30 years ago today, a Russian programmer named Alexey Pajitnov created Tetris, a puzzle game whose popularity and status as a gaming icon persists to this day (fun fact: “Tetris” is a portmanteaux of the Greek number prefix “tetra-“, meaning “four”, and “tennis”, the favorite sport of Alexey Pajitnov). In celebration, it seemed appropriate to review something Tetris-related, and I thought what better game to discuss than the version released for Nintendo’s original Game Boy handheld in 1989 (which, according to an IGN interview, also happens to be Alexey Pajitnov’s favorite)? Now, retro games (for our purposes, anything from the first four console generations) are not usually reviewed on this blog unless it’s part of a special event (see: our Duke Nukem reviews), which this game fits the criteria for. Before typing this, I played a few games to figure out how to approach this game, and to complete the experience I played it on an original Game Boy device (which, incidentally, I never owned before my trip to the last WonderCon). So without further ado, let’s see how well this classic game still holds up.
Discussing the basic gameplay of Tetris, in which you control falling blocks, or tetrominos (called Tetriminos in modern releases), to clear lines in a matrix, would be useless, as it is so well-known and nearly everyone that’s played at least some version of the game has found something addictive in its simplicity (me included). However, I will discuss the different gameplay modes of the Game Boy version as well the minute differences that make it different from other iterations. Aside from the main game, labeled as Type A, there is also a Type B game which consists of trying to clear a set number of lines. The difficulty for either can be set by what level you wish to start from, while the difficulty for the Type B game can be further set by the High, or how high up you want any Junk Blocks (blocks that are placed on the board to impede your progress) to be on the screen (the 0 setting means zero Junk Blocks in this case). Before playing each game, you can also select from 3 different music tracks (labeled Type A, B, and C), or have the music off (which isn’t likely to be selected). The Type A music is the most famous among these, being a rendition of a Russian folk song called Korobeiniki, more commonly known stateside as the “Tetris Theme” (for those taking notes, the Type C track is Baroque musician Johann Sebtastian Bach’s French Suite No. 3 in B Minor, BWV 814: Menuet).
|You're probably thinking about where that falling block should go.|
One thing that should be noted about this version of Tetris is how it’s different on a technical level, graphics aside. While of course it doesn’t have some of the more modern gameplay elements such as Hold and Easy Spin due to when it was released, it does have a notable difference in the way gravity works in-game. In many of the more recent releases of the game, the tetrominos have a sort of gravity where, after a line is cleared, any lingering pieces from cleared portions of a block will fall down to fill empty spaces, which can end up clearing more lines in the process. As it is one of the earliest known releases of Tetris, the Game Boy version doesn’t have this kind of gravity, so any remaining portions of blocks stay where they are until they are cleared. Depending on one’s perspective, this can end up creating some additional tension as you try to manipulate incoming blocks to clear away more space for larger tetrominos (especially if you’re trying to get a Tetris with an I Block).
I may not have had any true nostalgia for this particular version, but Tetris for the Nintendo Game Boy is definitely a classic game and its simple concept has allowed it to stand up even to today. Many forms of Tetris are available for a wide variety of platforms, even on mobile phones and nearly every major console since its release; in fact, a brand new Tetris game, called Tetris Ultimate, is due for release later this year on next-gen consoles and PC. If you plan on playing this particular version and have not already, I would recommend doing so on a Game Boy Advance SP (or a compatible DS if you have one), since the system has a proper backlight that its older brethren lacked (proper lighting makes all the difference). However, no matter what version of the game you decide to play, you are still playing Tetris.