Tetris [GO]
October 7th, 2009 by Dan

Eric came up with an idea to write parallel reviews of the same video game to see how similar our reviews came out. You can see his at Eric’s Binary World 2.0

Tetris is…”video gaming distilled to its core

The most fun a person can have playing Tetris is completing this drop

The most fun a person can have playing Tetris is completing this drop

A Tetris Review (In Four Lines)

Tetris is a game where you try to clear lines from the screen using six different shapes.
The highest number of lines you can clear with one shape is four (called a Tetris).
There is no narrative reason for you to clear lines.
The reason for you to clear lines is because it is fun.

There’s absolutely no reason to review Tetris. The game has existed longer than I’ve even been alive. Most everyone who’s played video games has played it at least once. Everyone I know who has played it loves it. What is there to say about a game like that? I could write about tetrominoes, but I’m pretty sure most anyone who reads that word will say, “What the hell is a tetronimo?” (protip: it’s what the individual Tetris shapes are called) or I could talk about Tetris syndrome, a repetitive stress symptom resulting from endlessly watching these blocks fall into place to clear lines.

None of these actually express the point of Tetris.

The Game Boy launched in 1989, only three years after my birth and too soon for me to experience it until far later. The system sold on the market until 2001 and the original iteration came bundled with Tetris. I don’t remember the year that my older brother, Eric, got his hands on a Game Boy nor do I remember the year that I got one, but I know that we had one in 1992 and I know that I played the hell out of that game, both alone and with Eric and David. I have distinct memories of straining my eyes in the car, playing a few seconds at a time between the streetlights in Miami, probably causing the severe vision problems I’m beset with today.

Before we get any further, I think it’s time for a digression.

For the first time since 1978, the entire oeuvre of The Beatles became available again for people to buy. Just about everyone who was alive during the brief seven years that the band released albums went out and paid what former 1UP editor Jeff Green affectionately called the “60s tax” to relive the blessed music of their youth. While I’m definitely not a flower child in any sense of the word, I happen to be a pretty big fan of The Beatles. I went out and paid my dues to nostalgia to bring home the works of The Greatest Rock Band of All Time. With deliberate caution I opened up the packaging and began systematically ripping and listening to the catalog in strict chronological order. I discovered something that I already knew, but had neither the equipment nor the resources to effectively conclude: The Beatles are fucking amazing. Note that I didn’t use the past tense there, there is something undeniably timeless about their beats, their beautiful bass lines, those perfect harmonies, and the sublime percussive talents of one Mr. Starr.

I’m no audiophile, I’m no serious student of music, I’m no musician, but I fancy myself a true lover of music. It’s rare for me to entirely dismiss a genre of music, I’ll listen to it all and I do my best to collect music from as many different sources as I can. Music is something that resonates with the basic, primal, inherently human parts of me. Before there was society, before there were cities, before there was an Internet (mind-boggling, I know!), there was music. Before we knew how to rock, there were The Beatles.

The first track on Please Please Me is “I Saw Her Standing There.” Within that short, 2:54 song, a pure, simple, but complex sound bursts from speakers. From Paul’s frenetic bass line, to the clean, non-threatening vocals, the harmonies from John and George, and the pure perfection of the backbeat, it’s clear, at least from my vantage point in 2009, that I’m listening to a group that had so mastered their medium that the only logical progression was for them to take music and irreversibly change it. The Beatles may have started with a medium that was established, but they would go on to create early forays into almost every modern genre. Just glancing at the bits of trivia contained within The Beatles: Rock Band shows a group unafraid to experiment with technology and push the medium to its furthest reaches. They found ways to implement the new until they ended with Let It Be sounding almost nothing like when they started.

It’s the astute reader who already sees where I’m going with this.

