Sunday, 19 May 2019

YOU LITTLE WONDER, LITTLE WONDER YOU [174]



Some time ago, I downloaded Tetris for my mobile phone, but I rarely play it. The compromises necessary to make the game work with touch-screen technology made it, for me, less playable: the choice is to swipe your “tetrominos” down the screen, or choose where you want it to fall. I want to be able to properly guide them down, and rotate them around – I need buttons, one for each thumb.

I took the obvious path: I now own a cheap Nintendo Game Boy, and a cartridge of the game that was, until Pokémon happened, its killer app – and it didn’t need a character, be they a plumber hedgehog or Pikachu. I need not mention how Tetris works, as everyone must have played it by now – thirty-five million copies of the original Game Boy game, introduced with the console in 1989, were sold, not counting further versions of it, both for the Game Boy and other systems. The game’s inventor, Sergei Pajitnov, has said the Game Boy version is his favourite, and I can see why, having not put it down since I picked it up: the controls are very responsive, I like trying to squeeze a tetromino into a tight spot, created when you are not getting the ones you want, and you have to put them somewhere. I also like the option of a “B-Game,” where you play until you have completed twenty-five lines, instead of continuing until the batteries in your Game Boy run out.

The squarewave music generated by the Game Boy is iconic - remixes of the Tetris “A-Type” music, by “Doctor Spin,” and the “Super Mario Land” theme reached the UK Singles Chart in 1992, and can be found on “Now That’s What I Call Music! 23”. However, why did I have a pang of nostalgia when I heard the sound made when I completed a line of tetrominos? If I ever played the game before, it would be too long ago for me to have remembered it, and it would have been on someone else’s system – I have never owned one before. I couldn’t find it in the remix. “Doctor Spin” turns out to be a pseudonym for record producer Nigel Wright, and some guy named Andrew Lloyd Webber – no, I don’t know what to do with that information either.
The Game Boy and Game & Watch range

I had originally considered buying a cheap Tetris LCD game, but now I have a Game Boy, I can cast my net wider, although the type of game I like are quick affairs like “Space Invaders” and “Lemmings.” Indeed, the Game Boy was conceived, by Nintendo’s Gunpei Yokoi, as an upgrade to their existing “Game & Watch” LCD games. Yakoi had already set his toy maker employer down the electronic path when he developed a Love Tester game in 1969, a resistance meter that needed two people to work, and worked better when they kissed. Yakoi developed the Game & Watch series after seeing a commuter on a train, messing about with their calculator – the Game Boy is essentially a customisable Game & Watch, with an LCD screen that can create more intricate shapes, like Super Mario or Robocop.

A word on the Game Boy I bought. Mine is a blue Game Boy Pocket, from 1996, palm-sized instead of hand-sized, and half the weight of the original, especially once the batteries are installed – only two AAA batteries, instead of four AAs. The LCD screen is grey, instead of that pea-soup green that the original is famous for, but the playing time allowed by the batteries is down to ten hours – in other words, the level we are now used to having. I didn’t feel like I would need the extra capability that the Game Boy Color, Advance, or Advance SP have, but what I now know is, even if I was to buy one of the last Advance SPs, made in 2005, it will still play my original Tetris game from 1989, with no adaptor required. The first Nintendo DS can play Game Boy Advance cartridges, yet its design is influenced by the Game & Watch. I don't know if the Nintendo Switch has a Love Tester function.

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