Tetris 30th Anniversary Retrospective

From Russia with fun.

by

There are many beloved video games, but only a rare few manage to permeate mainstream awareness and become cultural icons, and even fewer do so on an international scale. Usually, it's the identity of a main character that average folks latch onto. What about Tetris? The most recognizable imagery from Tetris is a tetromino: a geometric shape composed of four squares, connected orthogonally. Yet, Tetris is one of the most well-known games of all time, and since its inception, it has appeared on almost every device capable of playing games.

The man responsible for creating Tetris is Alexey Pajitnov, a researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union, who in 1984 created the legendary puzzler. From there, Pajitnov's colleague, Vadim Gerasimov, developed a port for the IBM PC, which was later licensed to US publisher Spectrum Holobyte. It was Gerasimov's port that engrained Tetris into American culture, but the game also made its way to other countries, and other platforms, at the hands of cavalier programmers, leading to wild licensing of the Tetris brand in different countries.

The most memorable mishandling of the Tetris license took place in America, where publisher Tengen (Atari's console division) released a version of Tetris for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Nintendo was none too happy; Tengen licensed Tetris from a party without the rights to sell it, and Nintendo itself had appropriately and legally secured rights to its own NES port. The dispute led to a lawsuit that would eventually end in Nintendo's favor, and Tengen was forced to recall all copies of its game. The takeaway: Tetris is a valuable property with global appeal, and people are willing to lie, steal, and sue in order to wield its popularity. For the players, none of this mattered.

Here's what Tetris means to us.

Chris Watters

Tetris in space!

Tetris entered my life on the Apple IIGS, my family's first computer. The "family" distinction is important here, because one look at the leaderboard would tell you that I wasn't the only one who developed an obsession with the burgeoning classic. Though Tetris was primarily a struggle against myself--the version I played wouldn't stop until the ever-increasing drop speed made it impossible to keep up--striving to best my mom or my dad gave me my first taste of the competitive thrill of gaming. Going to bed with a chart-topper gave me such sweet satisfaction, though it irked me that my dad didn't have an enforced bedtime keeping him from playing one more round.

That "one more round" impulse is indicative of just how engrossing Tetris can be. Getting into the flow of spotting the piece, analyzing the matrix, moving the piece into place, and then dropping it to bring on the next one becomes an almost meditative exercise. A good Tetris round is an utterly absorbing experience in which you tune out the world around you, which makes it even more remarkable that it can also give rise to such cutthroat competition.

Fast-forward to college, and The New Tetris has arrived on the Nintendo 64. My friend has four controllers and a penchant for trash-talking, so I rise to the challenge and step in to show off my formidable skills. My first match is a total debacle as I get snowed under by the new block-fusing mechanic and by my friend's own formidable skills. I was hooked. The challenge of individual performance and the thrill of competition from my childhood came rushing back, reborn for a new period in my life and a new crop of competitors. Tetris had changed, but the joy that it brought into my life was as bright as ever. And my friend? A decade later, I married her.

Peter Brown

Tetris in your pocket!

My first taste of Tetris was on the Nintendo Entertainment System, but it belonged to my older brother, so I spent most of my time just watching him play. It wasn't until I received a Game Boy for my sixth birthday (in 1991) that I had a copy of my very own. It came into my life along with Mega Man's first portable outing, but Dr. Wily was too much of a challenge for 6-year-old me, so it would be Tetris that I played night after night, cloaked under my bedsheets with whatever source of light I could muster. I can still recall the playful sounds of "korobeiniki," or to most of us, "the Tetris song," and the rewarding tones that played when you cleared four lines in a row, appropriately enough referred to as a "Tetris." My fondness for tetrominos led me to Daedilian Opus--another Game Boy puzzle game that happened to use similar geometrical shapes, but it didn't hold my attention like the real deal. It didn't take me long to revert back to my old ways, and frankly, to the better game.

Tetris played a different role in my life during high school, where it was once again a clandestine activity. By our sophomore year, everyone was required to carry a TI-82 graphic calculator, and the great thing about that was that with the right cable, you could install a wide array of free software from a connected computer, and as you can probably guess, installing Tetris was priority number one for a lot of us. Some teachers would eventually catch on to the fact that most of their students were busy assembling blocks rather than plotting curves and graphs, but for the most part, almost everyone spent some amount of time playing Tetris in secret on a daily basis. Leaderboards didn't exist, either online or on paper, so we ranked one another via word of mouth. Like a game of telephone, word of high scores spread through the hallways, changing a little bit with each new messenger. It came as no surprise to me when I finally learned about national Tetris competitions, but the reflexes of champion Tetris players made our attempts at greatness look like child's play.