A Tetris Review (In Haiku)

Four lines disappear
A never-ending supply
The fun never ends

Pong is a simple game. Its spartan simplicity was necessity. When it comes down to it, it’s really just two lines at the edge of a screen bouncing a pixel back and forth. You couldn’t really do more than that, but it was the 1972. Comparatively, Donkey Kong is a ridiculously complicated game released in 1981. As Jumpman, you’re required to scale ladders, hop over barrels and fireballs, possibly smashing them with a hammer, and go toe to toe with a gigantic ape to save a damsel in distress. In 2009, I’m a huge fan of Left 4 Dead, a game that requires me to keep track of my health, the health of my allies, maintain situational awareness, know how to deal with six different types of zombies, each with unique attack/AI behavior patterns, navigate huge, 3D environments, and be able to aim and fire eight or so different weapon types. Tetris requires me to manage six shapes (two pairs of which are mirror variations on the same theme) and arrange them into lines. It’s not Pong, but it’s not even Donkey Kong complex. One joystick and two buttons that ostensibly serve one purpose.

There’s a reason almost everyone alive today has played Tetris and that people who don’t play video games still love Tetris. The barrier of entry is so low that anyone can play, but, thanks to the complexity created by the interplay of these six shapes, (WARNING: cliché approaching) very few can truly master it. When you combine that with the pure joy of taking that line piece you’ve been waiting almost twenty blocks for, while your tower sits mere millimeters from the top of the screen, and slamming it as hard as you can into place, generating that happy little sound effect while instantly eradicating four lines, well you’ve got yourself some magic there, don’t you?

Eric has a house, a wife, cameras that probably cost more than an unfortunately large proportion of the population makes in one month, multiple, powerful computers, a High Definition (TM!) television, a Nintendo Wii, and countless other distractions, but, inevitably, when I ask him if he’s watched this box set I lent him or had a chance to check this or that out, he’ll tell me, often enough that this isn’t that big of an exaggeration, that he didn’t get much done on a given night because he was busy playing Tetris online against his sister-in-law. It’s just something that calls to people, gamer or not, to play and try to master. It is timeless. It is a force of nature. It is rock. It is video gaming distilled to its core.

A Tetris Review (In One Word)


18 Responses  
  • It’s A Binary World 2.0 » Tetris: An Introspective Review writes:
    October 7th, 20090:05at

    […] having read each other’s versions first to see how we would both cover the same game.  See his version here. If you want to see what a cheesy commercial for Tetris that’s “got bombs in […]

  • Eric Mesa writes:
    October 7th, 20097:46at

    I think it’s very interesting we both mentioned Pong. I’m now kicking myself in the butt for forgetting about Tetris Syndrome.

    There are a few things I wish I could have added, but this experiment was great.

    I must say that I love the Haiku and the four line review.

  • Eric Mesa writes:
    October 7th, 20097:54at

    We also both mentioned a world without Internet. We’re old! (Like when I hear of people who were born before TV)

    • Dan writes:
      October 7th, 20099:07at

      I’m glad we did this too. Too bad we don’t have more overlapping games.

      • Eric Mesa writes:
        October 7th, 20099:13at

        Some of the final fantasies. And Smash Bros.

        • Dan writes:
          October 7th, 20099:19at

          Definitely, but I was thinking more along the lines of current games.

          • Eric Mesa writes:
            October 7th, 20099:26at

            You and your strange need to play current games and have current systems. I can’t understand it.

            • Dan writes:
              October 7th, 20099:31at

              It’s ludicrous, isn’t it?

              I guess it doesn’t have to be current, but just something I’ve never played. Then again, it’s not hard for me to go and replay these old ones and get a feel for what I need to say.

  • klaygenie writes:
    October 7th, 20099:43at

    I like the idea of both of you reviewing the same game. Even better since I’ve actually played Tetris, so I’m not totally lost. :)

    • Dan writes:
      October 7th, 20099:47at

      It would be neat to see how we differ on dissenting reviews too, but we’d have to find a game that I love and he hates, which isn’t as common as you’d think. We should get Min in on this racket too.

      • Eric Mesa writes:
        October 7th, 20099:54at

        While it’s true that a dissenting review would be interesting, my main goal was to see how we would both approach the same game as well as how we would both ape the style of one of our favorite reviewers, Tim Rogers.

