This month (and technically, the day my last article came out — whoops) marks the 35th anniversary of Tetris, so what better theme for this edition of “Mario Mania” than the game that launched a thousand — er, rather, tens of millions of Game Boys around the world.
I won’t bother with the whole history of the game — others have told the story, and told it better (and with far more words than I have available to me here — go read David Sheff’s Game Over, if you can find a copy. It covers it in exhausting detail, and is a great read besides). Instead, we’re going to look at why any true Mario Maniac would want the title that supplanted the plumbing protagonist’s own Super Mario Land as the pack-in title as a part of their collection.
According to an IGN interview with Henk Rogers, who negotiated the deal for Tetris to be licensed to Nintendo:
I said, ‘Mr Arakawa, you need to include Tetris with every Game Boy’. And he said, ‘Why should I include Tetris when I have Mario?’ And I said, ‘If you want little boys to buy your Game Boy, pack in Mario. But if you want *everyone* to buy your Game Boy, pack in Tetris, because everybody plays Tetris – young, old and male, female. And then you can still sell Mario afterwards and make more money!’
And that’s just what Nintendo did… though, to their credit, they managed to have it their way as well, though you wouldn’t know it at a first glance.
On a regular playthrough of Tetris, you may never see Mario or his brother, Luigi. That’s because for them to come out and play, you must first initiate the game’s 2-player mode — which requires the Game Link Cable, which was packed with many a unit, yet seldom used for many years. Incidentally, you’ll also need a second Game Boy. And a second copy of Tetris as well.
Provided you’ve procured all of the essential components, you’ll be able to challenge another player, with each of you taking on the role (so to speak) of Mario and Luigi:
According to the Tetris Wiki, this was the first version of the game to feature competitive 2-player. First player to four victories wins, and each round is decided by whoever can last the longest. If you’d like to hedge your bets, clearing two, three, or four lines at a time will send blocks over to the opponent’s screen, forcing them to deal with ever more cramped quarters.
Once the winner has been determined in each round, the victorious brother will jump up and down with joy, while the defeated of the duo will weep at his win-less state. Once the series’ champion is determined, the one who came up short will then fall over and turn into a puff of smoke, disappearing altogether.
It’s kind of grim, when you think about it, but Nintendo is sometimes strangely willing to go to such places with their mascot.
Upon its release, the Game Boy was frequently accompanied by demo units at retailers who carried the product line, and in some cases, they were equipped for head-to-head play, like so:
I remember often heading off to the electronics department at Walmart to play on this portable system my parents would never let me have, and as Tetris was the only game featured for the longest time, I’d often set it up when no one else was around (or sometimes if there was, and they were up to it) to play 2-player Tetris, so I could see Mario and Luigi, along with their animations.
Reliving that experience now doesn’t come too easy, and certainly not cheap — the above unit is being sold on eBay by user ism2003 for a whopping $3,200 USD, with $98.89 USD for shipping. But don’t worry, you can pay it off at $154 per month over the course of 24 months.
That’s admittedly a bit much for a small cycle of Mario and Luigi pixel art and animations, but hey, it’s your collection. If you just want the game, though, that comes much cheaper. Given how common the game is due to being a pack-in, you can acquire the cart alone for single digits, while a manual may push it up to double. As a pack-in, there was no box for most of the copies sold, but as Nintendo diversified their line of Game Boy consoles, they offered it separately, and getting a boxed copy can run you a bit more still.
With that said, for a Mario collection, the main thing you’ll need is just the cartridge (or two). The box has no imagery of the Mario Bros. anywhere on it, or even a mention, while the manual barely has much more — nothing like unique character art or anything like that, just images of the screens like above.
If you’d rather just get a single cart and be done with it, then you can still enjoy what there is to be seen on YouTube, of course.