Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Tetris (Mega Drive)

Because I just know you want to read a review on a game you've played millions of times before.

If you thought Tengen's NES attempt was rare, have a look at this Mega Drive version. Though it was licensed by Tengen (a.k.a. Atari), the majority of this port was handled by Sega. And guess what? Nintendo blocked its sales. Copies of this game are supposedly so rare they've been priced up to $16,000 US dollars, but lLuckily, emulation means we can all play it... but you can also see that it's not worth playing.

I can't really explain the story of Tetris. Having been through so many developers and publishers its very difficult to keep track. Basically, Nintendo had the home console rights, while Atari (a.k.a. Tengen when dealing with consoles) had the arcade rights, of which they gave to Sega for a bit. Sega have produced a few Tetris games in their lifetime but the important one today is the 1988 System 16 version.

Why a Sega System 16 version exists is unknown, but it does. Sega then attempted to port this version to their Sega Mega Drive console, and then Nintendo turned up. "Mess around in the arcades as much as you want", they said, "but don't touch the home console market, that's our turf", and as with Tengen's version of the game, Sega's was stripped from store shelves.

But the internet doesn't really bother to explain some of the finer points, like why an arcade Vs. Nintendo version exists, or why Sega released their copy in the same year as Atari, but whatever.

Blocking sales isn't so much of a disappointment this time around. The Mega Drive's hardware isn't quite as advanced as the System 16's, and so there's some obvious graphical drawbacks. Sega also didn't really bother to add anything for users in the home, and so we've got ourselves a really dull version of the game. And I mean really dull.

It's a very early Mega Drive game, and as such the graphics are very poor. It was released a year before Columns and clearly not much effort was put into it. There is only one in-game music track and the background only changes when you get a tetris (clearing four lines at once). You can play with speeds and starting heights, and there are two player options... but that's it.

It is worth noting that Sega's choice of music was actually recycled in later Tetris games. So even though it was never as legndary as any of Nintendo's Game Boy tunes, it's not completely obscure. I seemed to recognise the tune straight away and I wasn't under the impression I had even played any other Sega versions... so maybe it was even used in other games?

Even though the backgrounds bother to change (which is more than can be said for Nintendo's NES version), they're not... great (and the pieces look as if they've been taken from an MSX game or something). Though you would assume the finer points of gameplay had been ironed out by this stage, Sega's Tetris isn't quite as responsive as you might have hoped. You can rotate left and right and you use a button to do this, but the rotating system isn't as flexible as later versions of the game.

Take for example, the 1x4 (or 4x1) "I" piece. When it appears on screen, it will be in its 4x1 position right at the top of the play area. If you were to rotate around the centre at this stage, on screen you would probably see a 1x2 piece, with the other two blocks being outside of the play area. That doesn't happen in Sega Tetris. You you have to wait until the block has moved down two spaces before the game allows it to be rotated, and this can be very awkward when you're close to defeat. Nintendo's versions will move the piece to the left/right to make room for rotations if needed, but Sega's refuses to.

So overall it's a very poor package and sane people can steer clear of investing thousands in it... though that isn't too hard since the game never left Japan. Not one of Sega's finest moments, but I guess it answers that question about why the Mega Drive version is ignored.

1 comment:

  1. Nintendo must have really despised Tengen that much to go to the point of stopping sales of their Mega Drive port, even if that port did suck.