Tetris: How EA Eliminated a Legend with One Touch

Some of the first video games have been deemed the greatest of all time, while others were simply given the title “Greatest of their time.” Not everyone will agree that Super Mario was the most revolutionary side-scrolling platform game that they played when they were little. That’s okay, because there are many other classics out there, like Pac-Man. It is still one of the undisputed champions of arcade gaming, whether you play it or not. The same goes for Tetris.

When it came to the iPhone back in 2009, there was nary a question that it would continue the heritage and bring it to its true mobile greatness. One could not argue that the Java version of this game, offered only on the primitive mobile phones of the early 2000s, was one of the best things that happened to it. With another step into the ever-growing market of technology and gaming alike, things can only get better for Alexey Pajitnov’s fine feather in his ushanka. Or can they?

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Welcome to Electronic Arts’ Way of Doing Things

From the very start (after you install the 20.3 MB download) this game has issues showing its true colours, though it doesn’t have trouble doing so later. Stepping into the world of Tetriminos at first seems like it’s going to be exciting, until you get to the main menu. It seems as if EA has added too many modes to the game, but that’s not even the start. When you get down to the social integration that keeps flipping back and forth in the top right corner, things really start to get interesting.

Social networking in Tetris.

Social networking in Tetris.

EA wants you to spread the word about your new favourite game, so it’s hoping you’ll log in with Facebook, or possibly its own network named Origin. If you don’t, the game leaves you in the dust of guest territory with ranking of only you and other nonsense. There’s not even an option to use Game Center, simply because the corporation wants to keep all the traffic on its own servers. That’d be understandable if this were EA’s host device, but it’s not. The game should at least ask your name when you first begin. Again though, nothing is to be found.

When you actually go to start a game, there are three modes to think about: One-Touch, which should be avoided if you enjoy the classic Tetris experience; Marathon, which is the real game in all its glory; and Galaxy, which is just really unnecessary and, of course, uses the One-Touch control scheme (of death).

Hampered by Horrible Controls and Revamped Gameplay

The original Tetris was perfect. Developers did not need to add anything to it so it could improve, nor did they need to make sequels or special editions. With some things, the simplest approach is best, and that’s the case with Tetris. EA thought it understood that, so the developers went to work building a completely different kind of game than the original — than any a person would want to play, really.

One-Touch on the left, level selection on the right.

One-Touch on the left, level selection on the right.

What makes these new controls so bad, you wonder? They take the game and turn it into something completely different. If you’ve ever played Tetris, you know that it’s a game based on falling shaped tiles (Tetriminos) that slowly make their way to the bottom of the screen and lock into place. They only come in a few different shapes and you can move them around to eliminate lines (blocks). With the new One-Touch control scheme in Tetris version 1.1, falling blocks do not exist, and being able to move them around is also not an option.

Instead of the traditional control scheme, EA thought it would be a good idea if everything could be done with one hand. (The developers are wrong with their assumption that the old controls were not operable with just one finger touching the screen. It works fine.) You simply tap where you want the Tetrimino to go and it pops into place. It’s a lot easier than the regular version, and the only thing that makes it even slightly difficult is the rotate button, because the developers put it on the left side of the screen. That’s great for everyone who is left-handed, but there’s no option to change its position.

After you tap here and there, the game, in a sense, plays itself. It’s perfect if you’re too lazy to drag your finger about the screen and then swipe down to drop the Tetrimino. Otherwise, it’s downright awful. EA could have stopped with that mess-up, but then …

Fancy Transitions and Graphics Don’t Help Anything

Someone on the design team thought it was time Tetris got a sparkly redesign, because apparently most of the people who play this enjoy tacky lens flare and Netflix’s Neverland. So, before you start a game, enjoy three seconds of hexagons shimmering round your screen. Then if you press the pause button, you’ll be greeted with a lovely glitch (it’s purposeful) that supposedly looks “cool.”

Taking in some points in Marathon and watching fake lens flare after pausing.

Taking in some points in Marathon and watching fake lens flare after pausing.

Then there’s the loading screen: a minimal bar in the center of the screen that goes to show how someone can waste space on an iPhone’s screen. There could at least be some trivia or tips here, but instead the developers have left it to flying virtual sparks and other decorative claptrap. Regardless of what the designer thought, the entire user interface is a blob of uninspired sparkling apple cider with extra ice and a large aperture.

Marathon is the Only Survivor

When EA thoroughly went through this game and redesigned it, appearances were that there was nothing left. However, the Marathon mode still lives, and it’s healthy in both controls and gameplay. If you can move past the ridiculous graphics and lack of a classic soundtrack, it may very well be your saviour. All the gameplay is as it was in the previous version of the game, so you can still enjoy something in this title.

IPhone 5, Where Art Thou?

The opening screen and main menu — with ads and black bars.

The opening screen and main menu — with ads and black bars.

While you’re still thinking about graphics, there’s the matter of the iPhone 5, which has been out for more than two months now. Most developers have optimised their apps for this new device, but there are still some left in the dark, like Tetris and Fieldrunners 2. EA could have thought that there would be too many Tetriminos on the screen for the player to handle, or maybe someone just didn’t feel like adding some extra pixels to the game. Regardless, the app hasn’t be updated since July, which is just another example of poor development.

Charging for Classic Music is Just the Start of In-App Purchases

Club memberships and music cost.

Club memberships and music cost.

What about the music? 8-bit Tetris music has always been a classic thing, so the developers would, of course, include it with this iteration of the game, right? No, they want you to pay for it. In-app purchases in Tetris for the iPhone are very pushy. If you want to hear a different song, you must buy it for a few dollars. If you want to earn more T-Coins (which allow you to buy songs and such) and Lines, you must pay $2.99 minimum to join the T-Club. Will developers ever learn that people want to pay one price, not a whole galaxy full?

Is There Nothing Left?

All is not lost, as the classic controls are still hidden in Marathon mode. EA is really pushing this new “One-Touch revolution,” though. The company seems to be confusing this game with others on touch screens — minimal children’s ones, perhaps? This version of Tetris shows that the game has evolved, but the result of such development is all for not. Players liked the old Tetris, so long as the bugs were kept out of it. Sadly, the problems with the gameplay are just the start.

When you play this game for a while, you’ll get the idea that it’s not a paid app. This is EA’s fault. Instead of putting all the features in the app like a nice developer, this corporation decided to be greedy and constantly ask you to purchase more T-Coins so you can buy different theme music and other nonsense. This whole game has literally turned into an advertising campaign for itself. For 99 cents, that’s why it disappoints, and it’s also why the game will likely never return to its former glory. Electronic Arts has successfully destroyed a legend with modernization and nonsensical features.


EA took a swing at revolutionising the way you play Tetris. It failed — badly. The only thing that remains is Marathon mode, but it's still pulled under by the lack of classic music and over-designing.