739520_largerWhen 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.

mzl.dfukloowThe 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.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • TheEvilRobot

    I enjoy this game, but it would be 100 times better if hey got rid of the + shape. Every time I get the + shape it messes me up because I can never find any where to put it.

    The music is cool the interface is cool. It does feel retro, but they need to get rid of that + shape.

    • TheEvilRobot

      Also, like you said, it would be nice to see which shape comes next.

      • TheEvilRobot

        This game, in my opinion, deserves a 5/5.

        But hey, everyone has their own opinions

  • riChchestMat

    This is just half a star short of Limbo

    • Karzay

      Different reviewer.

    • Ratallideth

      Muh indie masterpiece

    • handycapman

      Actually it's the same as Limbo. If you're going to complain, complain logically.

      • nini

        That ship long sailed, friend.

  • Karzay

    So Tetris with slightly different blocks?

    • BonZero

      The idea is to bring the essence of the original game and its nice physical controls but using pentamino pieces not like the original although I wanted to bring back those memories (im the dev of the game) because I personally dont like the touch controls of the mobile versions of tetris

      • handhoney

        Dev, I fired it up and enjoyed it. I actually enjoyed the variation from the Tetris blocks.

        I've spent .99c on much much much more bad things. This is a solid 99c game IMO.

        If I were to criticize, yes, a "next block" viewer would be nice.

      • Karzay

        That's fine. I'm not questioning your reasoning behind cloning Tetris. Just be prepared to have your app pulled and/or speak with a lawyer or two. Since you are charging for BlockBoy Pro, they can now sue you for profits and damages. Best thing you can do is change the game visually so that it doesn't look so close to the original. It's possible to do that and still keep that nostalgic feel.

      • BonZero

        Mmm I checked every patent or trademark before working on the design. Theres always a posibility that somebody could complain but on paper everything is legal I would like to keep the design but maybe its a good idea in an update to offer other design alternatives, also note that the app wouldnt have been approved if it infriged any copyright (the apple guys are really picky and check on all the details)

      • JustMeNow

        No offense, but the game isn't fun because of the weird shapes. Also sometimes the controller/button doesn't respond. Maybe if you could make all shapes have the same number of bricks, it could be better (maybe 3)

  • witedahlia

    I like it. I really like how you can change the color of the "console."

  • GamerGuy

    I saw this on the iPad app and there was a half hour video on this game...really...a half hour of this gameplay to watch.....snooze fest.

  • blakedaking

    Playing this game made me go and buy the actual Tetris game.

    Great try but annoyances previously stated, the + piece and not being able to see next piece make game unbearable.

  • BMOC

    Digging this, I'm playing it more than my actual Tetris app because it has a fresh feel and I love the retro look and sound, definitely takes me back. No, it's probably not as good as Tetris, but I've played enough Tetris to last a lifetime. Love the music too.

  • BMOC

    Actually after buying the pro version I reverted to the free version. The only difference in pro is no ads and more music, but all the other music is bad, and you can't control what track is playing. Oh well, I'm getting enough play out of it that I don't mind paying a buck.

  • BonZero

    Im working on an update and trying to improve the controls, i. e you can skip tracks pressing UP but its so close to right and left that you usually press it by mistake, its not random but needs improvement. I have also added a next preview window (almost all the similar games using pentominos pieces have a preview window so I guess its ok to add it) and I want to add more value for that buck paid but its taking more time than i anticipated... I would also like to add achievents (easy) and more special items and events (not that easy) ah and a 8bit switch to play using NES , master system color palette... Lets see what I can do from that list

BlockBoy Reviewed by Jared Nelson on . Rating: 3