Tetris Is 30 Years Old, And Still The King Of Video Games: 4 Reasons Why

Friday marks a momentous anniversary in video game history: Quintessential puzzle-gaming classic Tetris is now 30 years old. It's kind of hard to believe that's true — and yes, it makes us feel old — but its first version was released all the way back in 1984, created by Russian programmer Alexey Pajitnov. And this was for a gaming system you've probably never heard of before: the USSR-only Elektronika 60.

In the last three decades, it's become as iconic a video game as can be, inclusive to hardcore players and casual fans alike. You can find it pretty much anywhere, and way beyond the Soviet confines it once inhabited. It's a game with a fascinating history, and a sterling legacy to match — it took two years for Pajitnov's creation to reach any players outside of his native Russia, and five years before it exploded onto the first generation of Nintendo consoles.

Tetris has been a simple, wonderful mainstay of casual entertainment for a startlingly long time now — a comforting constant in an ever-changing world, you might say. Thinking about it is almost making us misty-eyed. That's not weird, is it? Well, anyway. Here are four reasons we think Tetris is still king, even 30 years on.

1. It's Simple to Learn, Impossible to Master

Maybe the most brilliant thing about Tetris' concept is how those falling blocks, stacking up against one another, practically beg to be arranged in just the way the game demands. After just a few seconds of a controller, joystick, or the screen of a mobile device, everything you need to know to play is just... there.

So, these different shaped blocks drop down, and I can rotate them and move them from left to right... maybe I'll try filling in solid rows of them? Voila! You just bought a house in Tetris town.

Becoming the mayor of Tetris town isn't so easy. A deeper understanding of the game's scoring system, which awards more points when multiple rows are cleared at once, is needed before you'll start pushing your point totals into overdrive. Clearing the maximum four lines at once, incidentally, is itself called a "Tetris."

But the real reason Tetris is effectively impossible to master? In many cases, it can theoretically go on forever. You can't master what you can't actually win, which is exactly why people keep coming back for more.

2. It's The Perfect Idle, Handheld Pastime

Nintendo couldn't possibly have known, when it released Tetris for the Game Boy in 1989, the magnitude of success those simple little cartridges would have — as of 2009, over 35 million copies of that version have been sold. It came out concurrently with the release of the Game Boy stateside, one of the five cartridges Nintendo bundled in for their first run of sales.

It quickly became a ubiquitous presence amongst American youths and puzzle-obsessed adults alike. The incredible ease and convenience of playing for a bit, a few minutes or 40, and being able to switch it off casually was a clear advantage over other, more involved handheld gaming choices.

As was the simplicity of the device itself — while arch-rival Sega was selling the Game Gear, a handheld behemoth with a bright color screen that sucked up six AA batteries in just over three hours, the Game Boy was running for 30 hours on four of them.

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The Game Boy ultimately outsold its higher-tech competitor by a staggering ten-to-one margin throughout its lifespan, winning consumers over with an emphasis on low-maintenance fun. It's a classic case of substance over style, and Tetris helped make it possible.

3. It's Been Adapted, Like, a Billion Times

So, just how many Tetris games have there been? It's a slightly complicated question — if you view a true Tetris game as being one for which Pajitnov was compensated, the list shrinks considerably. That's because he developed the game while working at for the computing center of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. As he was working for the government, he wasn't able to collect any royalties on his work for a full 12 years, until he formed The Tetris Company in the U.S. in 1996.

Sergei Frolov on YouTube

But if you view a Tetris game as, well, being Tetris-y, there's even more of them. By the count of the fine folks at the Tetris wiki, there are a whopping 130 games. The most recent release, Puyo Puyo Tetris, is a combination of the puzzle classic and a similarly engrossing Japanese import.

4. It Takes You Back To Times Gone By

Nostalgia can never be entirely overlooked in any conversation about a beloved, possibly childhood memory, and Tetris has that going for it full-throttle. The Game Boy version served as its introduction to countless Americans, and dusting off an old copy, even for a few minutes, brings up all kinds of memories.

Long car rides with the family, maybe, or putting off homework to play in secret — all to the game's jaunty tune! By virtue of being as popular as it was, and how many copies were sold, it felt in those days like everybody knew someone who was into Tetris. If they weren't playing it themselves.

There's a slight element of political throwback as well, with the game's advertising and visual themes so distinctly representative of its Russian origin — the onion domes of St. Basil's Cathedral, for example. The U.S. and Russia were embroiled in the Cold War when the game was first devised in 1984, and yet in its final stages by the time the Game Boy version hit American shelves.

This didn't stop it uniting American and Russian themes, though. Much to the contrary, its inexplicable optional ending leads off with Russian dancers, and ends with the launch of an American space shuttle.

izmo on YouTube

Images: NESGuide/YouTube, nineko/YouTube, Lord Karnage/YouTube, English1stud/YouTube