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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

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Play TV Legends Tetris

Direct-to-TV Tetris using controllers adorned with Tetris blocks. Geeky genius or a tacky cash-in? Er, well...

10:30pm. A simple test.

Ring ring. Ring ring. Ring ring.


"Hi Mum, it's Tom."

"Thomas! How are you?"

"Not too bad. Not too bad. Mum - what's Tetris?"

[Pause.] "It's... a game, isn't it? I think Jan used to play it."

"Do you know what it involved?"

"Errrm, I think it was to do with squares... Is this for a--"

"Close enough. Love to the cats. G'night."

All right so in reality we then had a chat about how my Nanna's Internet was broken again and how I should call her to find out what the problem is and should she upgrade to this broadband thingy because it doesn't look that much more expensive and she's curious about whether it's worth it or not so if I give her a call that'd be wonderful and have I fixed her email yet by the way. But the relevant aspect of all this is that even my mother is aware of Tetris. Which is frankly incredible.

Wonder if Nanna's heard of it...

Ring ri-- No. Better not. It wasn't that clever an intro anyway.

But then there isn't much to say about this Radica-made Tetris-which-plugs-directly-into-the-TV-and-is-housed-in-a-controller-decorated-with-Tetris-shaped-blocks device beyond the fact that it consists of five different versions of Tetris (unspoilt, Garbage, Timed, Hot Line and Battle), that it's pretty faithful in all the key aesthetic and behavioural ways, and that the controllers are a bit crap.

Tetris is a wonderful thing, of course. It's hard to believe that anybody reading this doesn't already know how it works. It's only my innate sense of self-doubt (if I think everybody knows something already, it can't be true!) that has me acknowledging that you clear falling blocks off a rectangular play area by slotting them into horizontal lines. It was and is just right. The way the blocks move, the way you can nudge them into gaps, the rotation, the four-longs, the difficulty curve, the look of it, the music - oh the music! - and even the silly end sequence with a rocket.

Naturally though there are plenty of different ways to play Tetris that don't cost £25 from Amazon. You probably own at least one. You could find a working version of it on the Internet quicker than most people could cough "Google". Presumably the attraction here is meant to be the multiplayer mode (again, not exactly hard to replicate for zero money), the variations and the fact that the game is packaged in a pair of controllers moulded with Tetris shapes on them and a wiggly square control stick on top.

It was attractive enough for me to buy one. But it was probably money poorly spent. Unlike the Commodore 64 emulator stuffed in a plastic joystick Kristan bought earlier this month, the Tetris TV majig is awkward to control - thanks to too much inertia from the four-way directional stick, which doesn't click satisfyingly in any direction either, and a similar level of inconsistency from the swivel-to-rotate control - and just doesn't feel like something you ought to be playing on a TV anyway. Fittingly, and unlike a C64, Tetris is something that really ought to be held close to the heart - in a handheld.

It's still fairly entertaining for a while though. Garbage is a tricky but rewarding experience on the higher difficulty levels, and while Hot Line and Timed always struck me as a bit boring, Battle is wonderfully addictive and regular Tetris is and always will be something that occupies your head and meets no resistance.

But whilst tolerable the control deficiencies are really unforgivable. On top of that there isn't even a Pause button, and it took me a good five minutes to realise that pressing "Start" involved clicking in the square stick and shifting it down at the same time. Which is about as intuitive as bricklaying with a Howitzer. Admittedly I was probably a bit naive to think this was anything more than a gimmicky mass-market toy built around a name that clearly most people (my mother included) have heard about. But with a bit more fine-tuning it could have been equally valid to people who grew up loving Tetris and fancied revisiting it in a manner befitting a true geek.

As it is, the Tetris TV toy is far better left alone. Find a GB monochrome version on eBay, or buy the Xbox Live Tetris Worlds version for virtually nothing. There are lots of far better options. Hence the score; in no way reflective of the quality of the game itself, which is beyond legendary, but rather a reaction to the bare-faced cheek of demanding £25 for an age-old puzzler that hasn't even been implemented properly - packaged in a couple of sticks whose build quality isn't even all that commendable. Frankly, the only way we'd be inclined to request one of these would be if Mum agreed to make it a birthday pressie. And that's hardly likely since we've already asked for a bunch of Metal Gear Solid action figures.


Play TV Legends Tetris hasn't been picked up for European distribution yet, but you can get hold of one from Amazon UK here if you're so inclined. And if you are so inclined, we suggest rotating yourself until you're not any more...

3 / 10