        I think both the items we both covered and the different things we focused on were revelatory. For example, Dan saw Tetris as something not work talking about gameplay-wise. Where I saw that as a main part of my review and my conception of the game.

        But we both mentioned Pong, other games, the Internet, and playing together. I think Dan’s pretty darned talented at writing even better than me (and I consider myself to be pretty good) so I was very curious to see what he’d do. As I commented above, the idea of a Haiku was great. Definitely not something I would think of.

        Another difference, although unsurprising if you know us both is how many more images I had in my review.

      • Eric Mesa writes:
        October 7th, 20099:56at

        Re: involving Min. That would be neat from a certain point of view. But another interesting thing about us reviewing Tetris is that we played that when we still lived under the same roof and had more or less the exact same video gaming experience and access to the same games. So it was neat to see the mark it left on you.

        Min had a very different childhood and now even you and I have diverged (although that started around the time I hit HS)

        • Dan writes:
          October 7th, 200910:03at

          I’m not saying that we’d have to make the focus be dissent, but if we wrote it stream of conscious-like and happened to disagree, it would be interesting to see where we did.

          I think that my point was that the mechanics of Tetris were what made it so great, but I didn’t really feel the need to get too deep into it.

          Thanks for the compliment! As for the haiku and the other strange parts of my review, I was just letting my mind wander and stop where it wanted. The first one was an obvious reference to the Tetris itself, but the next two were there to round it out (three!) and decrease in length.

          The field of games that all three of us have played narrows even further when you throw Min into the mix. He’s definitely got the RPGs down, but some of the other stuff, like Civilization, he’s played, but only some iterations and he doesn’t harbor anywhere near the same degree of love that we do. It’s a pretty cool difference, from that perspective.

          • Eric Mesa writes:
            October 7th, 200910:27at

            Civ. Now that would be interesting. Especially if looked at as a series.

  • Danielle writes:
    October 7th, 200912:20at

    I guess because I’m a horrible writer and don’t necessarily enjoy reading, I noticed something from both your posts. I thought to myself “WTF, I thought this was a review about Tetris. Why are the Beatles mentioned and all these other games. Yes, yes comparison and analogies. I get it.

    I’m glad you guys did this mini experiment. Both of you are excellent writers and I really love the fact that I can truly see your styles. If you guys did this again and didn’t tell me who wrote what, would I really be able to figure it out? Eric, you tend to vividly describe your memories and really cherish the nostalgia with your bros. You recapture everything very well. Dan, I really liked the haiku and summary in 4 lines. It was very creative.

    In the end, one thing is for sure, I can totally kick both your asses in Tetris. Just no handicap ghosts! 

    • Dan writes:
      October 7th, 200912:36at

      I already responded on Eric’s blog because I didn’t realize you wrote it here too, but here’s what I said.

      Part of the experiment was for it to be in the vein of tim rogerr’s stream of consciousness style, a style in which he often talks about other, seemingly unrelated things to get his point across. Since it was meant to be in that style, we both did it that way. I don’t know what Eric ultimately favors in his writing, but I like how reading tim rogers is more about the journey getting to the point than the point itself. Most people tend to feel that he needs a good editor. At least we kept it relatively succinct.

      I tend to think we’re relatively distinct, but I’m sure the similarities are unavoidable. You’re right that Eric tended to adopt the personal story aspect much more than I did while I opted to adopt more of the stylistic oddities of tim’s style. I don’t think he’s ever had haiku in his writing, but he definitely writes without worrying about what a typical review should look like.

      :hangs head in shame: Yes, you do tend to beat our asses in Tetris…

  • Eric Mesa writes:
    November 3rd, 20099:34at

    In the same way that Guitar Hero and Rockband helped me to appreciate progressive rock and other songs I didn’t get exposure to when I was younger, Beatles Rockband has given me a level of appreciation for The Beatles I never knew was possible.

    • Dan writes:
      November 3rd, 20099:36at

      Video games can be great cultural primers. Glad this one has helped you see the light.

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