Tetris Blitz Review: Freemium bliss or an all-out-wallet assault?

Tetris is one of the all-time classic games. I don’t think I’ve ever found anyone who didn’t like Tetris. What then, of EA’s latest take on Tetris, which makes some significant changes to the core Tetris formula, out today for iOS?
Tetris Blitz is most closely identifiable with games such as Bejeweled Blitz, in that you’re chasing a high score within a set two minute time limit. You’re still doing the classic Tetris shuffle, lining up pieces made out of variations of four blocks and praying all the time for those very handy 4×1 tetronimos. It’s safe to say that I love Tetris with a deep and abiding passion. Who wouldn’t?

On the plus side

If there’s one thing that should worry you about a touch-enabled version of Tetris, it’s how well the controls manage. Tetris is a game all about tension and speed, and the last thing you want is to be let down not because you didn’t see an opportunity, but because the twitchy touch controls let you down. Here Tetris Blitz shines; you don’t slide pieces side to side but instead simply tap on a ghosted outline of where the pieces could go, with a cycle button to the side for alternate placements. It’s pretty much impossible to make a selection that you didn’t intend to, but if you must, slide controls are available as well.

The in-game control scheme works very well.
The in-game control scheme works very well.

Within the two minute casual game category, Tetris Blitz does fulfill its remit. It’s a pleasant enough way to chase scores, with a higher score mode activated once you clear enough lines, and plenty of powerups to make things interesting. Score leaderboards allow you to chase the very best, and Facebook integration is built in, which further enhances the whole social score chasing aspect.
Link into Facebook, get free coins. Get free... what?
Link into Facebook, get free coins. Get free… what?

It’s also free. Free Tetris. What could possibly be wrong with that?

On the minus side

As it turns out, plenty. There are two primary aspects of Tetris Blitz that deeply irritate me.
Firstly, there’s the gameplay aspect. EA’s spent up big to secure the Tetris licence, and I’m not averse to mucking around with the core Tetris formula per se. Indeed, while the classic is still the classic, there are plenty of variants that offer a lot of fun. The Nintendo DS version published by Nintendo, for example, is packed with interesting Tetris-related ideas — although it’s sadly now out of print.
But this is really Tetris in name only. You might think that the two minute time limit adds extra tension to not filling up the brick area… right up until you do fill it up (which is actually somewhat hard to do) and it helpfully deletes the top six rows. This is, quite literally, a Tetris game that you can’t fail at.
Then there are the powerups. Again, innovation isn’t a bad thing, but the way the game flow works, there’s utterly no way to get the highest scores without using plenty of powerups. Run enough powerups, and it’s hard not to get a high score. Otherwise, you’re pretty much always going to be shaking around the same score areas, watching the higher leaderboards skip over you with astonishing speed. When that’s a matter of skill, that’s OK. When it’s a matter of powerups, what actual gameplay is left?
That brings up the second, and more troubling aspect of Tetris Blitz. It’s free, but it’s a “freemium” title, which is to say that there are ingame aspects that you can pay real money for. I don’t have a particular problem with freemium per se, because developers do have to stop coding from time to time and eat, but Tetris Blitz takes freemium abuse to a whole new level.
The powerups that bring high scores? You can buy them with in-game coins. A typical no-powerup game will get you around 200 or so coins. A single powerup cost starts around 3,000 coins. That’s a lot of gameplay to get a single advantage, but you can always buy some coins. In fact, EA would really like you to buy some. 25,000 coins (so perhaps around 5 powerups) will cost you $1.99. Or spend $109.99 and get 3,125,000 coins! Bargain!

Coins! (Caution: Do not confuse coins with real money. The deal only goes one way)
Coins! (Caution: Do not confuse coins with real money. The deal only goes one way)

Note: Don’t let your kids near Tetris Blitz if you’ve saved your purchasing password. It’ll end badly.
Powerups are constantly thrust at you even when you don’t have the coins for them, and the interfaces are built so that the buy coins buttons are always much larger than the decline buttons. There’s also an inbuilt roulette wheel for free coins and powerups that grants you a free spin ever six hours or so. Naturally, you can buy more spins on that too. There are “powerups of the week” that if you don’t buy and use vanish from circulation for a while. It’s all deeply, deeply cynical stuff.
So, maybe you’re a bit on the poor side right now but still want some powerups. That’s OK, because you can get “free” coins by taking place in partner offers.
Deeply, deeply dodgy looking partner offers.
Deeply, deeply dodgy looking partner offers.

EA might be a bit worried that you still might not hand over some cash, though, so Tetris Blitz is also ad-supported. Don’t want ads? That’ll be a tasty $5.49.
Don’t have $5.49? Not only will you get ads at the bottom of the screen, but you’ll also be served full screen video ads every once in a while. Unskippable full screen ads. All of a sudden, that pleasant casual puzzle experience feels a whole lot less inviting.
I quite like the HTC One. Being served full screen video ads (over my connection, naturally)? Not so much.
I quite like the HTC One. Being served full screen video ads (over my connection, naturally)? Not so much.

Alex’s verdict

There’s a decent enough puzzle game that’s not-quite-Tetris at the core of Tetris Blitz. I could see myself killing a couple of minutes while waiting for a bus chasing a high score with it. But the incessant, greedy aspect of its freemium nature, where you simply cannot escape pleas for you to open your wallet and spend real money is an absolute deal killer, especially when you consider that EA’s own take on classic Tetris is only $2.99. So it’s actually cheaper than just removing the advertising from Tetris Blitz.

I've got better things to spend my money -- and time -- on.
I’ve got better things to spend my money — and time — on.

Source: Tetris Blitz for Android, iOS

1 thought on “Tetris Blitz Review: Freemium bliss or an all-out-wallet assault?”

  1. I have never seen less than 300 coins earned on my iphone, even for a score as low as 16,000 pts. With no powerups and no finishers, I generally average at least 500 coins per game (above 50,000 pts) and often get 600 coins (above 75,000 pts) or 700 coins (above 100,000 pts). There are also games that earn me only 400 coins (above 25,000 pts) or very occasionally 300 coins. Luck of the draw is a big factor. I play the powerup of the week 90 times to unlock it but then keep the four copies they give me in inventory after unlocking to use for score based challenges. (I don’t play tournaments or do facebook.) With a decent powerup, I’m likely to get past 200,000 (800 coins) at least a few times. When working on a score challenge – with three powerups plus a finisher, I have a good chance of getting past 300,000 pts (900 coins) and one lucky day up to 465,000 (1000 coins). I don’t buy anything with real money. I get free powerups and finishers by using my free spins on the bonus board every four hours. And I’m not really a tetris blitz whiz although I’ve played tetris many times in the past on various platforms (even the original game it since I’m fast getting to be old as dirt), I just use it as a work break while walking in place. I just pile up coins after my 90 games to unlock the weekly powerup by playing without any powerups in between. I’ve stockpiled more than a million coins that way in about two or three months (I’m on level 30), sure wish they took them at the grocery store… Anyway, the game is fun despite the endless ads, and if you’re patient you don’t need to buy anything with real money. And you definitely don’t need powerups or finishers, so you don’t even have to horde coins like Uncle Scrooge and me. But it’s not hard to get enough coins to use a powerup occasionally. You’ll build up your skills better without powerups, and finishers require no skill at all (you just watch them).

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