The Tetris Masters is an interesting film. There is a universality to Tetris – even more so then games like Pac man and Mario Bros. It seems like everybody’s played Tetris at one point to another, it’s as ubiquitous at Solitaire. I skipped the whole 8-bit age, I never owned an NES, but I still played Tetris – it was the demo game on every GameBoy display at every toy store, Department store and electronics store in Ohio. Walking over to the GameBoy display and going a couple rounds of Tetris was always a great way to kill some time by your mother shopped in other parts of the store. I got okay, I never got great. I remember sitting on the floor at my friend Mike’s house, while his brother Jeff was showing me the trick to sliding in one of those pieces at the very last moment. Yeah, Tetris is pervasive in our society.
Still, it seems like a strange subject for a film – unlike other video games, it lacks a story. There are no characters, yet there is a community of Tetris players, as engaged and devoted else there is to any other video game out there. This is really what the movie really focuses on.
Unlike the King of Kong , there is a broader focus here – half a dozen main characters are really being followed through in this story. But even more so is the looming competition. The tournament was present in King Kong, but it was the McGuffin – where as in Ecstasy of Order, the tournament is almost character itself, and most definitely a driving force as well as the background. It is always present.
What’s really interesting in the Tetris Masters, is these little break-ins that they throw out once a while, describing the technical aspects of Tetris play and illustrating them for all to see. It’s always done on a classic NES – that’s considered the definitive version of the game, and obviously you need some sort of a control for uniformity. I found it surprising that the NS was the choice, for me the gameboy always felt like the definitive version, but then again perhaps that’s just because that’s the one I always saw everywhere – admit it, it’s a port and not the sort of far more colourful game that the NES version is.
The film brings us back to the old Nintendo World Championships as well, bringing in the ultimate winner. It’s an interesting twist – because you’re familiar with this idea from films like the Wizard, but to see the actual thing… It’s an almost bizarre time capsule for me.
Ecstasy of order is one of the better docs out there and I recommend getting out to see this one. You will come away with a greater appreciation for Tetris and spent some time in that wonderful retro gaming era.