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tetrissy

Retro gaming has become cool, mainstream, and “hip”. People, bored and glazed over with the next “EA Sports 2xxx” clone, complete with new statistics and slightly improved graphics, now YEARN for a way to be re-introduced into the games of yesteryear.

Companies, knowing this, almost falling over themselves with glee, have now found a way to make bucketloads of money off dirt cheap licenses they couldn’t give away two years ago. Is this a bad thing? Hell no.

I decided to delve into the past and find those nuggets of retro-sploitation. This is RetroStyle. This is Radica Tetris.

Tetris was first conceived back in June, 1985, by a Russian named Alexey Pazhitnov, a professor at the Moscow Computer Science Academy . Based on a Russian “pentominoes” game, which consisted of a series of randomly generated squares of a certain type being moved and twisted so they are fitted into a rectangle, Tetris was originally received quite warmly.

After a stream of legal and political issues and arguments that disputed Pazhitnov’s rights to his software, (of which you can read more about here) Nintendo eventually secured the rights to the title.

In 1989, Nintendo released the title for its Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), as well free in a pack with its Game Boy system. The game almost exploded into popularity overnight. Within months millions of copies in the US alone were flying off the shelves. The whole world became obsessed with fitting obscurely shaped blocks into lines. The game, while both simple and challenging, yet completely non-violent and gender ambiguous, was popular with everyone.

Unfortunately, through all of this popularity and multi-million dollar profits, Pazhitnov barely received a dime for his trouble. Between the political disagreements, the rights wars between Nintendo, Atari and Tengen, the men who tried to claim the game as their own, and the Berlin Wall falling, the original creator faded into obscurity. Pazhitnov eventually managed to get recognition for his creation, yet none of the rights to the commercial royalties of the title itself. Shame eh?

This particular toy was developed by Radica Games, a company usually suited to making those overpriced, under-playable LCD games that most kids get from their grandmothers. But to their credit, they have managed to secure licenses for Street Fighter 2, a bunch of Mega Drive games including Sonic and Ecco The Dolphin, and Outrun 2014. They even managed to get the authority to recreate old-school Sega controllers! 5 stars from me for that factor alone.

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This is what AU$29.95 buys you from our good friends at Kmart. I bought this about 2 months ago, so forgive me for not having the box handy. It wasn’t anything special, just your standard gaudy, colourful packaging to attract 10-year old kids and..err.. yours truly. My fiancee and I happened to be looking for dinner plates, of all things, when I laid my eyes on it. I just had to have it.

“You’ll never play it!”, my lovely fiancee exclaimed as I snatched it off the shelf. In hindsight, she was right, but ironically, she ended up playing it more then I did.

The controller itself, which they call a “Tetrimino”, is one thing I, and I know you did too, gawked at in a “That’s fucking cool” kind of way. It looks fantastic. Whoever designed it actually bothered to put some creative effort into something that really isn’t all that expensive.

The logo is the original, official font and design, the blocky shape represents the good ol’ Atari days and it fits very well into hands of any size. The red, main control block in the middle can be moved sideways in 4 directions (I’m sure you can guess which ones), and rotated in any direction. For those who have played Tetris, you’ll know that’s all you need to dominate. It’s colourful, friendly, and provides justice to the title itself.

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The main controller has an A/V cable (mono sound/video) that’s not removable, and an input port that allows for the second controller. You can play with the main one alone if you wish for single player, but I prefer Tetris with an human adversary. It’s a lot easier to take out anger on your opponent when they are sitting right next to you. It’s also got an On/Off switch on the side – guess what that does?

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The toy takes 4 AA batteries, which Radica claims gives you about 10 hours of gameplay. I’ve been playing it on and off for about 30 minute blocks since I bought it, and the batteries (standard duracells) are still going strong. Considering it’s basically a miniature NES, that’s pretty damn good.

Enough about how it looks, most imporantly, how does it PLAY!

