Retro Coin Op Synopsis
Call it the Russian Revolution… In 1987, software company Spectrum Holobyte, Inc., released a PC game designed by Russian programmer Alexey Pazhitnov. Dubbed Tetris (from the Greek word for “four”), the game was deceptively simple: Using seven differently-shaped bricks—each made of four blocks—players tried to build complete rows at the bottom of the screen.
The bricks could be rotated in order to fit gaps in the rows, but players had no control over which bricks dropped randomly from the sky. Once a row was finished, it disappeared, but every gap had to be filled. The bricks fell faster and faster as the levels increased, and if they reached the top of the screen, the game was over.
That was it. No shooting, no running and jumping, no fighting, no asteroids, aliens, commandos or dragons. Tetris was simply a puzzle game, but it was quite possibly the most addictive thing ever to hit the personal computer. Sensing a big thing in the making, Atari released an arcade version in 1988.
Gameplay remained mostly the same, with players having to form a set number of lines in order to move on to the next level. As a tribute to the game’s Eastern European origins, Atari’s Tetris featured catchy Russian music and a traditionally-garbed dancer who celebrated your accomplishments. The one major switch from the PC version was the addition of two-player capabilities, with matching puzzles on each side of the screen.
Tetris was a major success on the PC and in arcades, but the revolution really took hold in 1989. In that pivotal year, Nintendo’s portable Game Boy arrived in stores, with Tetris as its pack-in game. That mutually-beneficial relationship turned both the game and the system into legends. Very little had changed in terms of gameplay (linked play was the only major innovation), but the ability to carry Tetris anywhere was enough to convert millions of fans from their action and fighting games.
Thanks to its across-the-board appeal, Tetris was one of the best-known titles of the late 80’s, and its phenomenal success was the birth of a whole new genre: the puzzle game. Dozens of clones and variations followed in Tetris’ wake, from arcade hits like Columns and Klax to home system games like Dr. Mario and Pipe Dream.
The Tetris influence continues in every puzzle game released, and even the Tetris name lives on in home game updates like Tetrisphere and The Next Tetris, proving that a truly revolutionary idea never gets old.