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Tetris is 30 years old today - here are ten reasons why it's the best puzzle game ever

Tom Morgan
6 Jun 2014
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One of the most addictive and challenging puzzle games ever turns 30 today. Here's 10 reasons Tetris has left a lasting legacy on the world

One of the most popular puzzle games ever made, Tetris has been released in some form or another for virtually every computer system and games console since it launched back in 1984. As it turns 30 this week, we look back on three decades of one of Russia’s most famous exports to find ten reasons Tetris has left a lasting legacy on gamers worldwide.

10. It was built for an obscure Russian computer you've never heard of

Most people’s first memories of Tetris will be playing it on a Game Boy handheld or home games console, but back in 1984 it was an Elektronika 60-exclusive title. The machine, which stood at almost two-metres tall, was about as far from a games console as it’s possible to be and was commonly found in science labs and factories across the vast expanses of the Soviet Union. With a measly 8KB of RAM and the capability of performing 250,000 operations per second, however, Tetris would have certainly been too processor-intensive for the Elektronika.

The tetrominoes used in the original game, developed by Alexey Pajitnov, were therefore formed out of text characters (see above) rather than graphical objects, but nonetheless the game proved to be a hit. It was so popular that it rapidly expanded to other platforms and countries, eventually becoming the first piece of entertainment software to be exported from Russia to the USA, rather than the other way around.

9. It helped Nintendo sell a whopping 118 million Game Boy handhelds

Already an immensely popular game before Nintendo bought the rights to release it on handhelds and non-Japanese games consoles, Tetris absolutely exploded in popularity when it was released for the Game Boy. This was partly because the game came bundled with every Game Boy sold in the US, after game publisher Henk Rogers persuaded Nintendo to reconsider bundling Super Mario Land with the handheld. His reasoning was that “while a Mario title would sell the Game Boy to young boys, Tetris would sell it to everyone”.

Tetris Game Boy

Tetris was also the first Game Boy title to support the 2-player Link cable

The resulting sales cemented the Game Boy as one of the most popular handheld consoles of all time, a title it held until the Nintendo DS was released two decades later.

8. You can play it on an oscilloscope

According to World Record experts Guinness, Tetris is the most ported video game of all time - having appeared on over 65 different platforms by 2011. Tetris isn't just for games consoles and PCs though: there are countless other gadgets that included a copy of the puzzler, including mobile phones, PDAs and even graphing calculators. You can find a rudimental version built into the Terminal command line editor on Apple's OS X operating system, but the most obscure gadget on which to play Tetris on has to be HP's 54600B oscilloscope.

HP 54600B DSO

More commonly used for measuring the variance in voltages, the 54600B has a secret easter egg that turns the expensive lab equipment into a rudimental games machine. Should you happen to have one lying around, simply press the Print/Utility button then hold Function buttons 2 and 3 down at the same time to launch the game.

7. One of the best Tetris players in the US helped launch Apple

Who knew that one of the most important men in technology was actually a secret Tetris genius? Steve Wozniak, one of the three founders of Apple, held the top spot on the Nintendo Power magazine leaderboards for so long the publishers refused to print his name. Woz’s response was to send in a new score as “Evets Kainzow”.

“I’d been in so often. I actually spelt my name backwards and forgot I’d done it, and the next month I saw it in there and got scared because someone else had the high score.”

Wozniak met Steve Jobs while working at Atari, so was hardly a stranger to gaming, but it was only when his children introduced him to the Game Boy (which by that point had a copy of Tetris bundled in the box) and explained the rules before he got to grips with the addictive puzzler.

6. It inspired countless mind-bending variants

Tetris may be a bonafide classic, but that doesn't mean gamers aren't happy to try new versions of the original formula. There are thousands of titles inspired by, and then ripped off from the original, but Welltris is an official sequel. Tetris was always played at the bottom of a well, but this time, instead of through the side, x-ray style, you're looking straight down.

The setup may look 3D, but everything is actually flat. 2D Blocks creep down the sides of the well, and you can move each block between the four walls, rotating it at the same time to get it into the right position at the bottom. Get it wrong, so that even one tiny bit of a block sticks into one of the walls, and that wall is taken out of play, cutting down your options. Lose all four walls and it's game over. As you can imagine, planning your block's position in five dimensions is an interesting challenge, but we can't help but feel that some of the simple joy of the original has been lost.

