While I was flying home from Japan last week, I found myself staring at the games available in my Nintendo 3DS' Virtual Console. Then I found myself playing Tetris, a game that I haven't picked up in probably 20 years. Plane trips are funny like that.
Tetris jumped out at me because it was easy to play, required a minimal commitment, and had a great soundtrack. It was the Angry Birds of its day, except with real depth to go with the pleasure center stimulating sensation of watching giant piles of bricks go down. Appropriately, Mike recently called it out as a game deserving a perfect score over the weekend, writing, "Sure, you can point to games that have an existent narrative or more complex mechanics than Tetris, but Alexey Pajitnov's puzzle title has one of the best flow states of any game."
What I discovered in my own playthrough was that it was actually harder than I remembered, and this for a game that was never exactly easy.
I've had this happen to me with any number of games that I used to beat with relative easy growing up, most notably Duck Tales, in which I found to my embarrassment that I couldn't even finish the Amazon. In the case of Tetris, I used to be able to get the rocket ship on a fairly regular basis, an "ending" that appears after you score 100,000 points (you get a full-blown space shuttle if you can make it to 200,000 points). Nowadays, it's kind of a battle to even make 40,000 points. That's what happens when you don't practice for a decade - you stop trying to arrange everything like they're Tetris blocks and lose your mojo.
I went in cockier than I should have been. Recalling how easily I used to reach Level 9, I started at the beginning and started knocking blocks. Almost immediately, I managed to score a Tetris, which is to say that I wiped four lines at once. I remembered how getting a full-blown Tetris was a kind of holy grail growing up, and I figured I was on my way. Then I started letting blocks pile up in the middle while neglecting the sides. Before I knew it, I was dead. I had made it to Level 5.
Whenever I play Tetris, I always think back to an old Howard and Nester special in which the pair are turned into Tetris blocks and have to escape Tetris World. It was actually a story wrapped around a thinly-disguised strategy guide, but it did its job because I still remember it to this day. At least, I remember Nester puzzling over the optimal block formations, if not the solutions themselves. Hence, when I play Tetris, I find myself looking for the "optimal" play, and usually failing.
I improbably spent a good chunk of my plane ride on Tetris looking for those illusive plays, which to my chagrin resulted in my neglecting more pressing games like Chrono Trigger and Persona Q. But as Mike already wrote, there's a reason that Tetris is basically perfect. The seven available blocks, which can be rotated to fit various spaces, lend it near infinite replayability. It's a formula that has endured across platform after platform, popping up everything from mobile phones to plane screens (in fact, someone was playing Tetris on the monitor right in front of me while I was absorbed in my 3DS).
But while I'm sure there are better versions out there, I still mostly stick to the basic version for the Game Boy. I don't know how, but that soundtrack can be on what amounts to an infinite loop and I'll never get sick of it. The version that came closest to usurping the original for me was Tetris DS, which was cleverly skinned with a host of Nintendo properties. That version, though, was too easy. I never particlarly liked that you could just spin a Tetris block until you found the right slot, thus making it possible to dig out of even the most untenable position. It felt like a copout.
But like Tetris DS, which went out of print in relatively short order, the original Game Boy version of Tetris is surprisingly hard to find, having been pulled from the eShop at the end of 2014. Licenses can be a fickle thing. Luckily, I was able to grab it before it went away, and it kept me surprisingly busy over the weekend. At the moment, I've got a game sitting at about 40,000 points in Level 9, though I have to be careful lest I block myself out of being able to clear the bottom half of the screen. What happens, that rocket ship will soon be within my grasp.
Got a game you've been playing over the weekend? Share it below and let's chat in the comments. In the meantime, enjoy the Tetris theme on loop.