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In 1985, a computer engineer from Russia named Alexey Pajitnov first developed the concept of a puzzle game that would use falling pieces of various shapes, each made up of four squares, which would snap together and disappear once a line was completed. He called the game Tetris, and thus a gaming phenomenon was born. Pajitnov was working for the Soviet Academy of Sciences when the created his computerized brainchild, which was then licensed by the Russian government. As a result, despite the broad worldwide appeal of Tetris throughout the years, the game’s creator did not receive any royalties from his work until he moved to the United States and formed the Tetris Company in the early 1990s.
The game made its debut in North America in 1986, appearing on the IBM PC courtesy of developer Spectrum Holobyte. It was also around this time, and throughout the late 1980s, that confusion surrounding the official Tetris license began to arise. Several different game developers and publishers claimed to have received official licenses to create versions of the game, culminating in a legal battle between Nintendo and Tengen / Atari Games over rights to publish the game on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Eventually a recall was forced on the Tengen version of the game, making it one of the rarest NES cartridges on the planet.
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Despite all the legal wrangling over PC and home console versions of the game, however, it was a portable edition of Tetris that wound up truly putting the game on the map. Alongside the NES version, Nintendo created and released a Game Boy version of Tetris. The portability of the Game Boy gaming system, coupled with the pick up and play nature of Tetris itself, made for a winning combination. In addition, kiosks at many electronics retailers featured demo Game Boy units loaded with Tetris, which allowed many people who had never experienced the game before to try it out. This version of Pajitnov’s game would reportedly go on to sell more than three million copies.
Over the years, there have been dozens of Tetris ports, remakes and variants released for home consoles, portable gaming systems, computers and even other mobile devices, including Tetrisphere (N64), Tetris Worlds (Multi), Tetris Blast (GB), Magical Tetris Challenge (GBC and N64), Tetris DX (GBC), The New Tetris (N64), The Next Tetris (Multi), Tetris Evolution (Xbox 360), Tetris DS (Nintendo DS) and the most recent, October 2008’s Tetris Party (WiiWare). Reviews have been mixed, with the recent DS and Wii entries in the series garnering praise while games like Tetris Worlds were poorly received by critics. Yet as of this writing, according to GameRankings.com, the aforementioned Game Boy version of the game remains the highest rated Tetris release of all time.
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Tetris’ influence does not stop there, however. In addition to the true, licensed versions of the game, there have been many home-brew editions created by aspiring programmers and Tetris enthusiasts. Also, the game has spilled over into popular culture on several occasions, including in such popular TV shows as The Simpsons and Family Guy. Likewise, the Fox television game show Hole in the Wall (or more precisely, the Japanese show that inspired it, Brain Wall) is said to have been based on Tetris. Last but not least, gamers continued to show their love and appreciation for Pajitnov’s brain child by voting the Tetris L-block piece the best video game character of 2007 in a GameFAQs.com bracket contest. Now more than 20 years old, Tetris continues to be not just one of the most addictive puzzle games ever conceived, but also one of the most beloved video game titles of all time.