There can’t be many people who haven’t played or at least heard of Tetris. The game is such a simple idea that anybody can play it, even if they might not be very good at it.
The premise is simple. Starting with an empty screen, different shaped blocks fall from the top one at a time. The player can move the blocks from side to side as the fall, and also rotate them through 90 degree turns. When the block reaches the bottom of the screen, or lands atop a previously dropped block it stops moving. The idea is to slot the pieces together in order to build an unbroken horizontal line, which will then disappear causing all blocks above it to move down a line. The player must continually perform this task with the blocks gradually falling faster down the screen, not allowing the screen to become filled to the top. If this occurs the game is over.
Tetris originated in Russia, created by Alexey Pajitnov, and whilst it isn’t the only game to have emerged from there it sure does feel like it sometimes. Over the years the various versions of the game have capitalised on the games origins by using Russian imagery such as pointy domed buildings and Cossack dancers, and by featuring music with a Soviet feel. Whilst it certainly wasn’t the first version of the game, the original Nintendo Gameboy version is often held up as being the perfect version of Tetris, and is surely the reason why Nintendo’s handheld gaming device was initially so popular, given that it shipped with a copy of the game.
Whilst the concept of the “puzzle” videogame was not created by Tetris, the mechanics of blocks dropping down the screen to be arranged by the player was certainly popularised if not invented by Tetris. I certainly can’t think of any other puzzle game that predates Tetris but uses this idea.
The mechanics described above detail a pure version of Tetris, but there have been many variations over the years. The arcade version of the game introduced the concept of blocks already being on the screen, and having to clear a certain number of lines before proceeding to the next level. There was also apparently a cash payout version of Tetris in the arcades, although I’ve never actually seen this myself.
There have been attempts to take the game into three dimensions, such as Welltris, where you are looking into a square shaft from above and can position the blocks within this area, and Spheretris, which was very confusing to look at. I’ve never played this version, but I believe you had to rotate a sphere around onto which the blocks were being dropped. Most recently there has been the excellent version for the Nintendo DS which adds multiplayer battle modes to the original concept. There have also been countless cheap LCD imitations of the game, and it has been converted into a board game as well!