Two of the Gameboy’s launch titles, Alleyway and Tetris, are also two of the system’s most easily playable games. Tetris, of course, was the pack-in title that sold millions & millions of Gameboys for Nintendo. This is the game that your mom or dad could get into. This is the game that your grandmother has heard of. This was the perfect game to showcase the short burst of on the go gaming niche the Gameboy was attempting to fill. If anyone complies a list of brilliant decisions Nintendo has made over the years, packing Tetris with their Gameboys upon launch needs to be on it.
Tetris on the Gameboy is super addictive and never gets old, just like a perfect handheld game should. Even after you’ve played a few rounds and decide that you’ve had enough puzzle action for one day, inevitably, the urge to play again will hit you quicker than you expect. The cart itself offers two game modes; game A allows you to play until the blocks finally stack up to the top of the screen and mode B lets you play until you clear a pre-determined number of lines. You can set the difficulty level in either game to increase the challenge off the bat (increased speed of the dropping tetrads in mode A and number of tetrads that pre-fill the screen in mode B) for those seasoned Tetris gamers. In addition to two game modes with sliding levels of difficulty, the game offers 3 different music choices as well as a silent option. Even though it had previously been available for home computers in the mid 80’s, the Tetris phenomenon didn’t really hit North America until it was featured on the little gray box in all it’s pea-green dot matrix glory. There is so much to like about Tetris and it’s place in Gameboy and video gaming history is secure.
The second game featured, Alleyway, is a breakout clone for sure but don’t hold that against it. In 1989, everything had to include Mario, so as a result there’s an unnecessary shot of Mario jumping into the pill-shaped spaceship who’s job is to clear the alleyway (?) of blocks. There are also Mario related bonus stages where you must break as many blocks in the shape of Mario, Koopas, etc. in a set amount of time. Each subsequent level of Alleyway intends to add a wrinkle to the tried and true block breaking formula but many of these wrinkles are subtle and not very distinctive or interesting. By 1989, Breakout/Super Breakout were relics of the Atari age that had effectively ended almost a half a decade earlier and a similar but better Breakout clone, Arkanoid, was available in arcades and on the NES. Alleyway takes a step back from Arkanoid by not including various power-ups for your ship. As a result, Alleyway feels a little dated but understandably at launch, the Gameboy’s powers were not likely fully harnessed. Fortunately for me, I’m a big fan of Breakout/Super Breakout so Alleyway, in spit of its derivative nature, is still quite a blast.
Currently in my collection:
Alleyway – game only B
Tetris – game only A+