Well, it's not intelligent design.
One of the coolest things about the original Tetris was that it was truly Soviet. What with those turnip-shaped towers that might have been the Kremlin and the Slavic music that was so catchy that it had to be a Communist plot, Tetris gave us cold war kids a little taste of what those rascally ruskies were up to.
Turns out they were up to stacking little colored blocks like nuclear stockpiles. We may have hit the CCCP with McDonald’s and Rocky, but they had already launched a full assault on our hearts and minds in the shape of hypnotic, colored squares. Sure, the Soviet Union may have folded, but only because they got too many s-shaped blocks while waiting for that elusive I-block.
We've got nothing against our old Communist enemies. Hell, Game Revolution, in one of our many inspired “let’s-get-put-on-a-government-watchlist” ideas, is founded on Stalinist principles. We may only get two cups of soup a day and have to wear left shoes on both feet, but it’s a small price to pay for having an awesome color scheme.
But Tetris Evolution, on the other hand, is like a glasnost-inspired Yankee plot to destroy the unraveling fabric of all that was good about Tetris. Gone are the turnip towers. Gone is the Soviet theme. Gone is any sense of refreshing newness. And reprised is that Slavic music which is still catchy, but now somehow cheap and tawdry.
Here is what you need to know about Tetris Evolution. The game is pretty much exactly the same as its ancient socialist forbear, but now it’s dressed up in capitalist clothes that don’t match or even fit. The game fails for the same reasons as the Soviet Union, it just couldn’t keep up with the times. At least the Soviet Union knew when to quit.
For those of you young’ns who don’t remember the finer points of air-raid drills, or for whom the cry “Wolverines!” only means you live in Michigan - Tetris was the granddaddy of all those puzzle-shape gravity games, like Lumines or Jewel Quest, popular today. Geometrical arrangements of colored blocks descend from the top of the screen and the player must rotate and place them to form solid horizontal lines across the bottom. It’s sort of like packing for a long trip. . . to a brick convention.
In Evolution, the main game mode, now called “marathon” is back. But the game also offers several other, less-fun, modes such as “race,” in which you try to erase a certain number of lines in the quickest time possible, or “ultima,” in which you try to erase as many lines as possible in a set time. These modes are as varied and interesting as Soviet fashion.
The game also promises “new, customizable backgrounds and music.” What it doesn’t tell you is that the backgrounds suck and the music is worse. You can choose between weak generic screen-saver background pictures, like slideshows of fishes or waves. Or you can choose the radical “video” option which is a slideshow with some movement. What you can’t do, though, is replicate the awesome Soviet theme and Kremlin towers from the first game. You know the crappy screen savers that school secretaries - ones who think that Cathy is the epitome of satiric humor - put on their computers? The ones with baby zoo animals or pictures of beaches? Yeah, that’s pretty much the new “evolved” look of Tetris.
And the music only qualifies as such under the most liberal of definitions. The original theme is reprised, but now it lapses into a weird reggae-feel that would make any good comrade choke on his vodka. The rest of the music options are horrendous canned licks probably composed by that one dude you know who built a studio in his basement to make up for his lack of musical taste.
The music is so bad that it deserves an extra paragraph. This one. There are fifteen tracks, all of them bad. Even worse, the tracks are wildly different in genre from one another. One track is horrible reggae, another track is some abysmal blues-rock interpretation, yet another is a spacy (and actually a little scary) fake-digeridoo soundscape that recreates perfectly your last paranoid acid trip to hell.
If there is a worst part to all of this, it is this: for all the extensive and confusing “customization” options, there seems to be no way to get the cheesy backgrounds or the horrifying music to cycle during gameplay. Nope, you set a background and a mind-numbing loop of music, and are forced to live with it until your game is over. It’s like russian roulette, only played with a fully-loaded gun.
There are two, very negligible, changes in the actual gameplay. For one, you can “save” a brick by putting it in a bank. When you need it, you hit the trigger and swap it with your current brick. The other change is that you can see, in outline, how your brick will fit at the bottom of the screen before it gets there. Both changes make the game easier, but not any more fun.
The second change especially seems to alter the feel of the game substantially. You no longer look at the bricks as they descend, but only at their outline at the bottom of the screen. The falling brick is now just a timer - the outline brick is much more important.
Perhaps the big draw for Evolution is in its multiplayer options. You can play on the same screen with up to four other players, either on the same console or online. Sound fun?
Unfortunately, it's not because, in the versus mode, there is no interaction between what happens on your screen and what happens on your opponent’s screen. You might as well be playing at two different times in two different countries. There’s no change in strategy at all; it’s like playing with yourself in a room full of other people playing with themselves. [Editor's Note: I am not linking that up.]
Another multiplayer mode tries to make Tetris cooperative by alternating control of the blocks. It’s awkward and difficult and completely misses the rhythm of the game.
Tetris Evolution is poorly conceived and squarer than its own bricks. Although it works, it seriously mucks up the formula of its ancestor. The stale gameplay needed to be updated, but wasn’t touched. The graphics and music got updated, but updated with a patch of Vomitous 2.0. In short, everything that Evolution changes from the original Tetris is a bad idea that makes the game worse. That this game sells for $30 is a joke, there are much better games for cheaper on Xbox Live Arcade.