Now, Tetris is everywhere. Every computer, game console, and telephone that has crossed my path since seems to have its own version, and it will probably go down in history as one of the most popular video games ever created. Having grown up with Tetris, seeing it succeed on such a large scale is nothing short of gratifying. Who knew 6-year-old me had such good taste!

Randolph Ramsay

Could Tetris be the greatest game of all time? There have certainly been plenty who have claimed that in the past, and if you measure these types of things in terms of cultural impact, then few games can match Tetris. Ubiquity is certainly a key part of this--since 1984, versions of Tetris have appeared on countless devices in countless forms, so much so that it doesn't feel like hyperbole to say that everybody--everybody--has played Tetris before.

But there's a reason the game is so ubiquitous. Tetris is, quite simply, one of the most welcoming games ever made. It's simple and complex and shallow and deep all at the same time. It takes a minute to learn everything you need to know to play the game, but weeks or maybe months to become skillful. And the game is simply fun no matter how much you put into it, whether that's a few minutes on a bus, half an hour on the couch at home, or hours on a long plane ride.

I first came across Tetris in 1990, when a friend managed to score himself a nifty new Game Boy. He had plenty of other games that we played, but the only one I remember to this day is Tetris. Since then, I've played it on multiple platforms, and I'll likely continue to go back to it for many more years to come. Long after the likes of Angry Birds or Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto or other recent games that have hit mainstream consciousness have faded, Tetris will still be around. And there's good reason for that.

Does Tetris hold a special place in your heart? When was the first time you hummed korobeiniki without realizing it? Let us know in the comments below.

Discussion

59 comments
widdowson91
widdowson91

If any game can truly be called timeless Tetris is that game. Like many it was the Game Boy version I first played, and I still have fond memories. One day I was at my Grandparents, and my Granddad asked me what game I was playing. Expecting it to be a Mario or Zelda game I replied Tetris, and asked if he wanted a go. For the next two hours he wouldn't come off it. That's the effect Tetris had on its players. My Granddad never played video games, but Tetris drew him in quite like nothing else I can remember. When the Game Boy Advance was released I let my Granddad borrow my Game Boy and Tetris, and as time went on he became a monster at it. His high scores were insane, the highest I've ever personally seen in person, and he was consistently completing hundreds of lines each game.

PyreofKoL
PyreofKoL

Mmm, Tetris. Love that game. I really enjoyed Tetris Evolution on the GameCube. Some great multiplayer.

Rizer
Rizer

Tetris never seems to get old. I have it on my phone even now. I play it like some people play solitare.

nomadsalt
nomadsalt

I don't understand this article... There isn't a "new" Call of Duty reference to be found anywhere.

simc1
simc1

The Russian Celebrations are already ON ...

loafofgame
loafofgame

As a hardcore gamer I don't play these casual games. Together with Pac-Man Tetris initiated the destruction of the gaming industry I used to love.


;-)

imm_84
imm_84

I hope the Wii U releases a fun form of that game ..  I still play it every year at least a few times

Sevenizz
Sevenizz

So sad most discovered Tetris with a Nintendo published product. The Atari arcade machine and Tengen NES game's being the best.

getyeryayasout
getyeryayasout

The first time I played Tetris was when I rented it as a Tengen bootleg for the NES. It was the best version of Tetris...ever.

Megavideogamer
Megavideogamer

I own Gameboy Tetris, NES Tetris, Sega Megadrive Tetris, Xbox Tetris worlds, Xbox 360 Tetris,evolution,PSP Tetris, 

Seems every system has had their version of Tetris. But they have never released the coin op version of Tetris yet.


I like Tetris well enough that I will buy the PS4 version whenever that is made and released. I can only get to level 13 and no further.

jenovaschilld
jenovaschilld

I played tetris as grown man on a gameboy that belonged to y nephew- I remember after a little while i had to change the batteries and I literally played straight through that next set. I dreamed the shit afterward, and I thought what a perfect little game. 

After I married we and another couple would play street fighter puzzle for hours - one of the many games directly descended from tetris 

DrKill09
DrKill09

My favorite versions are still the GameBoy and Tengen NES releases.

homelessgamer
homelessgamer

This game always humbled my limited intelligence. I think that's what the russkies designed this for.

