With two high-profile releases in recent months, Tetris is back in the public consciousness in a very real way. But there have been a ton of Tetris games over the years, and you don’t need to play them all to have a thorough understanding of the franchise.
You do need to play these ones, though. And we’ll tell you why!
Before we begin, a few notes on our criteria:
- It needs to be Tetris. If the fundamental gameplay strays too far, it won’t be included in this list, as good and fun as games like Tetris 2 or Tetris Attack/Panel de Pon may be.
- It needs to offer something unique to the list. These aren’t necessarily our favorite entries or even the best ones. There are many great Tetris games that aren’t on here because they offer slightly less of something that’s already represented.
- It doesn’t need to be conveniently available. Games do need to be released in some form, but we’re not going to dock a game points for being harder to track down. So imports and arcade-only releases are fair game and you’ll be rewarded for seeking them out with really cool play.
1989, Game Boy
Why? This one makes the list due to its cultural significance: it was most of the world’s introduction to Tetris, and it’s a distillation of the formula that shows just exactly why the game works. It also builds around the iconic theme. It was available for a time on the 3DS Virtual Console, but these days you’d just have to track down a cartridge. It’s incredibly common, though!
Tetris Battle Gaiden
Why? Because it’s the best, most fun Tetris for head-to-head play. It takes inspiration from Puyo Puyo and other competitive puzzlers of its day, offering “magic” blocks that you gather and use to have effects on the board. It’s totally playable with a minimal language barrier until you learn each character’s abilities, and each matchup feels different in a way that makes it very much its own experience in the realm of Tetris releases. Read more about it?
Tetris: The Grand Master 3 – Terror-Instinct
Why? This culmination (for now) of the Grand Master series is the most balanced, fully-featured entry in a sub-series designed to test your mastery of the toughest puzzle skills. Whether you’re a novice or a top-tier professional, Grand Master 3 will give you a true, fair test of your skills, and whether or not you like the result, it’s informative to know where you stand.
2006, Nintendo DS
Why? There have been many gimmicky takes on the formula that try to add “more game” to Tetris, but none have done them as successfully as Nintendo. Which, well, isn’t that surprising. Nostalgic aesthetics aside, the rules of these new modes are refreshing and fun. You’re bound to find one you like, whether it’s the tug-of-war of Push, the shifting objectives of Mission or the contemplative thinking of Puzzle.
Puyo Puyo Tetris
2017/2018, Switch/PlayStation 4/PC
Also available on 3DS, Wii U, Vita, PS3 and Xbox One in Japan
Why? If you gather people in a room to play Tetris, it should be this one, even if you ignore all of the game’s Puyo Puyo options. It’s well-balanced for four players and available on modern platforms, and it even throws in some balancing options and party modes to let you have fun with friends of differing skill levels.
2018, PlayStation 4
Why? This is the best single-player Tetris game, without question. It isolates you and the game, letting you feel the psychological “effect” referenced in the title whether you’re in VR or on a normal screen. (I’ve written a bit about how Tetris Effect is built and what it’s meant in my life.)
Why? If Tetris Effect is the master of isolation, Tetris 99 tries its hardest to go the other direction, making the experience as much of a social event as possible. The multiplayer elements of other Tetris games do have an occasional incentive to monitor the opponent, but this game’s all about targeting and taking out threats while fending off ones yourself. Since it just released, it’s a barebones offering, but that could change with time.