Game Boy Advance Month Recap Capcom Month Recap Konami Month Recap Like us on Facebook! Subscribe to us on Twitter!
RELEASE DATE (NA): November 1989 GENRE: Puzzle
// review by SoyBomb

Creating a desire for straight-line pieces for two decades.

It's time to take a look at one of the world's most famous, most beloved, and also most ripped off concepts in gaming history. No, it's not Super Mario Bros., although I suppose that, too, would qualify. I am referring to Tetris, a timeless concept that has been emulated countless times since its presentation to the general public. The game of Tetris was created in 1985 by a Russian computer engineer, Alexey Pajitnov (as is a popular transcription of the English equivalent of his name). The idea was quite simple, and the basics of that idea have been translated well into this game with few frills added to detract from the native concept. He named the game "Tetris" based on the prefix "tetra" (four) and his favourite sport, tennis, even though this game has absolutely nothing to do with tennis. That figures.

I'd first like to try and describe exactly what the game of Tetris entails. Such may be a difficult task for me, not only because this is the first solely puzzle game I have ever reviewed (the closest at this point in time being Donkey Kong Jr. Math, but that falls more under the scrutiny of the edutainment genre), but also because it feels somewhat abstract when I try to think about it, even though its simplicity is directly in front of me. In Tetris, you are given a limited playing field to work in; it's pretty much a large rectangular space. Puzzle blocks (known as 'tetrominoes' and composed of four squares in different formations) will fall from the top of this playing grid (thankfully one at a time), and it is your goal to fit them together to form complete lines across the field. A line will automatically disappear when it is completed, but if there are any gaps, all the elements of your blocks shall remain implanted where they lay. You want to remove as many lines as you possibly can to keep the game going. To help rack up points, as well as speedily remove several lines at once, If your stack of puzzle pieces reaches the top of the playing grid, your game is over. This may sound average so far, but for those who are already quite familiar with Tetris know that there is more to the concept than this. The key is that there are seven different shapes of blocks, as follows:

Use your imagination.

The tetrominoes are shaped like various letters of the alphabet (I, J, L, O, S, T, Z). Although they may seem a tad limiting at times, they can certainly fit together in numerous ways. These seven blocks will fall randomly; the sequence of blocks that shall fall is unpredictable (and can be irritating at times when you are awaiting a specific type of block and it seems to not be coming your way). In the NES version, while you are placing one block, the next one to fall will be shown at the side so you can mentally prepare for your next move. Thankfully, all pieces (except for the square one) can be rotated until it makes a proper landing. Also working against you is the speed at which the pieces fall. Depending on what level of gameplay you are working on, you may find that they move too slowly for your pace or just the opposite. There are other minor things to keep an eye on in this game, such as being able to let a piece drop under its own gravitational speed or pushing Down on the directional pad to immediately drop it, but I will leave such things for the player to discover. Besides, chances are pretty high that you, fair reader, have already played a variant of Tetris at some point in your life; you likely have a good enough idea of what Tetris generally entails. I needn't bother you with any more dull details about the Tetris concept than necessary.

Due to a fumble in copyright agreements between Elektronorgtechnica (the Soviet organization responsible for distributing rights for publishing Tetris software), both Nintendo and Tengen, a sub-developer of Atari notorious for releasing games for the NES without Nintendo's approval, released versions of Tetris for the North American and European NES. Nintendo owned the official rights to produce console versions of Tetris and took Tengen to court over their version (and won the case). Thus, Tengen's version is more of a rarity, but has been praised for its two-player mode which is suspiciously absent from the edition being reviewed here.

In Nintendo's version of Tetris, the player is given the option of two different game modes, marked only as A-Type and B-Type. In A-Type mode, your goal is to create as many lines as possible before your pile of tetrominoes reaches the top of the playing field. After every ten lines, the game level increases, the speed of falling pieces increases, and for whatever reason, the colour of your pieces change. This is the mode that people typically think of when they think about Tetris. In B-Type mode, you have to clear twenty-five lines at a game level of your choosing. You will also be given the option of beginning with a certain height of randomly placed block pieces, from 0 (none) to 5 (a bit over halfway to the top); if you opt for a height of 1 or higher, there will be strange gaps amidst the random tetromino bits that may help or, more likely, hinder your progress. You'll need to make lines and eliminate these gaps quickly! After completion of either mode (though simply finishing A-Type with any substantial number of lines cleared will suffice), a brief and usually unenlightening cinematic will play out. A-Type endings, depending on the level you finish on, will have some creature (or a rocket at Level 9) fly across the screen past a citadel. B-Type endings are probably more enticing to the Nintendo fan; various Nintendo characters, such as Mario or Link, will be dancing or playing a musical instrument near the same citadel. Completing Level 9, Height 5, will get you all the characters at once, as shown here:

Bowser on the accordion? Uncanny!

And of course, you will also get a score depending on how well you did during your course of play. How high your score is depends on a few factors, such as clearing more than one line simultaneously and dropping pieces more quickly, instead of having them fall naturally. If you beat one of the game's predetermined high scores, you can input your name in the high score chart and boast to friends, but only until you reset the game or turn off your NES; for some reason, Tetris will NOT remember your high scores. That's pretty pathetic, considering the pressure to get a high score is fairly important. Someone fell asleep at the design stage...

The graphics in this game suit the simplicity of the concept, but I do feel that a bit more flash could have been used to spice up a game that likely was quickly programmed. I realize that it is difficult to make square blocks look interesting, but other parts, such as the border area around the playing field and the subsequent rewarding cinematics, could have looked a lot more detailed. Even the caricatures of Nintendo characters are not up to par; Bowser has never looked quite like that in any Super Mario Bros. game to date. The music in this game (mentioned alone, because the sound effects are far too minimal to discuss) is also rather limited, although thankfully, for the most part, you get to choose what tune you hear while playing. There are only three BGMs available during gameplay. Two of them may be familiar to you: "MUSIC-1" is a remake of "Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy" from "The Nutcracker", and "MUSIC-3" is a famous Russian song called "Kalinka". Only "MUSIC-2" is an original composition and is the most upbeat of the three. Or you could choose "OFF" and play your own pop-punk rock. The music is fine for a little while, but its repetitive nature might get on your nerves. Unless you're a supreme enthusiast for the BGMs, you may not want to play them after their charm wears off. I myself must be an enthusiast though, because even after over seventeen years since I first played Tetris, I still enjoy the music.

Nintendo's Tetris for the NES is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it is faithful to the original concept laid down by Alexey Pajitnov and can certainly bring an addictive and unusually alluring experience to the table. On the other hand, it is inferior to the aforementioned Tengen version due to its lack of two-player competitive play. However, I will ultimately recommend this version because it is the true "legal" one, and also because it is a heck of a lot easier to locate than the Tengen edition (which was yanked off store shelves). But even with its presentational flaws, Tetris is still amazingly fun even to this day, almost twenty years after its NES release and remains one of video game history's most influential milestones.

Widget is loading comments...
Random.access and its contents are © 2005-2019.