Review: Tetris for iPhone

One of the most dangerously addictive puzzle games ever now can be played on the iPhone.

Electronic Arts (EA) has brought one of the most esteemed casual games in history to the iPhone—Tetris. It would make a fine iPhone game, except that it’s plagued with problems that may make it worth waiting until EA comes out with a bug fix.

One of the most dangerously addictive puzzle games ever now can be played on the iPhone—once the bugs are worked out, unfortunately.

Tetris is the original “falling blocks” puzzle game first developed by Russian programmer Alexey Pajitnov in the mid-1980s. Tetris is ubiquitous—it’s been ported to just about every computing system in the intervening years, and you can find it for the Mac and the iPod, so an iPhone version was inevitable.

In Tetris, your goal is to clear the playing field of blocks that descend from the top of the screen. The geometric blocks—called tetrominoes—have different shapes (rectangles, squares, zig-zags, hooks) and they fit together at the bottom of the screen. Creating an entire unbroken row of them will make them disappear and net you points.

Tetris on the iPhone and iPod touch puts the devices’ touch interface to good use—you tap on the screen to rotate pieces, and slide your finger downward to make pieces fall into place faster. It’s colorful and bright, easy to see and fun to play. There are two play modes: Marathon, a non-stop game that keeps ramping up the difficulty, and Magic, which features different special items that help you get through each stage. Some of these, such as bubble wrap (turning the Tetrominoes into bubble wrap you can pop) and a vice grip (letting you “pinch” pieces to get them to fit) are examples of how Tetris has been customized for the iPhone.

Unfortunately, Tetris also has been one of my most trouble-prone iPhone gaming experiences. Frequently when I start up Tetris the iPhone crashes—not an infrequent problem since the iPhone 2.0 software release, but Tetris seems to cause more of a problem than some of the other apps I’ve purchased and installed. I’ve also had game sound cut out mysteriously for no reason. When contacted about the instability, EA Mobile said that it was working to resolve the issue, and that a Tetris update was in the works.

EA Mobile’s support site is lacking, too. You have to create an account on EA’s site to even log in for basic assistance, and there’s no prepared troubleshooting help at all for iPhone users. You can submit a request for help, but when I did so, the iPhone was absent from EA’s list of supported devices.

Tetris would absolutely be worth $10 if it didn’t crash the iPhone, act up, and have a basically non-existent support Web site.

I can’t recommend Tetris until EA cleans up its act. That’s a shame, because it’s a fun game that’s well executed and it would make a great iPhone program.

Tetris is compatible with any iPhone or iPod touch running the iPhone 2.0 software update.

[Senior editor Peter Cohen writes the Game Room column.]

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