The Problem With Mobile Tetris

A few days ago, I downloaded a Tetris app on my phone. Suffice to say, I was not satisfied as I felt there was something off about the game. Today I wanted to share my experience and how I think the game could be improved. 

First, in order to understand why I’m dissatisfied with the app, you’ll need to know what Tetris is. Tetris is a world renown puzzle game where you stack blocks on top of each other. You can move these blocks across a 10×20 grid as they slowly fall down the screen, and every time you clear a line it disappears. There are also other features to enhance the game play. One of these features is holding, where you save a block for later use. Another feature is hard dropping, where you instantly place down a block. The goal is too clear as many lines as you can, the caveat being the game speeds up as you clear more lines. 

Normally, the left and right movement would be controlled with keys, D-pad, or joy stick. However, this is not the case in the new Tetris app. It may not come as a surprise but not many smartphones have D-pads or a joy stick, this means the Tetris apps needs another way to move the blocks around. The solutions the developers came up with is using your finger to drag the blocks around, and I have mixed feelings about it. 

The benefit of this decision is the ability to play with one hand, which wasn’t a bad choice on the developers part. These days, I find the ability to play games with one hand makes the game more convenient and accessible. The fact the new Tetris apps wants these appealing selling points doesn’t seem that odd to me. However, by my personal preference I dislike it. It many not seem obvious to a person that’s completely new to Tetris, but this drag option is very restrictive compared to other alternatives. Unlike with a keyboard or D-pad, it is much harder to precisely control blocks. Another disadvantage is the inability to hyper tap, which is when you mash the left or right button to move a block really fast. Personally, I think a virtual D-pad would have been much better option. Still, I do understand the appeal of convenience and why the developers chose this one handed approach. Unfortunately, this leads me to my second gripe with the app.  

If the developers where aiming for a leisure game, which I believe they were, then their game progression is way too fast. Unlike a game like Candy Crush, Tetris requires your active attention. A single misplaced block can spell the end of your game, and this becomes much more prominent the further you get. By the fifth level, I usually found both my hands on the phone and all my attention directed at the game. The moment I needed two hands, the game didn’t feel very leisurely to me. Normally that would be fine, but I feel this makes the convenience of their one handed drag movement completely redundant. Like I said before, I’d much rather settle for a virtual D-pad and buttons. 

However, if they did want to keep their current movement design, I feel they would need to slow the game down even further than it already is. There are several ways this could be done. First, they could slowdown the drop speed. Unfortunately, this is only a temporary fix, and with how the game is design will only prevent the panic induced play of later level. Another solution would be to lower the maximum level or let players set their own level cap. As of now, the current level cap is 15. However, ever for me level 15 feels fairly fast. Instead, I feel level 10 would be a good cap for a leisure game. It is fast enough to feel the progression in difficulty but still possible with one hand. 

Overall, the new Tetris app is interesting. It is indeed fun, but there are several things I believe that could have been done better. Personally, I feel Tetris renditions on smartphones pander too much to convenience and it looses that Tetris feel. However, that is just my personal opinion in where Tetris is going on mobile devices. Regardless, I will continue to try beating my personal record on the new Tetris app. 

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