Afinati
Afinati

A few years after Peter Brown, I first played Tetris on my very own Gameboy ... and, like Chris Watters, I competed against family for high scores. .... I never thought about the universal nature of Tetris or its prominence in gaming; I just thought of it as a given, like poker or hide and seek. It's one of the very first games I remember having played. Had no clue about its history either? Russian, huh?

For about three seconds, I was like ... how does the Tetris tune go again? But, nope ... of course it sprung to mind and now it's stuck there....

Gallowhand
Gallowhand

I can remember first playing Tetris on PC a very long time ago (probably the late 1980s when my work colleagues and I played various games competitively during our lunch breaks).  Such a good game.

Ardiendos
Ardiendos

I love you for this Peter. Tetris, for me, is the greatest game of all time. The soundtrack could not be more perfect either... it's such an unexplainably wonderful fusion ;_;


At University I was literally addicted to the Facebook app. I got asked to leave the library so many times for playing it whilst other people wanted to use the computers for work (we had mechanical keyboards too so it's not like I could hide the fact I was playing it haha). 


Right now my favourite variation is the 40 line sprint. At the top of my game I was able to get my time down to 1 minute 22 seconds and I could pretty much play without looking at the upcoming bricks such was my reliance on muscle memory.

cf_Kage
cf_Kage

I had Tetris on the Gameboy, but I can't remember how and when I got the Gameboy, or how I got Tetris... Did it come with systems back then?

BrunoBRS
BrunoBRS

i bought tetris DX for the GBC thinking it was a shoot'em up because there was a space shuttle in the box art, and i was 5.


that's also how i ended up owning the first red alert, a few years later.

bizuit
bizuit

Tetris was the first multiplayer game I ever played

WolfgarTheQuiet
WolfgarTheQuiet

Still got the fat gameboy and tetris catridge in it. Wonder if it still works.

olddadgamer
olddadgamer

Overnight camp.  1990.  Gameboy.  Man, I think everyone in my bunk had them.  I distinctly remember one kid (not me) trading his smuggled, contraband issue of Penthouse for more batteries for his gameboy to play more.  Ah, priorities.  


And I very much doubt a single one of us here over the age of 30 has never had a night where they saw tetris blocks behind their eyes before falling asleep. 

Sevenizz
Sevenizz

Nintendo bought the license and released their own version(s). Sadly, they took the dancing out and the music got drowned out. I'm surprised no one brought it back. It felt very rewarding watching the intermissions.

Sevenizz
Sevenizz

The gameboy version is the only version I can complete on the hardest level. Felt good to actually have an ending.

DrKill09
DrKill09

@homelessgamer  Play it more.  Puzzle games like Tetris, Hexic HD, Columns, Intelligent Qube, and even the underrated Henry Hatsworth are great tools to develop problem solving skills, and learn fast decision making.

olddadgamer
olddadgamer

@Gallowhand Was wondering when you'd get here!  Pour a nostalgic martini and wait for all the other geezers to drop by.

Cloister56
Cloister56

@WolfgarTheQuiet  Ah I had this one too, though being in the uk it was "Hero Turtles" I seem to remember doing really well and then it breaking. The replacement was "Ninja Turtles" and maybe I just had a lucky game but I never got anywhere close to my previous scores. The Top Gun game from the same series was fun too.

DrKill09
DrKill09

@WolfgarTheQuiet  I remember games like this.


...hell, I had a few of the REAL old games that were just red LED's on a black screen growing up.  Of those, I had Football and Space Invaders.

deadpen
deadpen

@WolfgarTheQuiet  Had this and found a cheat to select levels by accident (pissed hitting buttons). I also had the other one.

Chris_Watters
Chris_Watters moderator staff

@WolfgarTheQuiet  OH MY LORD I HAD THAT THING I haven't thought about it in so long. Frickin' mousers. Awesome, thank you for sharing this :D

Sevenizz
Sevenizz

Yes, it came out with every 1st gen gameboy.

Sevenizz
Sevenizz

I'm good at Tetris, but I remember playing it online on the original Xbox and people were insanely good at it.

ArchoNils2
ArchoNils2

Same here and I actually tested it, works fine after all those years :) I don't think any current system will work in 15 years anymore :/

homelessgamer
homelessgamer

It's ok, you seem like a cool dude. That's all that matters.

DrKill09
DrKill09

@homelessgamer  Well, sarcasm doesn't work too well in text.


...then again, I have trouble detecting it irl.

DrKill09
DrKill09

@homelessgamer  You'll be old too one day.  Respect your elders.


I'm 28, and I feel like I'm in my 50's.  I can't relate with people today at all.