If you've managed to get your head around the five dimensions of Welltris, it’s time to get stuck into Blockout. Less of an overhaul of the whole Tetris concept and more of an evolution, the perspective has shifted from the side of the well to looking down it, but this time your blocks are properly 3D, as is the play area. Move the blocks in two dimensions and rotate them in a third, and try to form lines of blocks as the well fills up towards the camera.

Mind-melting stuff, and now open source and available to download for free from www.blockout.net.

5. It takes superhuman reflexes to play it at the highest level

Anyone who has ever played Tetris will have got to a point where they simply can’t keep up with the speed of each falling block. It starts out innocently enough. As the first few blocks fall at an almost snail-like pace, the game gradually eases you into its inevitable trap. As the blocks get faster and faster, you start thinking that the speed must surely level out eventually, but they just keep getting quicker. This makes you panic, and you start making critical errors that completely destroy all your hard work, and the pressure just gets worse as you pile of blocks gradually creeps higher and higher.

Yet there are some players out there whose superhuman reflexes boggle the mind. In August 2013, a Speed Tetris player broke the world Tetris speed record by completing an astounding 40-lines of Tetris blocks in just under 20 seconds - 19.68 seconds to be precise. Admittedly, it took Japanese player "keroco" ten months to perfect their technique, but the sheer speed at which the line race takes place is almost too fast to believe.

4. The music is just as addictive as the gameplay

Few plinks and plonks are as instantly recognisable as the Tetris theme. Unsurprisingly it has been sampled, remixed and generally mangled by artists big and small over the years. Who can forget Swedish electro-dance heartthrob Basshunter with his super-speedy Tetris remix? Or odious German techno dance group Scooter whistling along in their ‘unique’ hardstyle take on Tetris? Then there’s Powerglove’s speed metal cover and Dr P’s dubstep tribute. Marvellous stuff.

Our current favourite is the entire history of the Soviet Union, told through the medium of falling blocks. Long live Lenin!

3. You can play it on the side of buildings

At it's heart, Tetris is so thoroughly simplistic that it can easily can be transferred to outlandish surfaces with affecting the gameplay at all. Don’t believe us? Check out the video below, which shows the game being played on the side of a building.

The only problem with playing like this is that your every mistake is giant and everyone around you can see when you’re too slow to rotate a block. It’s also bound to be quite annoying for anyone in the building trying to get a bit of late-night work done, but then who cares about them when there’s giant Tetris to play?

2. It's name is used to describe a neurological condition

Not many games become so ingrained in society that their names are used to describe neurological conditions, but that’s exactly how popular Tetris has become. The Tetris effect, also known as Tetris syndrome, is caused when a person spends so much time and attention on a single activity that it starts to impact their thoughts, dreams and mental images.

The effect isn’t just consigned to Tetris; it has been known to manifest as the illusion of curved lines after completing a jigsaw puzzle, programmers have reported dreaming about code and Rubiks cube masters have explained how patterns and algorithms often appear involuntarily in their heads. If you’ve ever found yourself thinking about how real world objects could fit together, like the buildings on a street or the boxes on supermarket shelves, it might be a sign to put the game down.

1. It keeps coming back

Even after 30 years, Tetris still has massive universal appeal - so much so that developers can't leave it alone. Ubisoft is the latest to give it a try, having partnered with the Tetris Company to launch Tetris Ultimate. The anniversary edition of the legendary puzzler will be bringing familiar Tetris gameplay to the Xbox One and the PS4, with a PC version coming a little later, along with a fresh coat of paint and several new game modes to keep Tetris veterans on their toes. With Battle, Endless, Marathon, Power-up Battle, Ultra and Sprint modes all making the cut, this definitely isn't Tetris as your granddad knows it.

We expect to find out more about Tetris Ultimate at E3 where the father of Tetris himself, Alexey Pajitnov, will be in attendance. The game will be available to download later this summer, leaving plenty of time to wish Tetris a happy 30th birthday.

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