Christmas. 1990. California.
I was seven.
I spent an entire year asking my parents for a Game Boy.
I didn’t think I’d get one.
Christmas morning and we opened our presents.
And there it was.
I ran out of the room.
I was confused about who bought it. I thought it was my uncle.
I ran into the living room. I tore into the box.
Popped in the batteries. Caressed the system.
I turned it over in my hands. I enjoyed the weight of it.
I enjoyed its thickness. I was in love with its density.
I grabbed the only cart I had: Tetris.
The label was beautiful. The cartridge had a fulfilling proportionality.
It felt more promising and better designed than NES carts had been.
NES game carts were too long and too thick.
There was too much space on them. They had no visual impact.
Their faces were empty.
The Tetris cart was beautiful: Thin. Asymmetrical.
A subtle rectangle.
I slid it into the back.
I turned the system on.
The sound was crisp.
I burned through the options.
I wanted the game.
After a few rounds I thought I understood what it was.
I started at 0 and cleared lines as fast as I could.
The Game Boy was my first portable video game system.
Tetris was my first portable game.
I didn’t understand any of its subtlety.
I didn’t care to seek out its language.
I didn’t see what was so enthralling about its design.
I dropped Tetris.
I needed environments I could relate to.
I needed an imagined narrative.
Tetris was cold.
It fell away and I moved on.
Lebanon and the village is dead.
I gave my cousins my first-gen Game Boy one year earlier.
I now have a Game Boy Pocket.
The electricity is out. The water’s off. The arcade closed.
We revisit Tetris Attack.
It’s the first time I engage with the ‘Tetris’ brand since 1990.
I play through the stages. I enjoy the characters and the dialogue.
Puzzle mode feels more genuine than the original’s ‘B-Type’.
Endless mode is a meditative training ground.
Tetris Attack is Tetris inverted.
The pieces climb up from the bottom.
The cursor can switch two adjacent pieces horizontally.
The game pieces were blocks with symbols on them.
The object isn’t line clears, but matching blocks.
It was a proto-Bejeweled with Yoshi characters.
Tetris Attack was small, but full.
Strategic, but not complicated.
It had the sticky touch of Intelligent Systems.
Tetris Attack wasn’t Tetris.
It released in Japan as Panel de Pon.
Nintendo wanted name recognition in the West.
They wanted the Tetris name. They settled on Tetris Attack.
The Tetris Company cleared it.
Henk Rogers felt it diluted the brand.
But Tetris Attack was an alternative.
It was a solid, strange experience.
It presented unique tools to rethink the Tetris universe.
It brought warmth to the series.
It brought a crooked heart.
I try to consolidate my games.
I look for my Game Boy carts. I find Tetris Attack again.
It holds up. It still has warmth and life in it.
I find Tetris again.
I slide it into my SP.
25 years later and I decide to give it another shot.
I start at level 7.
25 years later and it feels different.
Something clicks and my hands start buzzing.
I begin to see its elegance and the subtleties of its design.
It was never just about line clears.
It was about setups. It was about adapting to flaws.
It was about recovering.
I learn about Tetris: The Grand Master.
Developed by Arika and the series only released in arcades.
I loved what they had achieved in the past: The PS2 version of DoDonPachi Daioujou.
I seek out and download the entire TGM series.
And TGM 3 is dark, fun, and beautiful.
TGM 3 is the Daioujou of the Tetris universe.
Its presentation is clean.
Its music is engaging.
It’s difficult, but it doesn’t push the player away.
It dredges up the will to do better.
TGM 3 presents four modes of play with two different rulesets.
Easy teaches the game.
Sakura is a variation on a previous release: Tetris with Cardcaptor Sakura Eternal Heart.
Master is Tetris with speeds that gradually increase over time.
Shirase is Tetris at blinding speeds coupled with odd challenges.
Classic rule maintains the rotation style of the two prior iterations of TGM.
World rule is a set pushed on Arika by The Tetris Company in order to unify newer Tetris games.
The multiple modes and rulesets give TGM 3 a depth not seen in the arcade puzzle genre.
It gives the player the freedom to decide what sort of game they would like to play.
TGM 3 is difficult and obtuse.
It doesn’t explain itself and it doesn’t care.
It only wants to pull the player in as fast as possible.
The entire game is a boss fight: It seems impossible.
In Shirase, you can’t see the pieces fall.
The higher levels in Master require instinctual reaction times.
But it’s these elements that make the game so enjoyable.
In most fighting games, the curve seems vertical.
Inexperienced players become frustrated and turn away.
Fighting games require study. They require a deconstruction of situational behaviors and habits.
They bloom and open as the player’s mind and technique does.
TGM 3 must be approached the same way. It requires study.
It requires the player to focus both on the game and themselves.
It’s no coincidence that the TGM series and fighting games were both born from the arcades.
They both ask that the player be efficient and aware.
The payoff in fighting games is convincing wins against human opponents.
In TGM 3 the payoff is watching yourself calculate, strategize, and play at speeds you never thought you’d ever be capable of.
In 1990 I had no idea what Tetris was.
I dismissed it for having no heart.
I misunderstood it.
2015 and I realize now how much I’ve missed in the last 25 years.
Sometimes you just need the right kind of eyes.
Sometimes the heart is so big that you only catch a small piece of it.
Ignorance has a slow, enduring momentum.
And time isn’t always enough to kill it.
You need something savage and raw to tear through the filters you’ve tied yourself in.
Tetris Attack. Eight years on: It’s joyful and enduring.
Tetris. 25 years later: I wake up.
Tetris The Grand Master 3. 2015: My hands tremble, my teeth rip, and my brain is pummeled into the sun.