RetroSpective – Tetris

Tetris InfoTetris has been released on many platforms prior to the Game Boy, having originally been developed by in Russia by Alexey Patjinov in 1984.  However, it was Nintendo’s decision to publish the game on its brand new handheld console that cemented the game within the public’s consciousness.  Additionally, Nintendo decided to pack the game in with every console in a decision that whilst questioned at the time, ultimately proved more than correct.  This meant that it was quite hard to miss Tetris in the early 90s, and this critically helped in forging the game’s legacy.

So is the Game Boy version that exploded the game into the public consciousness the best?  It may not have the most features or gameplay modes, but this is the most important version of the game, make no mistakes about that.  Not just because this is the game that everyone has based subsequent versions on, but also because this is the one that most will remember.

Game Boy With Tetris
An original Game Boy with Tetris

Tetris is the perfect pick up and play experience, definitely being best suited to the handheld gameplay of the Game Boy.  It really doesn’t matter whether you have lots of time on your hands or just a few minutes, Tetris is suited to both extended periods of play or just a quick go.  It’s also extremely addictive, so addictive that when you close your eyes after an extended play, there’s a good chance you’ll start to see blocks falling into place.

The gameplay is a simple affair, being extremely easy to both grasp and get stuck into.  Players have to manipulate falling blocks in order to make them connect together and create horizontal lines across the screen, akin to an ever changing jigsaw puzzle.  A completed line will flash before disappearing, dropping the rest of the blocks and earning players points.  The more lines, the more points.  The maximum four lines in a row, known as a “Tetris”, earns the player big points, and with every ten lines the game’s level will go up by one, in turn increasing the speed.  The game only ends when the blocks reach the top of the screen.  This really is all you need to know, and this simplicity is the game’s biggest strength.

Just about to get a Tetris (4 in a row)

The falling blocks come in seven different shapes and sizes, no more no less, with some being more useful than others.  Players are also able to see the next block that is lying in wait.  This simple mechanic actually adds an awful lot to the gameplay, subconsciously allowing for greater tactics to be employed, whilst at the same time removing some of the feeling that everything is determined by luck.  Nevertheless, you’ll inevitably find yourself becoming frustrated when you don’t see the one you want, and you’ll be willing the game to provide you with a straight line, easily the most useful of the Tetris blocks.

All of the blocks can be rotated clockwise as many times as is needed, or as many times as is possible before the block is finished falling.  That’s because the more lines you remove, the faster the blocks will fall.  This adds a sense of urgency with the difficulty stepping up just as you are getting used to the current speed.  This forces you to become faster and better, as the game slowly reduces the time you have to solve the ever evolving puzzle in front of you.  In fact, sooner or later you’ll wonder just how you put up with the slower speed, something Nintendo accounted for by adding the ability to increase the falling speed by pressing the down button.

Tetris Blocks
The Tetris Blocks

Whilst the fundamental gameplay doesn’t change, there are multiple different gameplay modes on offer within the Game Boy release.  Game Type A is the Tetris we all know and love, with the game endlessly continuing until the player either switches off or is defeated.  This mode encourages the player to get as many lines as possible, and in turn try to set the high score.  This is far more addictive than it may sound on paper, and this is the mode that you’ll find yourself repeatedly returning to.

Type B on the other hand sets you to task with achieving 25 lines from a randomly generated field of pre-fallen blocks.  The amount of pre-fallen blocks is determined by selecting from a height of 0-5.  This adds another dimension to the gameplay by requiring players to constantly check the randomly generated field at the same time as new blocks are falling, thus removing your ability to properly prepare.  Finally, through the use of the Game Boy Link Cable there is a 2 player mode.  The additional multiplayer mode is another nice touch, adding a competitive element to the experience.

Tetris title screen

The presentation follows along the same lines as the gameplay, being both simple but highly enjoyable.  This is especially true of the iconic soundtrack.  Before beginning the game, players can choose from one of three tracks which will play in the background.  However, there may as well only be one, as the main Tetris theme (below) has become one of the most iconic musical tracks in gaming.

Track A is what we all think of when we think of the Tetris’ music, not only that but the track also embodies the game’s Russian origins.  Quite simply this is one track that will stay in your head long after you have put the game down.  Additionally, the sound effects are just as strong, reinforcing your actions, and giving you a sense of achievement when those completed lines disappear.

Moreover, whilst the game’s graphics are basic, the game does what it needs to do.  All of the blocks are clearly definable, even in the black and white output of the original Game Boy.  The menus are also easy to navigate and understand.  This is all that’s really needed from the game, as Tetris is all about its gameplay.  Ultimately, the game’s presentation does its job by not taking anything away from the addictive and throughly enjoyable gameplay.

Quite simply, Tetris offers one of the most engaging and addictive gameplay experiences you can possibly have, with millions still playing the game and enjoying it today.  Recently Tetris celebrated its 30th anniversary, and to be quite honest I see no reason why it won’t still be just as popular at its 60th anniversary, with this especially being true of the classic Game Boy version.  Not only is Tetris one of the best puzzlers ever made, it’s justifiably one of the best games ever invented.

Tetris Result

Sophia Aubrey Drake

A lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that she's written a thesis on one and lived in the other. Currently on a quest to catch every last Pokémon. Follow me on twitter via @DivaXChill or @RingsandCoins.

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