Review by Ryan Harrison
"The must-have puzzle game for on the go."
Many folks will by now be certainly aware of what the dropping-block puzzle game Tetris is all about. Originating back in 1984 in the former Soviet Union on personal computers, the concept was so simple yet drew so many in with its addictive nature that the whole thing took the entire world by storm not long after. To this day Tetris continues to thrive and captivate many new gamers, as it continues to find its way to newer handhelds and devices such as the DS and most mobile phones. It would be back in 1989 when Nintendo took handheld gaming to a whole new level that Tetris would have its first major incarnation in portable format, and the end result is the same old game, still as engrossing as ever, and perfect for the system due to its lack of need to rely heavily on looks and graphics to get by.
By this time, Nintendo were not complete strangers to this game by virtue of the Nintendo Entertainment System also playing host to two separate Tetris ports; the unofficial, non-licensed version produced by Tengen, which was to be taken off store shelves and replaced not long after by Nintendo's own, though slightly inferior version. As was the case with the home consoles, other falling-block style clones and imitator games were spawned in Tetris' wake to cash in on the craze and capitalise on the puzzler trend to varying degrees of success. The original, however, still stands very much head and shoulders ahead of the pack, and I would say that is there is a game you want to grind time away on and sharpen your skills at something very simple, then Tetris for the Game Boy is going to be one you're very likely to want to pick up!
Though not quite as aesthetically appealing as its home console counterparts or versions that play on modern handhelds due to the Game Boy's primitive design and green-and-black monochrome screen, this will matter very little in the grand scheme of things, as Tetris is, and always has been, all about the gameplay itself and most of the graphics are simple shapes that don't seem to stretch the Game Boy's graphical capabilities all that much, so this plays very much perfectly.
There isn't anything as far as a story or plot goes in this game. In Tetris, the objective is to move the falling blocks and arrange them to fit together as best you can. By getting an uninterrupted line of blocks to stretch from the left side of the area to the right, these are wiped out to make you score points, and also create more space. As alludes to the literal meaning of the game's title, all the falling blocks are comprised of four square-shaped pieces joined together in various patterns. One block falls down from the top of the screen at the time, only stopping once it either lands at the bottom of the playing area, or on top of another settled piece. The game continues to play on indefinitely until so many pieces stack up together that they go past the top of the screen, at which point the game is over - so your job is to try and keep the game going as long as you can while scoring as many points as possible, to prevent the blocks from stacking up to the top.
It's all about looking for potential spots to fit blocks perfectly together without leaving any gaps, and clearing away as many lines in one swoop to score higher, as you can. By clearing multiple lines at once with a single piece then you'll gain more points: if you clear two lines simultaneously, you score a Double; with three lines, a Triple, or with four, a Tetris.
These are the rules in a standard game of Tetris, although the game also comes with a secondary mode in which you work away to clear some blocks that start out in the playing area beforehand - which we'll look at shortly. In any case, understanding the concept of this game is a complete doddle and takes no time getting used to. Short, easy, and very addictive. As a piece appears from the top of the screen and begins to move its way down, it is possible to move it left or right with the corresponding buttons on the D-Pad and make the piece plummet at a quicker rate by holding the Down button. With the A and B buttons, it is also possible to rotate a block clockwise or anticlockwise respectively, which helps if there is a specific pattern in a gap to fill and you can stack the pieces any which way round you want. You'll find that the controls are not only perfect for what to make the pieces do, but the response time is instant.
Once you've learned the ropes and started to get the hang of things, after clearing away so many lines your skill level (i.e. rate at which the pieces drop) gets notched up by one number (from 0 being the slowest, to 9 being the quickest). It is the type of game that will help you work out and develop good strategies to clear several lines and score big points if you spend time and practise a lot at it. By scoring well enough, it is also possible to earn yourself a spot on the top score ranking table in which you can enter your name, although this doesn't really serve a whole lot of purpose as high scores are only kept while the handheld is switched on, and are wiped once it is shut off. You do get a great deal of replay value from this if you are the type to go for as high a score as you can possibly get in games like these. The game is a very addictive one and there's always the feeling of wanting to better that last achievement when you end your last game! Another handy feature is that like in any decent puzzle game, there are a few settings that you can alter to your own liking upon starting up the game, so if you want to start out with blocks dropping faster or have some pieces already laid down for you to work at grinding away, you can modify the settings to your own preference and skill level.
There isn't a whole lotto see when it comes to the graphics and visuals; as mentioned, Tetris doesn't need to rely on plenty of details and complex shapes in order to look good. Given the small and simple screen of the Game Boy, Tetris plays no less well and feels no less addicting as it does any other version; you can still make out the pieces clearly with no effort, and it does at least fill each block out with a different pattern as a means of compensating for the lack of colour. Backgrounds are pretty much non-existent and other graphics are simple, solid black outlines of the tables and gauges that appear on-screen when playing. Altogether the graphics aren't the best you'll ever see on this handheld, yet have no glaring flaws to them that could make the gameplay experience any less enjoyable.
Like its (official) NES counterpart, Tetris on the Game Boy has three selectable background music themes to listen to while you play. While a wider selection would have been nice, this isn't too much of a major problem. One thing that is noticeable is how the 'official' Tetris BGM is included in this version as the first theme in the soundtrack. Again, all three background music themes are simple yet varied in tempo and flow, complement the gameplay style very well, and are pretty nice by Game Boy standards, given its simple sound output system.
There is a tremendous deal of challenge for players of all ranges of skill and experience in this game. For beginners and long-time players alike, the challenge can be modified accordingly from the menu screen upon starting up if you find the game too easy or too difficult, too fast or too slow. The speed of the game will also increase gradually as you continually play, so that you won't be stuck on the same challenge level forever and possibly getting bored of it. The challenge keeps up with you, so when you start getting more blocks stacked up and pieces coming down quicker, it will take more wits and quick thinking! If the regular Game A mode proves too easy for you, then you can also try your hand out at Game B, where you can choose a level from between 0-5, which determines the amount of randomly-placed blocks littered all across the bottom of the playing area, that you must try to clear away with the pieces that come down. It's a little different and something else to try if you start to get a little tired from the regular Tetris mode or want a different kind of way to get some challenge from this game, so there you go!
While a fantastic game that takes little time to get started up and can keep you playing from minutes to hours on end for terrific longevity and replay value, it does also come with a 2-Player mode, though this does require a second player with a Game Boy and their own copy, as well as a link cable accessory that can link your to handhelds together. This is the one major area where the Game Boy port of Tetris improved over its NES counterpart, which lacked any form of multiplayer (unless you were lucky enough to obtain the unofficial Tengen version). It is a fun feature of any puzzler to be able to compete against another player of similar quality to see who can rack up the most points.
All in all, Tetris is Tetris, no matter what format it plays on or how sparkly and colourful the graphics are. One small niggle with this particular version is that, as one to take on the go, it's pretty outdated today. Though copies can be found in abundance on eBay or at pawn shops, swap meets and the like, it's also just as well you can download the game free of charge to a modern mobile phone. That being said, this is still a very affordable game that comes for no more than pocket change in this day and age and is well worth being a part of your Game Boy library, if you own an original model or one of the later handhelds in the Game Boy family (Color, Advance, SP). Hunt it down for something simple yet addicting to take with you on the go and be prepared to grind away lots of time as you get lost in the experience of moving, stacking and clearing blocks!
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 07/30/13
Game Release: Tetris (EU, 09/28/90)
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