Yep, it's just Tetris. No physics model, no three dimensions, no subversion of the concept. Tetris Friends is the official Flash implementation of the greatest action puzzle game ever made, from The Tetris Company itself. And it's perfect. "Simple, fun, free," just like it says at the top of the screen.
This version of Tetris is very friendly indeed. Bright, clear visual and sound effects accompany your every move. The keyboard controls—wonder of wonders—are completely customizable. A three-tiered strategy guide and a basic history of the game are just a click away. The history is biased toward recent Tetris products, and tragically, it doesn't mention Atari's brilliant arcade version, but it's still a nice touch.
Oh, and there's a tousled little boy mascot who cries when you screw up, and cheers when you clear lines. And then occasionally, briefly, bafflingly, he goes Super Saiyan. All I can say is: he's no little Russian dancing guy.
Over the years, a few new features have polluted the purity of Alexey Pajitnov's original design, but they're mostly for the good. You can now see four tetriminos in the oncoming queue, which is perhaps too much information to be useful, but at least you'll know when a straight block is coming up. The popular "ghost block" will let you know exactly where a block will fall if you drop it, and if you're like me and you find the ghost block INCREDIBLY ANNOYING, you can turn it off. Finally, you can shift a piece into a holding box for later use, or as we say at my house, "cheat".
The best part for tetrexperts who get bored during the early slow levels is the bonus scoring options. Beyond the usual point boost you get for engineering a 4-line tetris or dropping tetriminos from the top of the screen, you get rewarded for performing a T-spin, or for clearing lines with consecutive blocks. Essentially, the cooler you are, the more points you get.
But what elevates this Tetris above all pretenders is the little necessities. How you can always rotate a tetrimino, even when it's shoved up against a wall. How you can still jockey a block around after it has already touched the floor (which is absolutely necessary after the terrifying jump in speed at level 10). How the randomization has been tweaked so that you never encounter long, stupid strings of Z-blocks. It's simply a pleasure to play Tetris when everything works the way it should.
Even if you think you're burnt out on Tetris for life, give Tetris Friends a try. You might just re-discover what once made this your favorite game in the world.
Note: The name comes from this implementation's original incarnation as a Facebook app, which you can play here, if you have an account. On Facebook, you can play Tetris Friends with a variety of different visual themes, background music, and scoring goals.
Thanks for recommending this one, Sebastian!