If there is one game that has been played by almost anyone that got close to any kind of computer, it has to be Tetris. It is everywhere: From key-chains, over mobile phones, TV set-top boxes and pocket calculators to high end PCs. Think of any platform and you can be sure this game runs on it. If there ever are refrigerators with Internet connections, you will certainly be able to stack some blocks while checking your milk re-order. Tetris is one of those rare games that have outgrown copyright struggles and has become a commonly shared idea, which massively contributed to its success. Still, under this myriad of clones and copies, there are some versions many people consider the definite version. Like Spectrum Holobyte's Tetris – which often is (wrongly) thought of as the first – and the probably most famous one, which we are going to talk about today: Tetris for Game Boy.
This Tetris was the console's launch title, whose cartridge came with every new Game Boy. Picking such an easily accessible game with such a broad appeal was a great idea. Proper programming and putting in just the right amount of extra features made it even greater. You also should not underestimate the fact that Tetris lends tremendously well to hand-held devices and this was one of the first chances to witness this perfect match. But the game's appeal does not only lie in the past, for it has aged really well. You might even say that is still one of the best Tetris releases out there. And here are some of the reasons why.
Let us start with the one thing that undeservedly might put off most of the people: the graphics. Yes, they are black and white (or actually more brown and green) and grainy, but considering these limitations, the game does an excellent job at making the pieces distinguishable. You do not have to see the actual shape, you can instantly tell them apart by their different patterns (e.g. solid grey for L bricks, the button like appearance of the |- bricks) as soon as you see one single block. There are more colour full versions of Tetris out there which miserably fail at that.
And there is another thing this Tetris for Game Boy has over those other ports, namely one of its most famous features. Just take a moment and try to guess about which melody we are going to talk about now. It is the one song you always hear when Tetris shows up in popular culture, the one song so much ingrained into our ears that almost everyone will instantly connect it with falling bricks, yet almost no-one will be able to tell you its actual name. It was not always the 'Tetris theme', but originally it was the 'Korobeiniki', and it is a real Russian folk song. Anyway, it is incredibly catchy and the classic beeps of the Game Boy make it even more charming than it already is. As for the other songs: They are not bad either, but not as memorable. Maybe with the exception of the winning song for Game B.
Speaking of which, the main innovation of this particular Tetris is a mode (said Game B) in which you have to clear a level from a certain amount of lines in order to win, instead of stacking until the inevitable defeat. You can also set a starting height, up to which the game field is randomly filled with blocks and gaps. This is quite an interesting twist which makes for a slightly different challenge. Suddenly you stop caring about those long bricks and getting a Tetris (i.e. clearing four lines at once), but just want to get some breathing space as fast as possible.
Plus, on finishing the highest level, there is a short animation as a reward, which gets longer, and slightly more complex, the higher you set the starting height of the lines. Something similar happens in Game A (the traditional mode) when you reach specific scores. Besides being a nice motivation, it is good to know that the developer cared enough about their game that they not solely relied on the tried and tested gameplay.
As for said gameplay, let us take a look at the main features of this particular implementation: You cannot move the pieces to the side of the screen at an instant, but they move stepwise instead. Therefore it gets rather hard to correctly place them at higher levels, because their vertical movement becomes faster than the horizontal one. You can rotate the bricks clockwise and counterclockwise, which comes in handy when you have to react really fast. And the stones do not just drop straight to the ground as soon as you press down, but they accelerate and return to normal speed as soon as you release the D-Pad.
Finally, there is one thing that was unique back then and is still very rare in newer versions: the multiplayer mode. You can link up two Game Boys and play against a friend. The really fun (and actual multiplayer) part about this one is that whenever you clear some lines they start to fill up the bottom of your opponent's screen. Just imagine the horror of hearing the cheery Tetris sound, when it does not come from your Game Boy, knowing that it will not be long until you will have to deal with four extra lines… yet, since the new lines always have one single long gap you can pay your opponent back really fast. The typical mulitplayer session consists of sending those lines back and forth as fast as possible. This results in a surprisingly dynamic interplay in which feelings tend to run high.
Overall I think it is safe to say, that if you like stacking some good old boxes, you cannot go wrong with this Game Boy version. It plays fluently, makes excellent use of its system and has a very catchy sound track. Out of the million variations out there, this is one of the most outstanding ones.Currently, it holds the Guiness World Record for 'Most ported computer game'.
I even came across some jokes about it. One of which goes something like this: Nine out of ten voices in my head tell me, that I am not insane, and the tenth keeps on singing the melody of Tetris.
If you never ever head of Tetris before, or if you just can not remember how it works right now, I recommend to take a look at Elwood's review here on our site. He does an excellent job of summing up the story.