When Philips conceived their CD-interactive platform, it was designed to be used for a variety of applications. That included gaming as well, but it wasn't it's primary focus. With the general low quality traits many of the early CD-i games shared, it's quite likely that many of these efforts were afterthoughts. A handful of these, though, clearly aimed to be otherwise, and one of these was Tetris.
During this time period in the early '90s, Tetris had already taken the world by storm via Nintendo's portable Game Boy system. It also made a huge mark for itself in the console sector via the Nintendo Entertainment System. Capturing the minds of children and adults alike with its simplistic, line-clearing gameplay, Tetris was a smash hit at the time. With this success, it's safe to say that Philips intended their CD-i version to be a heavy-hitter for their platform. Unfortunately, that wasn't to be.
Gameplay-wise, Tetris for the CD-i is a simple trial of survival much like versions that came before and after it. Pieces fall from the top of the screen, and the goal is to form lines along the bottom of the playfield. These disappear when completed, allowing the player to rack up points as well work towards progressing onto faster, more challenging stages in the process. Up to four lines can be cleared at once for maximum points, but the player has to also be careful not to let any blocks penetrate the top of the screen, otherwise the game is over. All of this might sound good for the Tetris veteran, but it's not until one gets their hands on the controller that they experience the array of control issues this game has.
First off, the player has to manage with an unconventional control setup. Movement of pieces to the left and right is traditional Tetris in nature, but only one button is used to rotate them. This forces the player to flip each piece in a single direction, which is not always ideal. The other button on the CD-i controller also forces the piece to immediately appear at the bottom of the screen, an option that appeared frequently in later renditions of Tetris. It's not a bad option by any means, except that in this version of the game there is no way to push the blocks down the screen at your own will. It's either all or nothing here. The other odd thing about this design choice is that pressing UP on the directional pad pauses the game, while holding DOWN does nothing. The ideal setup here would have been to have two buttons used to rotate pieces in either direction, and to have the down function smoothly drop pieces along the playfield. Philips decided to go against the grain here, and as a result it hurt the game in the end.
To add misery to punishment, there is a very noticeable controller delay when using a game pad. This, combined with the strange control layout, makes for an annoying experience at the lower levels in the game, and one that is nearly impossible to play at the later stages. For those that use a trackball or mouse, the controller response is fast and fluid, but ironically the sensitivty is far too high with these. With no way to adjust this, you won't find them to be of much help either. Regardless of which pointing device you prefer, these issues make progressing past the later stages a futile effort, and this is the game breaker.
The shame here is that the production values throughout the rest of the package are solid overall, which often isn't the case for CD-i titles. Right from the title screen you are treated to some nice visuals, and this is followed up by a solid menu interface. Smooth, shifting colors greet you at the level intermission screens, and beautiful, serene backdrops accompany you during gameplay, showcasing the CD-i's high color palette. Despite the playfield looking barren itself, the smooth and subtle animation on the backgrounds help make up for it. Even the soundtrack is solid for what it is, with some peaceful New Age-style tunes that fit the serene, peaceful graphical style. Admittedly some of the music is a little too cheesy for my tastes, but overall it fits well and makes up for the lack of sound effects during gameplay.
With all of that said, it is really difficult for me to honestly recommend this version of Tetris, especially considering there are so many other versions easily and readily available that perfect the formula. And not only do these other versions also have great music and visuals, but they get the most important part right with tight, responsive controls (the multiplayer aspects do not hurt, either).
In conclusion, this version of Tetris is a nice display piece to show off what the CD-i is capable of from a visual standpoint, but there isn't much reason to put any kind of effort into playing this game seriously as control issues are guaranteed to frustrate. It won't break the bank if you are truly curious about it, but if you want a good puzzler for your CD-i, I will suggest hunting down a copy of Pac-Panic instead.
Game play 2/10 – Problematic controls make progressing far into the game an effort in futility.
Graphics 7.5/10 – Excellent visuals by CD-i standards that still manage to hold up well-enough today.
Sound 6/10 – No sound effects, but the New Age-styled soundtrack fits the serene visual style well.
Overall 5/10 – Very mediocre.