Review by dtm666
An early breed of Tetris worth checking out for curiosity's sake and nothing more
Three versions of Tetris has appeared on the Nintendo Entertainment System (not counting the Tetris 2 sequel that has little to do with actual Tetris outside of the name and certain block formations). Most of you already know about the official release by Nintendo and some of you probably are aware of the unofficial release by Tengen that is part of a well-known legal controversy regarding Tetris. However, seldom few people know about the version of Tetris developed by Bullet-Proof Software (BPS) and the reason for this is that the game has never been (officially) released anywhere outside of Japan.
BPS Tetris, which is the very first version of Tetris released on the Nintendo Famicom (or NES), was one of those games that would be featured on a variety of pirate multicarts that used to cost approximately $200 or so back in the day. Unless you imported a Famicom, this would have been the only means of playing this game back then.
GRAPHICS: Compared to the other NES releases of Tetris, the graphics in BPS Tetris are actually fairly crude but decent. The main playing screen has some nice Russian-themed background art that doesn't really do much, but is still nice to look at. The title screen and lone intermission screen are also rendered well. However, there's ultimately no variety and there comes a point where staring at the same Russian spire is going to be sleep-inducing. At the very least, the game isn't ugly to look at. 7/10
SOUND: There are three different music tracks to choose from: Technotris, Karinka, and Troika. They're all of decent quality and have a techno beat to them. The latter two songs are also featured in the Tengen version of Tetris released years later. This game is also the first time we hear the Tetris theme, which would be featured in countless iterations of Tetris in later years. Aside from that, the sound effects used in the game are minimal and functional; nothing outstanding or anything. They're just there. 6/10
GAMEPLAY: BPS Tetris is a one-player game only. So no Versus mode. There's also no Marathon mode, no 40 Lines mode, or any of the ridiculous modes you'll find in current versions of Tetris. What you see is pretty much what you get. Let's move on.
Gameplay here is somewhat primitive compared to later Tetris releases, but otherwise remains the same; you have to clear the chamber of blocks by forming lines which will cause the blocks to disappear. Clear 25 lines to move on to the next level. The higher the level you're at, the faster the blocks fall. However, once you clear Level 9, you loop back to Level 0, but now the level of garbage blocks has risen. Unlike later Tetris games, you have three lives to proceed forward and your score is only gauged after the current play session has ended (either in victory or defeat). For the most part, Tetris gameplay is fairly familiar... almost.
Controls in this game are mapped awkwardly. Press Left or Right to move the Tetrimino, Up on the D-Pad to rotate, and press A button to perform a hard drop (dropping the piece in place down to the well). And that's it. There's no way to "soft drop" a piece slowly (a function available in the very next release by Tengen) and thus you're left to either wait until the piece reaches the bottom of the well or you take a chance, press the button, and hope the piece fits in the right spot.
To sum it all up, BPS Tetris plays more like some of the early PC versions of the game as far as the gameplay mechanics goes. And if you've never played any of those versions, you'll have to learn to adjust to the control scheme in this game... but once you do, the game plays decently enough... although it's easy to forget that A Button drops the piece into place. 7/10
CHALLENGE: This is actually one of the easier Tetris games in terms of speed. On the lowest setting (Stage 0), the pieces move SO SLOW that it seems like the poor Famicom can't handle the awesome power of Tetris. At Level 9, it's probably comparable to other versions' Level 6 or 7... but the game never goes beyond that once you beat Level 9 - you go back to Level 0 with additional garbage blocks to clear. So in that respect alone, this is an easy game of Tetris. Thing is that the game's challenge comes mainly from its control and remembering that the button is used to DROP the piece while pressing UP on the D-Pad is used to rotate. And because the pieces move SO SLOW in lower levels, it takes a long time for the piece to hit the well... which will prompt you to sometimes just drop the piece and pray it fits properly. 8/10
REPLAY VALUE: BPS Tetris is barebones in terms of features. A one-player game means no Versus options and while you can select your starting level and stage height, this is much incentive to come back to this one often unless you really enjoy playing it. 4/10
OVERALL: Given that it's one of the earliest incarnations of Tetris you'll find on a video game console, BPS Tetris is certainly worth a look just to see how far the Tetris brand has gone. And indeed, this variation of the classic puzzle game can actually be quite fun once you get into it. However, if you're new to Tetris or are looking to start off somewhere, this isn't the version to get. It's a barebones package with limited options and primitive play mechanics that only experienced Tetris players and even those who value a good challenge will get any semblance of enjoyment out of it. I enjoyed playing this game tremendously, but others might not. Still, it's worth a look only for curiosity's sake. 6/10
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Tetris (JP, 12/22/88)
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