When Nintendo released the Game Boy in 1989 with Tetris packed right in the box, that's when I feel mobile gaming really hit the mainstream. Sure, there were handheld gaming systems before it, like Nintendo's own Game & Watch devices among others, but back when the '90s were just on the horizon everybody and their brother/sister/aunt/uncle/grandpa/dog/parakeet were playing some Tetris on the Game Boy.
Ah, such good memories.
That's why one of this week's new releases stuck out at me right away. It's called BlockBoy [Free], and even a quick glance at one of its screenshots will tell you just where its influence lies. The unmistakeable greyscale blocks are a direct riff of Tetris from the Game Boy, and heck, there's even a faux Game Boy-like game system (called the BlockBoy) where your virtual controls sit on the screen.
How you feel about how closely BlockBoy apes Game Boy and Tetris isn't really what I'm here to talk about, though I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it either, but what I did find interesting is that playing a Tetris-like without any actual Tetris pieces is hard as nails.
The folks who control the Tetris license are notoriously fickle about anybody using anything that might even barely resemble something from Tetris, and with such an iconic game who can blame them? However, that means that BlockBoy is a block-dropping game without any of the pieces from Tetris, namely the four-block "Tetriminos" we've all come to know and love over the years.
Instead, you get shapes made up of 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 blocks and possibly even more. What's fascinating is that the Tetris formula is so ingrained in my brain that I find it extremely difficult to play BlockBoy with these funky shapes. One big problem is that there's no preview window showing you which piece is coming up next, so you're forced to wait for it to fully appear onscreen before you even know what you're dealing with, and THEN try to figure out how to rotate it and where to put it.
This difficulty is compounded by the faux Game Boy display which makes the gameplay area itself pretty small, and once you start building up a pile of blocks on the bottom it can become downright impossible to maneuver a block once it's finally on the screen and you realize which block it even is. Even if you aren't using the preview window in Tetris you'll recognize which piece is which almost instantly as it falls from the top of the screen. Not so in BlockBoy. If anything this just shows how near-perfect the design of the original Tetris is, and why it's such a hard formula to iterate on and change.
BlockBoy tries to do some other interesting things to distinguish itself from Tetris even more, like a bonus gem and special item system which is neat in some ways, and the virtual buttons actually work surprisingly well, something that even the official Tetris games have struggled with on touchscreens in the past. However, the core of BlockBoy is just too difficult to adjust to, and really just makes me long for an actual version of Game Boy Tetris rather than an almost copy.
Still, BlockBoy is free to download and try, with an IAP unlock to remove ads and add some other additional features like more music and more faux Game Boy skins. As such, I think it's worth giving it a shot, especially if you're fond of Tetris on the Game Boy from more than two decades ago and want to see how you deal when the ingrained Tetris formula is turned on its ear.
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