Game Mechanics

The player is presented with a 10x24 grid where each square can hold one part of a block. The blocks that slowly descend in Tetris so the player must think diligently in order to secure the most freedom of block movement. Blocks, also known as Tetrominoes, come in seven different shapes each using an area of four squares. As the blocks slowly descend it means that the longer the game runs, or the poorer the player performs, the less time they have to react to blocks. The player also has the option to speed up the descent of the block to place it faster, earning higher points. The rate of descend of blocks and the ability to improve your score with faster action is designed well and fairly.

In terms of design the game is a solid experience and in the later stages it can be an adrenaline filled race to clear as many lines as possible as your mind is disconnected from the external world. It doesn't feel like it is the game's fault if the player makes a mistake as the controls are clear, for example if the player accidentally places a block too quickly and is incorrectly places they understand it was their own fault.

During the game the player is constantly presented with an interface containing their Score, Level, Lines (to be cleared or cleared dependent on game mode) and an image of the next block to fall. All very relevant information especially having the next block to fall displayed. This creates a strategy to the game where the player can pre-plan their next move even more rather than having to predict the next move. The scoring system can be rather unclear at times but easy to pick up on. Level and Lines are required measures and are good to notify the player on their progress so far or to allow them to consider a future stopping point to end the mayhem.

There is no clear win condition in Tetris as the goal is to obtain the highest score possible. If the player clears Level 9 (the hardest level) on speed 5 (the highest speed) in Type-B mode by clearing the remaining lines they are granted a clip of people dancing for a short amount of time then a space shuttle is seen launching off into space and 'Congratulations' is displayed. The end goal is unclear to the player especially if they only play Type-A, the one thing there to attempt to suggest an end goal is when the game automatically 'levels up' the player is given checkpoints.

Tetris on the GameBoy is separated into different game modes; Type-A (endless) and Type-B (remove a certain number of lines). Type-B has the most clear difficulty progression as it is set to levels with different speeds. Type-A is endless so the difficulty is purely dependant on player skill level. It isn't made clear to the player that these modes are greatly different and it could be expected that Type-B would be the standard mode.

Another game heavily affected by its age but there are some definitive flaws.

Game Modes: Perhaps the biggest flaw of the game, game modes are very unclear on what changes they make to the game even when played. A solution to this would be terminology, the term 'Endless' may not have been popularised back then but perhaps defining them with other terms would be better. For example, Type-A games could be 'High Score' and Type-B could be 'Level'. I would also swap the two around and make the Level based mode the main game type as opposed to the High Score mode, even though score based games were so popular.

Scoring: The way the game scores the player is pretty unclear, a major flaw of some older games, however, Tetris does suit the high score system but still designs it poorly. The line scoring system is clear and works well. The high score doesn't. 


To improve upon this I would add a subtle change to the grid where different levels are determined so it would suggest placing blocks lower down gives a higher score. The tricky part to solve is how to show that moving blocks faster increases score without a handbook; perhaps making the colour of the score change briefly to highlight the speed made an impact, if this would be possible on the hardware.

Tetris is a timeless classic and for good reason. The tile-matching puzzle itself is very well designed and can keep players engrossed for extensive periods of time. Despite its game modes and scoring where it falters, the original Tetris can hold its own again some of the biggest puzzle games, digital and physical, to this day.

What I Would Change

Tetris (1989)

Designed/Developed by Alexey Pajitnov and Vladimir Pokhilko in 1984, Tetris is a Multiplayer Puzzle Game and the GameBoy version was the first game I played. The game received positive reception; 9/10 from Your Sinclair and 98% from Zzap!64. Used in psychological research in video games, one of the first of its kind, I will delve into the mechanics of one of the most influential and well-known puzzle games created.

Players are presented with a grid and a block slowly descends. The player must complete a horizontal line of the grid to clear it and gain points. If they clear 4 lines at once, the highest possible, they get a Tetris.

As the GameBoy version was the one I played I will be using it as reference. What makes Tetris work and where does it falter?

Brief Description