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EA Mobile talks Tetris Pop

Hands on with its new mobile take on the classic puzzler
Product: Tetris Pop | Publisher: EA Mobile | Format: Mobile | Genre: Puzzle
Tetris Pop Mobile, thumbnail 1
There are several reasons to be cynical about a new spin on Tetris, not least the examples of Tetris Mania and Tetris Blockout, which both just made you want to play the original.

However, EA Mobile could be onto a winner with its newie Tetris Pop. Unveiled at E3 last week, it's the latest attempt to mess with the formula, this time by splitting it into 17 mini-games.

There's a direct parallel with what Namco did last year in Namco Arcade Golf, actually, which included a bunch of mini-games based on Pac-Man, Galaxian and Dig Dug.

"It's targeting what someone described to me as the super casual audience," explains Chris Gibbs, executive producer at EA Mobile.

"How do we make Tetris even more appealing and accessible for an even broader range of people than have already played it on mobile? Essentially, we've taken the Tetris control mechanic that everybody knows, and turned it into lots of little bitesize challenges."

Here are details on some of the ones I played during a pre-E3 hands-on. Every challenge is played against the clock, with Vanilla being pure Tetris - make a certain number of lines within the time limit.

Stacker has you trying to get three 'minos' (individual blocks) on top of special blocks to crush them, Touchdown sees you making lines around grey blocks to reach the bottom, while Limbo has a lowering line at the top of the screen, which you must keep your blocks below.

Detonator has you trying to connect a bomb and a switch across the screen, while Circuit offers a similar challenge, complicated by the need to use blocks of a certain colour.

Split sees you trying to make lines across the screen by dropping pieces alternately in each half, while Ball has, yes, a bouncing ball that your pieces have to avoid on the way down (like Qix meets Tetris, retro fans...)

Wrapped around all of this is an impressive structure of worlds, star ratings and achievements (or 'Feats' as they're known here) to provide long-term depth.

"We've taken the Mario sort of approach with world unlocks and stars," explains Gibbs. "Graphically, every world has its own animated theme, like underwater or volcano. We've also taken the music from the original GBA Tetris, but that theme song gets reintroduced in different styles like hip-hop and drum'n'bass."

Rinsin'! Or something.

The star ratings are based on how quickly you finish each level, with you being marked out of five. Within that are the feats - while playing, I saw one in a Stacker level called 'Double Crush', awarded if you crush two different blocks with the same minos.

"The way you are scored and rewarded is actually quite deep," says Gibbs. "It encourages hardcore players to keep playing in order to beat it, and beat their best performances."

Another neat feature is the Pop Chrono mode, which lets you set a time (10 minutes, say) and then be served up a random mix of the mini-games with that total time limit.

Good for bus or tube play, although some kind of 'oh, hang on, my central line train has screeched to a halt in a tunnel again, can you add 20 minutes?' feature would be good for us Londoners...

Meanwhile, there's also a Pop Mix mode that lets you choose which mini-games you like, and have them thrown at you one after another.

I'll be honest: I haven't been excited about any new Tetris mobile games for a long time, up to and including the touchscreen-enabled iPhone version. The original is still the best, and judging by the UK sales charts, a lot of mobile gamers agree.

But having spent 15 minutes or so glued to Tetris Pop, this is different. It could finally be the variant that'll make those millions of Tetris players consider shelling out another fiver.

And for those of you who think you're too hardcore to play Tetris, the star ratings, time limits and feats could suck you in all over again.

The game is out soon, anyway, so we'll see if it catches on. "When you think about how much is in there, it's pretty cool," beams Gibbs. Here's hoping gamers agree.

Reviewer photo
Stuart Dredge 22 July 2008
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