Tetris. You’ve probably played it. Famous game. Spinning blocks. Ends up invading your dreams. And more than any first-party title, it was the game that made the Game Boy. Although that platform’s version of Tetris actually had three different soundtracks. We’re willing to bet good money you’ve forgotten two of them.
Doo doo-de-doo, doo-da-doo doo-de-doo, doo-da-doo, da-doo-doo doo-doo-doo…
Indeed. But Tetris was five years old before Nintendo used it to flog millions of Game Boys and drive a generation of gamers mad by lodging Korobeiniki in everyone’s brains. Alexey Pajitnov had drawn from his love of pentominoes while creating a game to – ahem – ‘test’ new hardware that had arrived at a research institute in Russia. His initial design was a static two-player effort where players would take turns flipping pieces on a glowing Electronika 60 display.
But… doo doo-de-doo. And also, fun. That version of Tetris sounds dreadful.
It does. Fortunately, Pajitnov was a master of iteration. He flipped the playfield, added gravity to drop in new and simplified pieces, and hit upon removing completed (and therefore redundant) rows. Boom! Tetris proper was born. Just add a PC port, quite a lot of piracy, the concept of intellectual property being non-existent in the Soviet Union, some seriously dodgy licensing shenanigans and a huge legal fight between a dozen companies who claimed rights ownership… and we’re back with Nintendo.
And I thought Tetris was all about falling blocks. That sounds more like a film.
Actually, it is. Tetris is now on Apple TV+, and it’s a serious biopic delving into all those business machinations. (And by ‘serious’, we mean no Arnie as Pajitnov, whacking Andromeda Software’s CEO with a giant L piece and growling “I’ll be back – to pick up royalties.”) Mind you, a TV screen’s the least surprising place to see a game that’s been to space, been played on the sides of buildings, and taken place using an electron microscope and glass microspheres. And you thought the Game Boy version was fiddly.
Landmark Tetris titles through the ages
Not all spinning blocks are created equal. Here’s a lightning-fast Stuff guide to the Tetris games that really mattered.
Tetris (Elektronika 60, 1984): The original. Flickery. Basic. Silent. But without it, an entire sub-genre of gaming would not exist.
Tetris (PC, 1986): The PC port added piece stats for wonks. More importantly, it added colour, so you could tell pieces apart.
Tetris (NES, 1989): We mean Tengen’s short-lived version here, which bettered Nintendo’s due to its snazzy two-player modes.
Tetris (Game Boy, 1989): That music. ARGH! But this was a superb version of the game, in arguably its perfect form.
The New Tetris (N64, 1999): Same old gameplay, but new in the sense you could now have four players battle it out to a thumping techno soundtrack.
Tetris Worlds (GBA and others, 2001) Formalised wall kicks and other shenanigans that allowed you to squeeze pieces into impossible gaps.
Tetris DS (Nintendo DS, 2006): Animated backgrounds brightened this one. However, the best bit was its two-player tug-of-war ‘push’ mode.
Tetris Party (Nintendo Wii, 2008): You want modes? This game’s got modes – 18 of them, one of which even uses the Wii Balance Board.
Tetris Effect (PS4, 2018): The folks behind Rez Infinite and Lumines married classic gameplay with gorgeous evolving visuals and audio.
Tetris 99 (Nintendo Switch, 2019): Battle Royale Tetris? Oh yes. It’s you against the world (well, 98 other players) in a stressful battle of block-dropping skills.