At first glance Tetris looks like one dull game, but once you try it, you’ll find it hard to put your game controller down. I’ve been hooked on this game ever since I saw it many months ago, becoming a hermit Tetroid in the process.

The game looks simple enough. You start with an empty bin into which drops one piece at a time. The pieces come in five geometric designs: a straight line, a T shape, a box, an L shape and a zig-zag, each made up of four small blocks. The L shape and zig-zag have a reverse image of each, so that in total there are really seven different shapes.

By rotating each piece into the best placement possible so it meshes with the pieces already in the bin, you try to complete rows. When a row is complete with no gaps across, it disappears. Clearing multiple rows with one-piece placement brings more points, with the ultimate being the elimination of four rows, called a “Tetris”. As with similar strategy games, the action speeds up as you go along. It ends when, because of too many gaps, your bin fills up to the playfield.

In the one-player game, you use the left-hand portion of the screen, while the computer keeps track of how many of each piece you have received, displaying them on the right side. Other options let you play against the computer – which is surprisingly easy to beat – or against another player. The two-player game is the best way to go, with each player using one side of the screen; but a cooperative level allows two players (or one person and the computer) to team up on one big screen. The cooperative mode probably won’t hold your interest very long: the computer is too slow as a partner, and a cooperative two-player game isn’t nearly as fun as competing against one another.

What this version of Tetris lacks are the detailed colored backgrounds that the home computer versions feature. What you gain instead are neat little intermissions with score bonuses – a big plus in my book – and little dancing Russian figures. The latter provide a little bit of atmosphere and authenticity, because the game was originally authored in Russia by a researcher and an 18-year-old programmer.

Tengen’s version of Tetris has the best graphics of any home version of the game. The blocks are textured, which gives them some depth. The speed at which the blocks fell is also somewhat under your control, a feature not found in most of the computer versions. And the game allows you to select from four Soviet-type tunes, or none at all if you get distracted by video-game music. Starting at higher levels with an individual player handicap is also selectable.

If you are looking for something different and challenging, plus the rare ability to allow two players to compete simultaneously, then Tetris is for you. It’s also a departure from the endless string of scrolling shoot ’em ups that are being released these days. Frankly it’s one of the most frequent sounds heard echoing through the halls of VG&CE.

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