The history of this Russian sourced stack-em-up is an interesting tale to tell which I could never do justice to though the Wikipedia page is a good place to start. Created by Alexey Pajitnov in 1984, it would take a couple more years before it would be seen outside the Soviet Union.
The game landed on an insane number of platforms since it was first released. I still have a copy of the Mirrorsoft version for the Atari ST from 1987 which was my first exposure to the game. All the major computer platforms of that era had a version too as the game could easily work on both the 8 and 16 bit machines. The biggest deal would later be Nintendo getting it as a console exclusive which helped it become the pack in for the Gameboy – the handheld was technically the weakest of those released at the time (including Atari’s Lynx and Sega’s Game Gear) but none of them had a “killer game” like Tetris… or battery life. Thousands of years from now when archaeologists start digging up Gameboys they’ll find most of them still have a Tetris cartridge inserted in the back slot. Later on I’d even find my University’s Unix system had a version of Tetris available which worked well enough through a Telnet session that it became an easy distraction during my late night studies via dial-up.
Mechanically the core of the game is very simple and that is also where it’s beauty lies. A player’s task is to make use of a limited set of blocks (tetrominos) that fall down the playfield which they can rotate as they falls to help them fill out lines. When a full line is created it disappears and everything above it drops down to fill the empty space. The incentive is for players to make as many lines as possible disappear with bonuses for making multiple line go at once. As the player progresses further the tetrominos drop faster forcing the player to react faster too. The game ends when the playfield fills up to the point where no more tetrominos can drop down. The simplicity of controlling a single block and the reward of clearing lines to allow you keep playing can be both addictive and zen-like. The gradual difficulty increase that comes from clearing lines and levels, usually in the form of an increase of speed in the blocks that are dropping, does mean games are not going to last a long time but hopefully it’s enough to give it that “one more go” factor.
The game has received some surprising variants over the years and more recently with games such as the Battle Royale-esque Tetris 99 and the PSVR showcase Tetris Effect, the core mechanics still closely follow the guidelines set by the Tetris Company which now own the rights to the game. That commitment to ensure that every licensed version provides that familiar gameplay experience is an impressive achievement for a game that’s 35 years old. There’s also been games that have taken the concepts and remixed them into other properties such as Tetris & Dr Mario (1994, SNES) and Puyo Puyo Tetris (2017, PC, Switch, PS4) and a myriad of mobile versions too (EA even had one – Tetris Blitz, now unavailable) so there’s been no shortage of ways to get a Tetris fix over the years.
That Tertris continues to hold up is a testament to how one great idea for a game can remain relevant regardless of the massively increased amount of tools and resources available to developers now. And when the new generation of consoles arrived in 2020 with their run of games in tow it was Tetris Effect Connected that was my first download so it’s obviously still doing something right after all these years. 🙂
Greatest Games is a feature where we highlight our favourite games from the past and try to explain what we think makes them great and worth searching out to play again. If you’ve got your own thoughts on the subject, please feel free to share them in the comments below.