitably charted-up credit card to spend up to a hundred bucks at a time on the pretend money.
How you feel about virtual currency and the exchange of real money for it is, of course, up to you. From a game balancing (and, therefore, reviewing) respect, however, it doesn't seem to be deeply impactful. You earn the stuff at a reasonable rate and players who are averse to this (extremely modern) carry-on can happily give it a miss without feeling too hard done by. Without the skill to tackle the top-end of the leaderboards, however, it's hard to be certain how big a deal it will be if you're trying to compete with your friends...
The normal controls are extremely good, only suffering when things started getting fast and we found ourselves making small movements instead of the larger gestures we'd be using earlier. Then, it would occasionally mistake a swipe for a tap (which rotates the block, instead of slamming it down into the stack), which is particularly frustrating when the pressure is on. Once we realized that, however, and retrained ourselves to use larger gestures, it almost never mistook one intended move for another. Very nice.
The value proposition is pretty good, if not amazing. The game sells for $9.99 on iTunes in NZ, which is perfectly reasonable and certainly an amount of money that this quality of game can fairly charge. Sale of the century? Not really, not where you can get a lot of amazing games for free (especially given the game has an in-game real-money shop), but if you like Tetris, it's hardly going to break the bank either.
Ultimately, this is the best touch-based version of Tetris you can get. No, you won't be able to get to the levels of the guy in that video we linked back in the first paragraph without actual buttons, but that's not why you're here. If you want to play Tetris on your iPad, and can justify dropping a tenner on it, you won't be disappointed.