“From Russia With Fun!”

Nintendo launched the original Game Boy in 1989 and it launched with five games in North America. One of those games was “Tetris” a puzzle game created by Alexey Pajitnov that took the world by storm with over 35 million copies sold on the Game Boy alone. It was the “must-have” game for the portable system and it made video games “cool” to play for adults. Gamers of all ages were playing Tetris from your next-door neighbor, your Grandma, to the CEO of the business you worked for, to your little sister. Everyone played Tetris. Now, over 30 years old, I finally play the game for the first time.

Tetris doesn’t have a story for the actual game, but boy does it have a story. I HIGHLY recommend watching the YouTube documentary “The Story of Tetris” that was produced by the Gaming Historian. It’s fantastic and extremely informative about how the game was made and the bizarre development.

I’ll do my best to recap it a bit but please do yourself a favor and watch the video.

The fact that Tetris was made in Russian during the 1980s and became a huge hit worldwide during the Cold War is already an unbelievable feat, but there’s much more to it. Developed and programmed by Russian engineer Alexey Pajitnov during his time at the Soviet Academy of Sciences, Tetris was a passion project. Alexey wasn’t allowed to work on it during company time but when he completed Tetris it was a massive hit to anyone who tested it out for Alexey. Eventually, he had offers coming in for the rights to the game, and after some shady dealings that involved the KGI, Russia gave its blessing for Alexey to publish the game.

I’m doing a terrible job of how great of the story the making of Tetris is so again watch the video that I embedded in this review.

Tetris is a simple puzzle game but it gets intense quick. You’ll have shapes composed of four square blocks that fall from the top of the screen one at a time. The goal is to turn the shapes around to make a complete row across the screen. Once the blocks make a line across the screen, that row will disappear and you’ll earn points. The shapes that fall have different patterns on them but as I learned rather embarrassingly that I’ll go into more detail later, it doesn’t affect the overall gameplay. The goal is always to complete the row to make it disappear.

If the blocks continue to fall and you aren’t able to complete a row, then the blocks will pile up until they reach the top of the ceiling on your screen. When this happens, it’s game over. On the right-hand side of the screen, you’ll have your score, as well as the level you are on and how many lines you’ve completed. There’s also a preview box on the bottom right corner that will show you what shape of blocks is coming next. This lets you strategize a bit but the more lines you complete and the higher the level, the faster the blocks fall. When you reach level nine, the blocks fall rapidly quicker than they were on level one.

You can choose Type-A or Type-B for gameplay but to my uneducated knowledge, I don’t think it changes anything besides the bonus scenes that you’ll see when you reach a certain level. Speaking of those bonus scenes, it was a real treat for people playing on the Game Boy to see the quirky little sequences of Russian culture. When you complete higher levels you’ll be treated to a quick scene of a rocket launching into space or Russian dancers doing jigs on top of buildings.

Tetris certainly is a perfect puzzle game for a mobile game system and Nintendo capitalized on it massively. Everyone played Tetris and it became a smashing success. Everyone loved the simple gameplay, the cute scenes of Russian culture, and the music that happily chimed along. The fact that Tetris came from Russia probably intrigued even more people to give the game a shot as the Cold War between Russia and the U.S. was still ongoing.

One of the most embarrassing things that I’ll admit is that I didn’t know how Tetris worked until I reviewed it for this. I knew that the blocks had different patterns on them and believed that you had to match the patterns. I know, how stupid am I? Well, once I learned that’s not the case and that you just need to insert the blocks to make a full row, the game became a lot easier. It wasn’t that easy as I struggled to reach any bonus scenes that occur when you reach certain levels.

I’ve always been interested in Tetris because of how much I heard of what a legendary video game it was but, to be honest, I missed the boat on this. The game is too old for me to get into and I didn’t get addicted to the gameplay. I’m sure it was ground-breaking back in 1989, and I can appreciate the legacy as well as respect it but I simply wasn’t playing it during its magical run.

I wish I loved Tetris as others do but the game didn’t hold my attention. I tried playing it on various levels and while I could manage to clear nine or ten lines on the highest level, I still felt like I sucked as my game was over in just a few minutes. Tetris is a simple game with a simple objective but with the launch of the Game Boy, it was a perfect storm. That storm is long gone, but if you love puzzle games, you can’t miss this. I’m glad I experienced it but I prefer puzzle games like BoxBoy! with a bit more sophistication. Go ahead and chastise me and my taste now.

Tetris scores a 7.9 out of 10.

Do you remember when Tetris first came out? Was it one of the games that you got with your Game Boy? Where does it rank in your puzzle gaming library? Were you aware of the crazy story that comes with the development and distribution rights to Tetris? Let me know your memories and thoughts, I’d love to read the comments!

If you’d like to own a copy of Tetris, you can purchase a used copy of it for the Game Boy from eBay for around $10.

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