Improving on a classic is never easy. It always involves risk as there's a strong possibility you'll destroy what made the original so great. So how do you make something already brilliant even better? How do you offer something new without ruining the magic?
We won't pretend to have the answer, but we can tell you this: ways to improve on a classic do not include sticking it in an aquarium and adding a couple of fish. And then trying to sell people extra fish, even though you've already charged them GBP 6.80 for a game that's more than 20 years old. Welcome to the rubbishy underwater world of Tetris Splash.
The gameplay is the same, at least in theory. Coloured blocks drop down from the top of the screen and you re-orientate and position them to form lines. Each time you form a complete line it disappears. The more lines you clear, the faster the blocks fall, until it all becomes impossibly frantic and the screen fills up with blocks entirely, and it's game over, and you have another go even though you really ought to be doing something else like going to bed or work or a funeral.
The twist introduced by Tetris Splash is that all this happens against an aquatic background. There are a range of unexciting and expensive options to choose from. You can have salt or fresh water in your tank, for example. You can change the items in it, at a cost of 150 Microsoft points per decor bundle.
We tried out the scuba bundle, which includes a pair of fins, a set of air tanks and a bit of seaweed. And nothing else. You can choose to have all three items in your tank, or any combination of two, or just one. Thanks.
Pack it in
You can only have a certain number of fish in your tank at any one time, and must unlock extra slots for them by completing Achievements. Then you must pay 50 points per fish pack. There are nine in total, and five decor packs. If you want absolutely everything it will cost you 1200 points. Adding the 800 points for the basic game makes a total of 2000 points, the equivalent of GBP 17. For Tetris with fish.
To make things even worse the virtual aquarium looks rubbish. The lighting's terrible, the fish are poorly drawn and badly animated. Put Finding Nemo on to compare and you'll think you're watching a documentary. It's hard to see why you'd ever want to use the stupid screensaver option.
You can sort of see the logic of the aquatic theme, though. It's a popular one in casual gaming, perhaps because there is something relaxing about water and fishies. But why not motivate players by rewarding them with extra fish for high scores, rather than just slots? Are virtual fish really that costly to produce? And why are there no sharks?
All this wouldn't matter so much if the game was as fun to play as it's always been, but it's not. It's business as usual for the first few levels, but then things start speeding up at an astonishingly rapid pace and it's all over far too quickly, even if you're a Tetris veteran.
You have to play with a ghost block at the bottom of the screen, at least until you've attained five Achievements and thereby "won" the option to turn it off. Players used to Tetris without the ghost block are likely to find this confusing and irritating.
Name that tuna
Then there's the music. They've taken the manic Russian folk theme and turned it into plinky lift muzak. "BOM, bombomBOM, bombomBOM, bomBOMBOM" becomes "Beeow, badapbapbeeow, badapbapbeow, ba-da-da-daa..." It's actually sort of soothing once you're over the shock, but then so is downing meths.
You might be prepared to overlook the aquarium thing, ignore the ridiculous downloadable content and cough up your 800 points for the sake of Tetris Splash's multiplayer modes. Don't.
Local multiplayer is for up to four players but suffers from the same pace problem as the single-player mode, as does the online multiplayer. It lets you compete in teams or individually against up to five other players, with their Tetris screens shown in miniature next to yours. Clearing lines makes them appear as concrete blocks on your opponents' screens.
It's fun - this is Tetris, after all. But there are irritating features to the setup, such as the fact that if you join a match which has already started you have to wait until it's finished and a new one begins. This doesn't usually take very long, but it's still annoying.
So the online mode isn't enough to save Tetris Splash, and the stupid fish market certainly isn't. It is still Tetris, and Tetris is still brilliant, but there are better updates out there - read our Tetris DS review for one example.
Tetris Splash gets one point for being Tetris, one point for at least having an online mode and one point for being relatively cheap (assuming you don't bother with the DLC). But it loses points for ugly background graphics, the obligatory ghost block, the bad pacing, the expensive add-ons, the limited multiplayer options and having no sharks. If you're in need of a fix buy Tetris DS or play one of the free versions widely available on the Internet. Tetris Splash should be consigned to a watery grave.
3 / 10