How Tetris Effect Can Learn From Previous Arcade Reinventions

by Jacob Geller on Jun 24, 2018 at 03:00 PM

With enchanting music and trippy visuals, our first look at Tetris Effect promises the timeless gameplay of Tetris in an entirely new context. Last week, we wrote about its gameplay additions and wild stylistic choices. But as novel as it appears, Tetris Effect isn’t the first reinvention of its kind. From Pac-Man to After burner, Developers have been giving classic games new life for years – often accompanied by explosive graphics and sound.

Tetris Effect has a chance to learn from the best by looking at these past titles. Let’s check out some of the most effective examples of old games that have learned new tricks.

Galaga Legions and Space Invaders Extreme

Blast Through Previous Hardware Limitations

The original screen-clearing gameplay for Tetris came from a technical limitation; the screen would simply fill up too fast. So Alexey Pajitnov, the original programmer, made each line simply disappear once it was full.

That workaround led to some of the most addictive gameplay ever created. But with the technical horsepower we have now, current consoles could probably render about four billion lines at the same time. What new possibilities does this open up?

Galaga Legions and Space Invaders Extreme both spin the original ideas of their games into modern generations. Instead of the framerate-limited titles from several decades ago, modern consoles let these revamps display hundreds of enemies on screen. Legion’s spaceship fires screen-clearing blasts and navigates through maze-like formations of enemies, while Extreme’s waves of enemies explode in such tightly orchestrated sequences it sometimes feels like a rhythm game.

Today’s shoot ‘em ups owe much to Galaga and Space Invaders; it’s fun to see the games that inspired these genres adapt to the 21st century’s new gameplay conventions. Even in their updated state, they maintain their individuality. Galaga’s looping patterns of enemies are immediately recognizable in Legions, and Space Invaders Extreme’s aliens continue to chug down the screen.

I can only imagine what Tetris will look like with effectively infinite technological possibilities. Instead of clearing those lines, Tetris Effect could keep them balanced in an ever-growing tower or use them to fill a glittering geometric ocean. Suriel wrote about whizzing past pyramids in his quick demo; maybe we could take a tour of the seven wonders of the ancient, Tetris-filled world.

Battlezone VR

Give Us A New Perspective

Classic games often used their primitive graphics to suggest situations and perspectives they weren’t technically able to pull off yet. Battlezone used wireframe vectors, a first-person perspective, and an arcade-linked pair of goggles to approximate a VR experience over 35 years ago. This was the appeal of many games in the arcade; a cabinet could add unique controls and visuals that were impossible at home.

It only makes sense that Battlezone’s re-release came with the delivery of virtual-reality tech only imagined in 1980. On PSVR, it’s possible to look in every direction and experience sitting in a tank the way the original tried to simulate with its vectors and goggles. The original arcade cabinets were on the cutting edge of technology when they were made. Pushing the same game to 2018’s limits with VR is an excellent way to live the future that 1980 gamers dreamed of.

We know that Tetris Effect will work with PSVR. Given the studio’s jaw-dropping achievements with Rez’s new VR areas, it’s safe to assume that Tetris Effect will have unprecedented visual takes on the game. With the scale that VR allows, each block could be as big as a house. Or, Tetris Effect could even recreate the game in its original setting (presumably a room-sized computer in Russia).

Pac-Man Championship Edition

Embrace Score Chasing

Many arcade classics weren’t meant to be beaten. They ate quarters without mercy, challenging players to come back again and again to make it just a little further. Instead of seeing credits, the goal was to move your initials a couple ranks up on the machine’s leaderboards.

The advent of online gaming and smaller indie titles like Geometry Wars brought leaderboards back in style. Knocking a friend off their mantle with a ridiculous high score is as satisfying as it has ever been, and now you can do it from the comfort of your own couch.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that revamped arcade games have maintained their score-focused roots. Online leaderboards are a must, but so is gameplay that lends itself to that addictive “just one more run” mentality. I love Doom’s arcade mode, but the high-score holders are slow, deliberate, and mechanical; they’re exactly the opposite of how that game should be played. Meanwhile, Pac-Man: Championship Edition’s world records are incredible tests of reflexes and memorization.

Tetris has some of the most impressive high-score competitions around. Pushing the limits of human perception, the Tetris: The Grandmaster editions of the game challenges players to clear lines of invisible blocks that fall almost instantaneously to the ground. At last count, there were fewer than 10 people in the world who had achieved the ultimate title of “Classic Master Grand Master.”

With its VR potential, Tetris Effect may open a whole new type of high score, one centered around physically moving around with as much finesse as using a controller. Tetris Grand Masters can get high scores with invisible blocks, but can they physically haul and spin the Tetris pieces into place?

After Burner Climax

Keep What Made The Original Special

While new graphics and gameplay options are exciting, it’s also important to remember the reasons these games have stuck around so long. There are mountains of more forgettable arcade games that haven’t been revamped. Certain titles stay with us for a reason.

Are there flight titles more technically accurate than the original After Burner? Of course. But the barely controlled sense of speed, the sudden changes in environment, even the voiceover screaming “f-f-fi-fire” as each missile launched from the wing; in the ‘80s, these qualities captured the imagination enough that any remake would have to pay homage to them.

That’s exactly what After Burner Climax does. Despite everything that changed in the decades since the original release, Climax is still unmistakably an After Burner title. The quickest way to rob a classic IP of its identity is to lose the things that made it special. Bionic Commando was a classic defined by its challenging and rewarding swinging mechanic. It isn’t a mediocre third-person shooter with some light grappling.

Almost everyone knows how Tetris is supposed to work. While I’m excited to see what revisions are in store with Tetris Effect, I still want my grandma to see the screen and say “Oh, people still play Tetris?” No matter how complex the graphics or gripping the sound, I still want to be begging my computer for a long piece, or frantically sweating as my blocks reach the top of the screen.

Give Us The Original Game

Look, sometimes all the pixels and explosions get exhausting. When all else fails, I’d love to just be able to fall back on the original Tetris that we know and love.

Centipede and Millipede released “Evolved” versions on the Xbox arcade, and they weren’t particularly good. Their updated graphics served mainly to rob the original art of personality without making up for it in any meaningful way.

However. Those games came alongside their original counterparts, which meant that when all else failed you still had a perfectly good version of the arcade classic. Even better, having both games provides an easy way to admire just how far games have come. Despite its timeless gameplay, the original Tetris looks shockingly primitive. Flipping between that and the eye-popping spectacle of Tetris Effect might give you technological whiplash (but, you know, in a good way).

Remaking a classic game is a kind of historical fiction. The harder edges may get sanded down, and it’s impossible to recapture the context of the original release. But like historical fiction, these re-releases are invaluable to people learning about them for the first time, or re-experiencing an old favorite through rose-colored glasses. Galaga, Pac-Man, Tetris; these titles influenced generations of games, and now those generations are re-influencing the originals.

It’s a unique case of game design coming full circle, and I’ll gladly play Tetris in loops for years to come.


Check out our replay of Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures, or our breakdown of the Ten Best Arcade Bars in America

Products In This Article

Tetris Effectcover

Tetris Effect

Rift, Quest, Vive, PlayStation 4, PlayStation VR
Release Date:
November 9, 2018 (Rift, Vive, PlayStation 4, PlayStation VR), 
May 14, 2020 (Quest)