EA is about to launch Tetris Blitz, a new version of the classic block-falling puzzler, with a host of new features. Primarily, it’s now fitted with a two-minute time limit: the idea is to get the highest score possible by place as many falling blocks as you can within the allotted time. While the old Tetris made you play until you died, this one won’t let you die if your blocks reach the top, the final few rows disappear. All you’re competing on is score.
The idea, of course, comes from Popcap’s Blitz series of Facebook games which sought to condense the experience of ‘match-three’ puzzlers like Bejeweled and Zuma into coffee break-sized nuggets of satisfying gameplay.
It’s all about creating an experience that befits the playtime of busy modern social networkers who just want something quick to play when they’re on a bus, or the toilet. It’s a pretty successful recipe.
At its peak, Bejeweled Blitz had around 10 million monthly active users on Facebook, and combining the Blitz framework with the Tetris brand is a massive (I can’t believe I’m about to write this) no-brainer for EA.
But it also, let’s face it, shatters the spirit of Tetris. Created by Russian programmer Alexey Pajitnov in 1984, this pitiless block-dropping puzzler (the original block dropping puzzler) is really a perfect game pure, easy to understand, but also enormously deep and compelling.
And like all the best arcade games it leads you toward inevitable death, however good you are, however lucky, the blocks will win.
How neat, how... perfect. Because all good experiences end this way.
You can’t die in Tetris Blitz. You get two minutes. That’s it. The game helps you by suggesting where you can place blocks just as Bejeweled lets you know which shapes to move if you have the temerity to ponder on it for too long.
There are Finishers, special moves that let you end a round with an explosive point-multiplying effect. And of course, as this is a free title, you can buy power-ups with real money.
I get it, I really do get it. But I also worry about it. Tetris has been reinvented dozens of times, of course; it is one of the great cash cows of the games industry.
It’s sold over 125 million copies on countless platforms. Now it is just another franchise to be gilded with modern gaming mechanics.
Where will it lead? Pac-Man with in-game payments for fruit or extra power pills? Space Invaders where you hit a button to re-build your force fields? Defender with smart bombs available at one pound a time?
I don’t want to whinge on about microtransactions they’re an inevitability in an era where no one wants to pay for anything upfront.
The games industry has learned form the intransigence of its ruined friends in movies and music. If people don’t want to pay, don’t make them, but be sure to make payment available when they’re already onboard.
No this is about something else. Something about what constitutes a game and the nature of challenge.
Sometimes people make awkward comparisons between the arcade model of rinsing players of their coins and the freemium model. Is a coin-op ‘continue’ a micro-transaction? Kind of. But the philosophy is somewhat different because the terms never change.
And it’s not even about that. It’s about Tetris and the hoops it must now jump through to speak to players.
It is about the business of nostalgia.
It is about remembering how perfect that game was. People playing for hours and then closing their eyes and seeing falling blocks. No one closes their eyes and sees paid-for power-ups.
— Guardian News & Media Ltd