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Tetris Splash

A refeshing dip in the pool
The game of Tetris has undergone countless re-releases on nearly every gaming platform for years and years. Tetris Splash is the most recent rendition, made specifically for the Xbox 360ís Live Arcade and released by Microsoft. Selling for 800 marketplace points, Microsoft and Tetris Online Inc. hope to entice new and old Xbox Live users with 6-player online matches and a bevy of other features.

The presentation of Tetris Splash is molded around an under-the-sea theme. The Tetris board is centered inside a pool filled with underwater plant life and various swimming fishes. I have no idea what aquatic vertebrates have do with Tetris, but I have to admit itís soothing while Iím furiously trying to fit blocks onto the board. Additionally, the developer included a fish-filled screensaver in the Options menu to feature the presentation. Players can purchase aquarium themes and new types of fish on the Xbox Live Marketplace for 150 & 50 points respectively. The aquarium is a bit cartoonish in design, but I did get my cat to chase those high-definition fish around the screen for 10 minutes.

If the word ďTetrisĒ is completely foreign to you, Iíd like to welcome you back from the 20 year stint on the deserted island youíve been living on. Tetris simply involves fitting a stream of various shaped blocks onto a board and clearing the board of blocks by making complete horizontal lines. Blocks can be moved left or right as well as rotated. Upcoming blocks appear in the queue to the right of the main board and a reserve queue is situated on the left. The player can trade any block into the reserve section to use at a later time.

The concept is incredibly easy to grasp, but the devs did include a 17-page help section and a tutorial in the Options menu to give new players a hand. It also delves into a bit of strategy and helpful hints on the controls. For instance, players who use the ďhard touchĒ method can immediately drop their blocks into place by hitting Up on the directional pad.

The developer also included a couple control variations as well as a complete customization option for the controls. Players can map all of there own buttons to the controller, which is a feature die-hard Tetris lovers are sure to dissect. Itís rare to see an arcade title that offers that type of freedom. In the same menu, players can opt to turn off the ghost piece indicator, the holding queue, and turn on controller vibration. Vibration is turned off by default to allow the player to concentrate more on the game at first.

In Tetris Splash, single-player options include two types of play, Marathon and 40 Lines. Marathon simply starts the player at a slow block-dropping speed and gradually increases the speed as the player progresses through 15 levels. 40 Lines is designed around clearing 40 lines of blocks in the fastest time possible. Both of these modes are tracked via Xbox Live and the results are transmitted to the online leaderboard. These are staples in the Tetris universe and work well within the arcade layout.

Within multiplayer, players can setup a local match or head out to Xbox Live to play against up to 6 players online. Strangely, Tetris Splash isnít guest friendly, so only 1 player online per console. Online options include player and ranked matches over free-for-all and team modes. At the start of a match, players have a quick access option to invite friends to play via the right bumper. The viewable space on the screen shows all six players at once, but your board is the largest. You can keep an eye on other players in case you want to deliver a Line Attack.

Line attacks send rows of blocks to an opposing playerís screen to hamper their game. Itís a great strategy that can end a multiplayer match much quicker. However, line attacks can be countered by clearing the lines sent over with the current piece in play. Inexperienced players will learn when to send a line attack to be the most effective and when they should have held back fairly quickly. Overall, online play is solid and the matches I participated in were speedy and lag free. The leaderboard also keeps track of online play results and true-skill ratings.

The achievements are split into the standard set of 12 totaling up to 200 gamerscore points. For Tetris vets, several of the achievements may pop up after your first run-though of Marathon. Some of the tougher single player achievements include finishing Marathon in less than 20 minutes or finishing Marathon mode without using the Hold queue. The mutli-player achievements are win and time based, which will work well with Tetris fanatics. Overall, the set is casual-player friendly, but does offer interesting challenges for the veterans.

Visually, this title isnít as sharp as a game like Hexic HD. In fact, the soft tone to the overall atheistic almost gives the title a slightly out of focus appearance. That being said, the backgrounds are very lifelike and offer a nice distraction when waiting for a match to start. The fish are fairly detailed and the plant life offers subtle animations. The Tetris board is built to appear like a ship or submarine control panel and matches the visual theme. The entire game is very colorful and the animations are smooth as silk. Additionally, there are zero framerate issues.

The music isnít particularly my taste, but there is a great adaptation of Korobeiniki
; the song found in the original game. Itís a beatnik jazz version played by a flautist that includes voiced whispers popping in towards the finality of the song. The rest of the music has a new-age, jungle theme that jives with the theme, but isnít much fun to listen to. Players can mute the music in the Settings menu if they choose. The sound effects are spot-on to the original and offer a more resonant feel due to the bass. Also, the voice counting down the numbers at the start of every match is very soothing.

Is this version of Tetris worth the investment of 800 marketplace points? If you are looking to revisit the game of your youth, Iíd have to say yes. While it doesnít have as many features, itís $20 cheaper than the MSRP on the 360 version of Tetris Evolution and you can play online against six players rather than just four. It also features a pleasant aquarium screensaver, even though the extra marketplace aquarium content feels a bit overpriced. In any case, itís a solid arcade release thatís worth picking up if you are a fan of the classic.