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This version of Tetris was specifically designed for Radica, but plays mostly like a mix between the NES and SNES versions. It looks the part for one, the graphics are basically 8-bit with some 16-bit thrown in. The colours are slightly washed out, but the sound is spot on, and all the familiar tunes you hate to love, or love to hate, are there.

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Included are 5 different modes of Tetris – Standard, Clear, Timed, Hot Line, and Battle. Clear and Timed are 2 player, Standard and Hotline are 1 player only, and Battle is 2 player only.

Standard Tetris is your basic, bottom of the rung, classic game. You drop the squares, make the lines, shit gets faster, points go up. It never ends, and there’s no real extra challenges. I’m actually a fan of this mode, but to be honest, it can get boring fast, especially when there are more challenging types of play.

Battle is exactly the same as Standard, except that it’s Versus, so you throw garbage blocks over to your opponent when you get lines. This is great for settling arguments about anything, since everyone loves Tetris, and its really hard to be crap at it.

Clear is known as the more popular among Tetris players – it takes more skill and can end up being very satisfying. Clear, for the those not in the know, involves the level beginning with a mess of broken lines that you need to clean up and “clear” with your supplied blocks.

There’s 30 levels in total, each starting with more garbage blocks to clean up. This mode rocks. Why? Because there is nothing more satisfying then lining up a 4-line blitz, strategically planning and placing your squares, as you drop the last one and silently gloat at how awesome you are.

Timed is possibly the most frustrating mode next to Hot-line. In timed, you have a certain time limit to make a certain number of lines. At the lower levels it tends to be quite easy to hit the quotas, but as you get faster speeds, more lines and less time, there are moments where you will try and break the controller in half. It’s a good thing it’s so well built.

You’ll possibly just end up throwing it at a wall or your opponent. That’s if you can stand getting through a game of Hot-line, because I just can’t. In this mode there’s 6 coloured lines on the screen, and you only get points if you make lines ON them. I can’t even write how annoying this mode is. Don’t bother unless you’re a fan of painting figurines – it’s just as pointless and frustrating.

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The lowdown…

All in all, you’re getting quite a lot for AU$29.95. I’d even go as far as saying it’s the game equivilent of a DVD Special Edition. Because lets face it – for some of us, Tetris was our Pong, or Space Invaders. We can remember sitting on our Gameboys, or NES’s, and playing it for hours. This piece of licensed plastic is possibly the closest thing that comes to replicating that experience, outside of going back in time and buying a first generation gameboy. Or hitting eBay of course.

My fiancee helped me test this device. Let it be known that this was probably the only other time since the SNES that she’s admitted to playing games. This picture was taken in 2006. That’s Ratchet and Clank 2.

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She absolutely kicked my arse, over and over and over. Who would have thought she was a goddamn Tetris guru. Let us never mention it again.

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There was probably about 10 minutes from this picture until I lost miserably.

I can’t score this, since it’s Tetris.

Since this game is older then God and rating it would be useless, I’ve just taken a photo of one thumb up. I would have had two, but I had to hold the camera with my other hand. I love Tetris.

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Australian? Wanna win my RADICO Tetris device in all of its rarity? Let me know why you should have it and it could be yours! Make sure you make an account before you comment, so we can contact you.*

*May or may not be missing the battery compartment.

  1. This is the most random-azing thing I’ve seen all week.

  2. Thats amazing. I want one.
    I’ll give you 12 bucks and a trolley token.

  3. avatar Rierin

    I love the GameBoy version of Tetris . I love the beuafitul NES version a lot too. V-Tetris on the Virtual Boy is pleasant but unconfortable. The CD-i version of Tetris , despite all possible logic, is very good. I can’t stand Tetris Worlds on the GameBoy Advance, which is a shame since I usually love the GBA, wonderful handheld, but bad port of Tetris. I played Tetris 2 on the SNES once last year and am still trying to erase any memory of it from my mind just awful.

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