Like millions of players all over the world, my relationship with Tetris began with the Game Boy. Alexey Pajitnov's famous puzzler may have begun its life on computers in 1984, but it would find a whole new level of fame thanks to the fact that it was bundled with Nintendo's million-selling monochrome handheld.
I didn't own a Game Boy at launch, and my first experience of the system – and Tetris – was playing on a friend's console. I'd owned Nintendo's pocket-friendly Game & Watch LCD handhelds in the past but nothing could prepare me for this new product; twinned with Tetris, it became the first 'gadget' I can remember desiring more than anything else in the world. I begged and pleaded with my parents to buy me one, and while they eventually relented, for what felt like forever I had to make do with playing my friend's console as and when I was able.
I still remember the day he excitedly ran over to my house to show me that he'd reached the 'end' of the game and that iconic space shuttle animation. I could barely contain my jealousy, but I probably did a good job because I was simultaneously excited and elated to be witnessing this seemingly life-changing event; this was decades before you could watch pretty much any segment of gameplay on YouTube, and it's a sequence that I've seen only a handful of times myself since.
When I did eventually get my very own Game Boy, I was stunned at the variety of amazing gameplay experiences that awaited me; Tiny Toon Adventures, Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge, Operation C, Zelda: Link's Awakening, Super Mario Land (1, 2 and 3)... waiting a little before becoming a Game Boy owner turned out to be a bit of a masterstroke, as the system had loads of games available when I got my system.
However, Tetris was the constant; the only game that, when I left the house with my Game Boy-branded bum-bag (fanny-pack, if you're in North America), would 100% be coming with me. And thanks to its ubiquitous nature, if I met anyone on the road who also owned a Game Boy, I could be sure that an impromptu link cable battle was on the cards. It was a magical time to be a gamer, and even if Tetris hadn't been one of the most addictive and finely-crafted video games of all time, I still think I would hold fond memories of travelling the country with my console, link cable and ample supply of AA batteries.
Nintendo capitalised on Tetris' innate playability with a Game Boy sequel, which strangely bypassed me entirely. I'm not sure why, but I never felt the need to invest in the follow-up; perhaps it was because even in my young eyes, the original game was already as close to perfection as it was possible to get, given the limitations of the hardware. Instead, I got all excited about Tetris on the Bandai WonderSwan, not because it offered any massive gameplay innovations, but because it could be played in portrait orientation, which felt like a better fit, given the dimensions of the playfield.
In fact, I wouldn't play Tetris again on a Nintendo console until the DS era, when another port – with Nintendo at the helm and packed with characters from famous Nintendo franchises – made me fall in love with it all over again; sure, it was 'just' Tetris, but it became a new killer app for my DS; there's something about portability and falling blocks that just works.
My love affair for Pajitnov's masterpiece then went on hiatus again for a few years, with the Hudson Soft-made Tetris Axis and Ubisoft-published Tetris Ultimate failing to get my pulse racing on 3DS. I also didn't get as excited about the crossover title Puyo Puyo Tetris as I perhaps should have done; as a fan of both series, it was, on paper, the dream ticket. However – and I can't for the life of me fathom why – it just didn't grab me as much as other fans.
It wouldn't be until Tetris Effect arrived on the PlayStation 4 that my affection for plummeting tetrominoes returned in earnest; twinned with the PSVR headset – which is capable of higher refresh rates than your typical TV – Enhance, Inc's unique take on the title made me appreciate its magic in an entirely different way. By fusing a captivating and often hypnotic audiovisual experience with the tried-and-tested Tetris gameplay, Tetsuya Mizuguchi and his team produced one of 2018's surprise critical hits; Tetris Effect topped many press 'Game of the Year' polls, and rightly so.
Such was my appreciation of Tetris Effect that when I sat down to watch last week's Nintendo Direct broadcast, I was hoping (perhaps beyond hope) that it would be announced for Switch; despite how brilliant it is in VR, I'd dearly love to have a copy of Tetris Effect that I can take out of the house with me, just like I did with the Game Boy version all those years ago.
When Tetris 99 was revealed out of the blue, my heart jumped then quickly sank; the gorgeous, trippy visuals of Tetris Effect were nowhere to be seen and instead we had the old-fashioned coloured blocks which had been part of the series since the '80s. We weren't getting Tetris Effect on Switch, but unbeknownst to me at that point, we were getting something just as good – if not better.
As you'll know if you've read our review, Tetris 99 is special. We've had competitive play in Tetris before – linking up Game Boys in the early '90s to online play on the DS – but this new version adds a 'Battle Royale' twist which makes it truly unique. You and 98 other players are fighting to be the last one standing, with a range of tactics allowing you to choose where your 'junk' lines get sent. While it's rather limited in scope at the moment (more modes are on the way, it seems), it's one of the most compelling and downright addictive versions of Tetris I've ever played – and that's saying something.
I've now found that my love for Tetris has returned, and all I can think of those falling shapes and the so-called 'ecstasy of order'. It's also made me seriously consider what I'd deem to be the greatest video game of all time; sure, titles like Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey deliver the kind of experience that stays with you forever, but, if I had to pick one game to take with me on a lifetime of seclusion on a desert island, would it be either of those? Or would I select Tetris as my solitary pick; a game that I've been playing, on and off, for 30 years?
It's a question I hope I never legitimately have to answer, but Tetris 99 has served as a timely reminder that Pajitnov struck gold when he (with the help of Vladimir Pokhilko, whose name is often overlooked, perhaps due to the tragic and disturbing nature of his passing) created Tetris on Soviet Academy of Sciences hardware. Given that Tetris has been adapted and iterated so brilliantly over the years without sacrificing what makes it so special speaks volumes, and Tetris 99 shows that even after 35 years, its appeal is totally undiminished.