Tengen’s Tetris

Hey guys! Today I’m going to be writing an unlicensed port of Tetris to the NES! There was an official Tetris on the Famicom, but this one is unlicensed. I was going to write about the story, but it’s SUPER confusing, so I’ll just copy what Wikipedia has to say about it. (That’s not plagiarism, because of the way Wikipedia has their licensing set up.)

In 1984, Soviet Academy of Sciences researcher Alexey Pajitnov alongside Dmitry Pavlovsky and Vadim Gerasimov developed Tetris out of a desire to create a two-player puzzle game, and the game spread commercially amongst computers. Mirrorsoft president Robert Stein approached Pajitnov with an offer to distribute Tetris worldwide, and secured the rights to license the title, which were in turn granted to Spectrum HoloByte. After seeing the game run on an Atari ST, programmer Ed Logg petitioned Atari Games to license it, and approached Stein. With the rights secured, Atari Games produced an arcade version of Tetris, and under their Tengen brand name began development to port the title to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in May 1989.

Tengen along with Spectrum HoloByte later licensed the rights to Henk Rogers on behalf of Nintendo to distribute Tetris in Japan, and Rogers traveled to Moscow to secure permission to distribute Tetris with the Game Boy. Around this same time, Nintendo approached Spectrum HoloByte on the prospects of developing a version of Tetris for the Game Boy, and a representative of Mirrorsoft, Kevin Maxwell, traveled to Russia to secure permission on their behalf. However, because Stein had secured the rights from Pajitnov directly and not from the Russian authorities, the USSR’s Ministry of Software and Hardware Export stated that the console rights to Tetris had been licensed to nobody, and that Atari Games had only been licensed the rights to produce arcade games with the property. They sent a fax to Maxwell in England with 48 hours to respond; Maxwell however was still in Russia at the time and received the fax late, resulting in licensing being distributed to Nintendo. In April 1989, Tengen, who had previously filed an anti-trust suit against Nintendo, sued Nintendo again claiming rights to distribute Tetris on the NES, and Nintendo counter-sued citing infringement of trademark. In June 1989, a month after the release of Tengen’s Tetris, a U.S. District Court Judge issued an injunction barring Tengen from further distributing the game, and further ordered all existing copies of the game be destroyed. As a result, 268,000 Tetris cartridges were recalled and destroyed.

In an interview, Ed Logg noted that the Tengen version of Tetris was built completely from scratch, using no source code or material from the original game. After presenting the title at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Tengen president Randy Browleit requested improvements in the game. Originally portrayed solely in black and white, Browleit requested that the pieces be portrayed in color, and Logg altered the game accordingly prior to the next Consumer Electronics Show. When asked which version of Tetris he liked the most, Logg stated the Nintendo version of Tetris for the NES “wasn’t tuned right”, citing a lack of the use of logarithmic tuning over doubling the game’s speed.

Alright, that’s the end of what Wikipedia had to say, and man it is CONFUSING. Doesn’t matter though, what matters is that Tengen’s version of Tetris was illegal and that they weren’t supposed to make it. But it was on store shelves for a month before it got recalled, so there are copies of it. Those are expensive though, $60 for just the cartridge and hundreds of dollars if it has the box. Fortunately though, some pirates got ahold of it and it’s super easy to find on multicarts. The one I’ll be using is this 1999 6-in-1 Multicart:


1999 6-in-1 Multicart

It doesn’t say Tetris anywhere on there, but the game labelled “Magic” is actually Tetris. For some reason, they labelled it “Tetris II” on the game select screen.


Game select screen of 1999 6-in-1

And even more ridiculously, the pirates took out the title screen and put in a plain text logo saying “1993 New Game”


Tetris II title screen

Since Tengen’s Tetris came out in 1988, this title screen hack was made 5 years after the original Tengen Tetris. Anyway, here’s what the title screen looked like before the pirates hacked it:


here’s some gameplay (like last time, I’m getting this on an emulator. My famiclone isn’t connected to my CRT TV at the moment, and I am super lazy and don’t want to take the 5 minutes to hook it up):

I was bad at Tetris on purpose to make the video short. I’m usually way better.

If you want to play this on actual hardware, then get a multicart with this game on it. Tengen’s copy, like I mentioned earlier, is expensive. That’s it for now, guys. Bye!!


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