#656 – Tetris (Tengen/Nintendo)

                                                               

                                                                                                                           Dah.

 

                                                         

                                                                                                       Love the Cossacks.

 

                                  

                                                                          “From Russia With Fun”? C’mon, Nintendo…

 

                      

                                                       Nintendo’s version has more vibrant colors for the Tetris pieces.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous (Tengen)/ 1 (Nintendo)

PUBLISHER: Tengen/Nintendo

DEVELOPER: Tengen/Nintendo

GENRE: Puzzle

RELEASE DATE: 1989 (Tengen)/ November 1989 (Nintendo)

 

Tengen’s Tetris is a full-bodied salute to Mother Russia. From the Cossack dancers that greet you every time you beat a level, to the traditional Russian folk tunes, to the overwhelming sprite portrait of an Orthodox cathedral (complete with fireworks!) when you boot up the game. Since Tetris was first developed by Alexey Pajitnov, a Russian, said salute honors the man’s homeland (previous versions did not overtly emphasize Tetris’ Russian origins). Nintendo’s Tetris retains some of the Russian imagery, but the cathedral sprites and folk tunes, though well-composed, feel obligatory rather than celebratory. This could have to do with Nintendo’s policy of shying away from controversial imagery, and the fact that the Soviet Union had yet to fall when their version was released. Nevertheless, despite being unlicensed, Tengen’s Tetris radiates warmth and personality compared to Nintendo’s well-developed, but ultimately sterile interpretation.

 

Even if you could care less about Tengen honoring the Motherland more than Nintendo, Tetris with the backwards ‘R’ is the deeper, better version. Check these modes: One-player (natch), Two-player VS (!), Two-player co-op (!!), Computer VS. and, perhaps the craziest mode of all, Computer co-op. That’s five modes, without counting the handicap option that scrunches the playing field by adding layers of misshapen bricks. Nintendo only has two modes – A-Type or standard one-player Tetris and B-Type, a backwards version that has you clearing a certain number of lines in order to win. Both versions play the same – Tetris is Tetris is Tetris – though Tengen’s version felt more responsive. It does feel more rewarding to clear lines in Nintendo’s version, though, particularly when you get a ‘Tetris’ and the screen sparkles.

 

Thanks to legal troubles with Nintendo (Nintendo owned console rights to Tetris, while Atari/Tengen owned arcade rights), Tengen’s Tetris was pulled off the shelves mere weeks after being released in 1989. Later that year, Nintendo’s version appeared on the shelves, cementing it as the one-and-only Tetris authority on the NES. Tengen’s version was largely forgotten, until the mid-to-late 90s ROM explosion made it more obtainable. Since then, it has grown in esteem and value. The going rate for it on Pricecharting.com is $45 – a goodly sum for an NES game, though not as rare as other games. And if you’re a Tetris fan, it’s absolutely worth it. Nintendo’s version of Tetris is playable, enjoyable even. But once you’ve dabbled in the forbidden fruit that is Tengen’s Tetris, there’s no going back to a lesser version.

 

TENGEN: A-

 

NINTENDO: B+

 

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  • Mike

    Tengen Tetris was another prime example of sucess between Famicom pirates. Every multigame pirate cart I have (3) cointains it, and I saw many more. Never played a lot of Nintendo version, because always considered it inferior, and is, with a hard gameplay.
    But the Tengen one has a defect that has bothered me: the speed stops increasing at level 17. Once you get into it, Tengen Tetris becomes just an endurance test until concentration fails, which can sometimes take a while if you are the type who plays it a lot.
    I still prefer Tetris 2 + Bombliss above almost all versions (Arcade TGM series excluded). Besides the excellent gameplay and variety, has battery backup to save scores. A pity it didn't come to America, remember an article in Gamepro hopefully talking about the game.

  • Very cool review – I liked that you touched on both releases, as I had both when I was younger as well. My dad was not a big fan of most video games. For the first year or two I had my Nintendo, all he would play is duck hunt, but Tetris was something he really got into and that we both still play to this day. 🙂

    • DylanCornelius

      That's cool, chalgyr! I love gaming bonding stories between parents/grandparents. My grandma and I used to play Tetris together as well. It's one of those games that transcends generations.

  • Tengen Tetris has two-player, true, but what people generally fail to mention is that it's lame as hell two-player. The two of you just play. Eventually, one of you loses, and the other plays on. There's no influencing your opponent's play-field or anything. You might as well just be playing on two non-connected Gameboys. It's better than nothing, I guess, but only marginally. I really don't see any good reason to play it in the here and now.

    • Mike

      Two players can play simultaneously. Much better than the official version. Excellent when there are more people wanting to play at the same time (my house in the 90s).
      The game is from 1989, what you wanted? Puyo Puyo? Only appeared years later.

      • Gameboy Tetris is also from 1989, and in spite of being on a more primitive platform, it's better than Tengen's version in every way.

        • Agreed GeoX. One summer my best friend and I linked up our Gameboys and played the hell out of that game.

  • I would agree. The Game Boy version trumps both in every way. The NES game should have had 2 player, there's really no reason it doesn't. But the GB version, with superior music, and just all around a more rounded game…..it was a shit-ton of fun.

  • bringjoy

    The Russian government “never payed” any money and royalties to the original creator of this brilliant game until 1997.