Review by Alecto
I was one of those people who grew up with Nintendo’s version of Tetris and believed that it was one of the most ingenious and addictive games that I had ever played. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered the existence of this so-called “renegade” game, produced not by Nintendo, but by a rival company named Tengen. After a court battle between Nintendo and Tengen that resulted in Tengen’s game being ruled illegal, many of the cartridges were destroyed and the game became a rarity and a curiosity.
Though technically illegal, the game can still be found. In one form or another. I came across it totally unexpectedly after acquiring a NES cartridge with 52 games on it – many of them obscure Japanese titles. The cartridge itself was quite interesting. Slightly misshapen, with grooves in different places than our normal NES carts. A lighter shade of gray. The back of the cartridge bore a label that listed each game, with abbreviations and phonetically misspelled words that reeked of a contraband Chinatown import. Which I’m sure is what the cartridge was. Nevertheless, I saw Tetris II listed among the games. Since there is an actual game named Tetris 2 for the NES (a rather mediocre game that was published by Nintendo), I didn’t think much of this until I actually loaded it up and found NOT the polished graphics of a Nintendo product, but a foreign-looking Tetris that was slightly…off. I was looking at the Tengen version.
First impressions. From the point of view of someone used to the Nintendo version, Tengen Tetris is not as polished in terms of appearance. The graphics are less sophisticated, and there is not the same level of sharpness to the pictures that Nintendo’s version has. While the blocks do come in several different colors, they lack the cohesive (and often pretty) color schemes of Nintendo’s game, and the blocks all turn the same color upon hitting the bottom anyway.
But to spend too much time discussing graphics in a game like Tetris would be silly. Tetris is all about the gameplay, which is why the early, simpler versions of Tetris are generally the best. Tengen’s Tetris delivers the same gameplay as Nintendo’s, though it may take a few minutes to adjust to the fact that the blocks are all rendered as solid shapes as opposed to being sectioned off into squares. While initially this may make it harder to judge spatial relationships between the blocks, it’s easy for Tetris veterans to adjust to the new system.
The classic block shapes are all there, and the goal remains to fit them together to form solid rows as they fall from the top of the screen to the bottom. Scoring is based both on the total number of lines cleared as well as the number of combinations (double, triple or quadruple lines) achieved. After a certain number of lines are cleared, the player moves on to the next level, in which the blocks start to fall at a faster rate. If the stack of blocks gets out of control and reaches the top of the screen, the game is over.
Tengen’s version does offer something that its Nintendo counterpart doesn’t: the coveted 2-player mode. This one feature renders any other of the game’s small shortcomings irrelevant, and is what elevates Tengen’s version above that of the mighty Nintendo. In the two-player mode, the screen is split vertically with one player on each side. One player can square off against either a second human player or against the computer, with the goal of achieving the highest point total. The game also allows the players to assign handicaps to themselves, so a master can play against a beginner without the master feeling unchallenged, or the beginner feeling overwhelmed.
There is also an incredible co-operative mode, where two blocks fall from the screen simultaneously and are each controlled by one of the two human players. Here, the goal is to work together to clear lines. The co-operative mode is one of the more docile and amicable 2-player games out there, and it fosters communication, co-operation, and all that other warm and fuzzy stuff.
Tengen Tetris is a wonderful game that gets promoted to classic status because of its 2-player mode. It’s a shame that this version of Tetris was denied to gamers because of nothing more than developer politics. A lot of uncommon cartridges are mediocre games that are mainly only of interest to collectors because of the status associated with owning a rare item. Tengen Tetris, however, is a game that should be added to a collection not just for bragging rights, but because it’s an excellent game that actually offers more than its legal Nintendo rival.
Home Team (Nintendo)
-Nintendo’s graphics are more attractive
-Overall, the package is more polished
-three different 2-player modes: human against human; human against computer, and 2-player co-operative mode
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 03/02/03, Updated 05/06/03
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