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Tetris Review Rewind


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On 06/14/2019 at 07:30 AM by Jamie Alston

A game that needs no introduction; this review does, however.
RECOMMENDATION:

There’s little reason not to play some version of this game at least once in your life. Anything less would be uncivilized.

As it so happened, the Game Boy was the perfect present, as my older brother found out when he graduated from middle school. After the party was over and everyone had gone home, mom and dad came downstairs with a just one more wrapped present. I still remember the brother opening the box and joyfully exclaiming “It’s a Game Boy”! Since Tetris came packaged with it, we wasted no time playing that Russian puzzle game for years to come. It was the perfect game to complement the perfect present.

If you’ve never played, heard of, or seen a Tetris game in your life, here’s the basic concept: seven varieties of blocks fall descend from the top of the playing field, one at a time. The object of the game is to keep the blocks from piling up to the ceiling. To do this, you can move the blocks to the left and right, and rotate them as they fall. If you completely fill in one horizontal line, that line will disappear and you’ll get points for your wonderful deed. As you get better at the game, you’ll learn to complete up to four lines at once. If you let those blocks pile up past the ceiling threshold, it’s “game over” man.

Tetris has two game modes- designated A-type and B-type, respectively. The A-type mode is the most familiar version of the game with its marathon play style. The goal is simply to maintain your blocks for as long as you can while going for highest score After choosing to start on levels 0 through 9, the game begins with a clear board that becomes occupied with blocks falling from the sky. Each time you clear 10 lines, you’ll advance to the next level, which speeds up the game the further you go. If you started at level zero, the increase in speed isn't all that noticeable initially. But once you hit the ninth level, the pace quickly turns into a frantic barrage of blocks, especially if your stack is high by that point.

B-Type is similar to the previous game mode, except it isn't a marathon session. The goal in B game is to clear 25 lines. As with the first mode, you can still choose between levels 0 and 9, but you can also throw in an extra challenge by setting a pre-existing height of blocks. The challenge is that they’re positioned in such a way that you can’t clear the entire group with a "perfect" fit. You generally have to break them down line by line.

When it all comes together, these simple gameplay mechanics are perfect for both novice and expert players. The rules of the game are basic enough for anyone to get into it but become increasingly difficult to master. The beauty of Tetris lies mainly in the fact that, despite its age, it's still just as fun and challenging as it was 35 years ago. Part of its appeal is that unlike most games then and now, it's not about memorizing a specific pattern to the point where the game becomes easier and no one play session is identical to another.

Part of the fun for me was just seeing how high I could build my stack before clearing the biggest amount of lines I could. There's a big risk/reward system in doing that because, while you can score some serious points and possibly lower the stack down to the ground, it only works assuming you get the pieces you need. For instance, you could be just one block away from success or disaster when you desperately need that straight "I" block to clear a few lines. But the Tetris gods frown upon thee, and a square block falls instead, forcing you to deal with the cascade of problems it’ll create for the rest of your meticulously-stacked rows. At this point, I'd even settle for a "T" block since I can usually squeeze a line or two from it to buy me some time. It's this kind of strategy I enjoy about Tetris; you try to plan your next move, but it's not always guaranteed to work out quite as planned and you have to improvise.

One of the things that place the Game Boy version of Tetris above the NES port, in my humble opinion, is the 2-player mode that was strangely missing from the latter. Using a link cable, two players could connect their Game Boys together for some competitive head-to-head sessions. The goal is the same as in the single-player mode, with an interesting twist (for its time). As one player clears multiple lines, it creates “garbage” blocks from the bottom of the screen for the other player, forcing their stack upward. It's a dynamic that has since been used in just about every future iteration of Tetris to this day, handheld or otherwise.

One of the pluses in favor of the game design is that it didn't require the use of many colors to distinguish one block from another. This works to the advantage of the original Game Boy since the colors it displayed were limited at best. Since the types of blocks are purely based on shape and direction (some are merely reversed versions of another), it frees the player up to concentrate on strategizing without worrying over how to distinguish each block from the other.

The music in Tetris was interesting for its time. When I first heard it as a child many moons ago, I remember it standing out that the tunes weren’t the “happier” sounds I had grown accustomed to with Super Mario Bros. and other games like it. Instead, the music in seemed so...serious. Maybe that’s because at least two of the compositions were derived from actual orchestral and folk songs.

You have a choice of three music styles- A, B, and C (or silence if you prefer). Music A- arguably the signature Tetris theme- is actually a Russian folk song called "Korobeiniki" composed by Nikolay Nekrasov. Music C is a loop from Johann Bach’s "French Suite No. 3 in B Minor". Oddly enough, my favorite tune is Music B, which I've never been able to find out were that song came from. Be that as it may, the audio presentation on the Game Boy is very enjoyable and well complements the gameplay elements.

