Review by grasu
Tengen Tetris is, hands down, the best version of Tetris out there.
When Nintendo released the original Tetris game they knew they had a winner on their hands. It was only normal that when a rival company, Tengen, came up with their own version of Tetris Nintendo would feel a little more than threatened. So a long legal battle ensued with Nintendo winning against a smaller and less powerful opponent and Tengen's version of Tetris was outlawed. Like many other reviewers here I came upon this game using a pirated cart from Thailand, which featured a myriad of games. Tengen Tetris was among the best of'em.
What separates Tengen's version of Tetris from the original is the presentation, which is far superior in this version of the game. While graphically Nintendo's Tetris is more colorful, featuring different colored blocks and better backgrounds this game makes up for it in other ways. First off Tengen Tetris uses a simple black background which helps create a better immersion in the game world. Also, as an added graphical queue, when the pieces hit the bottom of the screen they all become the same color, sparing the player some confusion and clearly establishing the difference between pieces that are still in limbo and those that have been already set.
Second, the music is a pure delight clearly outclassing the tracks found in the original Tetris. For this version of the game Tengen decided to shrink a series of Russian composers down to midi size: All of the pieces played during the game are exquisite, their quality being among the best in any NES game. As a final added bonus, when players complete a level a series of Russian-looking-digitized-people dance along with the traditional music in the middle of the screen. The better the score the more dancers and the more complex the dance. A rather silly but very well thought out addition.
As for the actual gameplay, Tengen Tetris doesn't change anything at all, but it polishes Nintendo's formula a little better. For those of you who DON'T know what the original formula was, Tetris involved setting a series of blocks in such a way as to create lines. The more lines you created at once, the bigger the score and the greater the reward. Clearing a certain number of lines moves players to a new level, where pieces fall faster and the challenge increase. Tengen's version doesnt change any of the pieces, or any of the scoring bonuses but makes the game far more accessible at the higher levels of difficulty. While other NES puzzle games such as Dr. Mario were nigh impossible above a certain level, Tengen Tetris nicely balances out the difficulty so that the game doesn't become impossible.
The one thing however that makes this game completely superior to Nintendo's entry is the multiplayer mode. Not only is there a co-op mode, where players attempt to form as many lines as possible while 2 pieces drop on screen at once, but there's also a simultaneous vs. mode. In this mode one player shares on side of the screen while the other player shares the other side of the screen and the goal is to amass the biggest amount of points possible and have the greatest amount of dancers at the end of the round. In Nintendos version of Tetris, the co-op mode wasnt even attempted and players had to take turns when playing against each other. What makes these modes even more appealing is that you can play against (or with) a computer if there are no humans around and virtually everything is customizable: The music that plays in the background, the level of difficulty, the speed, etc.
Tengen Tetris is the version of Tetris that should've prevailed, but unfortunately it was a little late to the party. Despite the fact that this game is actually illegal you can still find a copy quite easily at a price that's laughable, at best, for a game this rare. If you're into puzzle games you shouldn't miss out on this one.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
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