To put it simply, Tetris on the Game Boy captures the basics of pocket-sized puzzle gaming perfection. It's easy to learn, but quite challenging to master. It can be played anytime and anywhere without requiring a long play session to get into it. The pleasant music and humble visual presentation can still be enjoyed despite the game's age. It all combines to make one of the most enduring video game concepts of all time. Do yourself a favor and play a game of Tetris now and then. You won’t regret it. Probably.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

Exrian Contributing Writer

06/14/2019 at 09:43 AM

Hell yeah! Tetris is my game. Anything less than perfect is a fail. Just got Tetris Effect yesterday but havent played it yet. Been loving Tetris 99 and typically grab a win every day I commit to play til I win.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

06/14/2019 at 09:47 AM

You got Tetris Effect? Neat! You are in for a treat. That's a good example of another 5-star worthy Tetris game. It totally elevates the Teris experience. I always deeply enjoy that game when I play it. I'm sure you're gonna love it too!

SanAndreas

06/14/2019 at 03:02 PM

Yep, I got the Game Boy the year it launched, complete with pack-in Tetris as well as Super Mario Land. I actually tried a few matches with a friend using the Link Cable. That said, I was more excited about playing Super Mario, Kid Icarus, and Zelda on the go.

My first encounter with Tetris was the arcade game by Atari, whose home version ended up being scuttled by the lawsuit between Nintendo and Tengen. It had a similar track called to Korobeiniki called "Troika" as well as the tracks "Loginska", "Bradinsky", and "Kalinka." There are videos of the canned Tengen NES version, and they're almost perfect conversions of the Atari version.

I read somewhere that Type-B is an original composition by Hip Tanaka in imitation of traditional Russian folk music.

I do have Puyo Puyo Tetris for the Switch, which has its own rendition of Korobeiniki in it, and I have played the occasional round of Tetris 99, which plays the same song.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

06/17/2019 at 08:40 AM

When I started playing around with emulators for screenshots some years ago, I tried out Tengen Tetris on the NES. While I prefer the graphics of the official Nintendo version, I like the music in Tegen's verison better, especially the first track that plays if you use the default music settings. And I love the brief dancing interludes between levels.

Is Puyo Puyo Tetris any good?

SanAndreas

06/22/2019 at 02:12 AM

It's pretty much what it says on the tin, Puyo Puyo and Tetris, with Sega's anime Puyo Puyo characters and a couple of crossover modes. They did a pretty fair job of balancing the two games in head to head matches. Anyway it's pretty much my default Tetris and Puyo Puyo fix these days.

Super Step Contributing Writer

06/14/2019 at 09:13 PM

We had Tetris on Game Boy, but I always lost and got confused when I was real little, cause I thought the point was to stack the blocks! lol 

As an adult, I play Free Tetris online all the time, and it actually comes in handy to get my brain working, to calm me down, etc. Miracle game as far as I am concerned! Not surprised you consider it such a great gift.

The startup GameBoy screen in the video takes me back, as does the music and just everything about the presentation. 

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

06/17/2019 at 08:45 AM

I agree about Tetris being a good way to think through things or calm down from stress. I discovered that purely by accident many years ago when I was stressed about something before playing the game. But as kept playing, I found myself thinking of solutions to my problem and working it out in my head. It was so relaxing and zen.

Cary Woodham

06/16/2019 at 01:30 PM

While most people remember first playing Tetris on the Game Boy, I actually had already played it two years prior on the PC, so it wasn't as impactful for me.  Still one of my favorite puzzle games, though, don't get me wrong.

On YouTube, somenoe who goes by The Video Game Historian made a fantastic video on the history of Tetris and the lengths people went to in acquiring the rights.  It's pretty amazing, and I think they could make a whole movie about it.  Check it out if you get a chance!

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

06/17/2019 at 08:42 AM

I love watching Video Game Historian videos! I think I may have seen the Tetris episode already, but I'm not entirely sure. I'll check it out and see. I really enjoy the way covers the history of a particular game or accessory.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

06/17/2019 at 02:34 PM

I clearly remember when I got the gameboy for my birthday. My dad took me to the store and I pointed it out. I think I started with Tetris and Super Mario Land. I played both of them a lot. I had some good times with that handheld. 

I've recently purchased Tetris Evolution, but I haven't played it yet. I have a PSVR so I want to try it with that. 

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

06/18/2019 at 01:13 PM

Aw man, have you tried Tetris Effect? I love that game. It's the closest I've come to having a spiritual experience during a video game session. It's awesome.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

06/18/2019 at 01:21 PM

Ah that’s what I mean, Tetris Effect. Getting to it soon!

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

06/21/2019 at 10:22 PM

Oh cool! From what I’ve heard, you are in for a treat when you play it in VR. The was designed to give the player the maximum enjoyment when playing in VR.

KnightDriver

06/18/2019 at 10:44 AM

I didn't get into Tetris until I played a Tetris Attack variation with Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix. I so love that game. I'm really annoyed it wasn't made back compat on Xbox One. I played it on Xbox 360 live arcade. The final screen music is one of my favorite tracks in gaming. 

That last screen shot you posted is really cool. I've never seen that before. 

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

06/18/2019 at 01:16 PM

That part in the final screenshot happens I think in game B when you clear the board of all lines. It's a little musical number that plays before moving you on to the next round.

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