The undisputed star of gaming
It's not often I get to write about a real hero. Sure, I've covered the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog, the Mario Brothers, Marcus Fenix and Bubsy the Bobcat, but I feel like everything in my career has been leading me up to this moment. This is my heavily-researched history of the S-shaped block from Tetris. And it'll blow your mind.
You might wonder how said shape could possibly have evolved over time, seeing as it's just four squares arranged in a basic S configuration. But as you're about to witness, the S-shaped Tetramino has been on one hell of a journey and it's got quite a story to tell. So let's start at the beginning...
1984: Humble Beginnings
But 1984 was a dystopian time if you were a Tetromino. Big Brother was watching... in horror. He had neatly leveled off the top of his stack, naively expecting a long one to appear for a tetris... but this appeared instead. Double ungood, indeed. But the S-shaped Tetromino played a pivotal role in securing a Russian intellectual export to the West. Some say the S-shaped Tetrimino was working for the US all along, and disguised itself as the second 'S' in 'Russia'. It's never been proven (but there are entire YouTube channels dedicated to the subject).
Even in these early days, however, S-shaped Tetromino stood out, despite only having his shape to distinguish him from everyone else in a time of uniform shading. Like early photos of Marilyn Monroe, you can see it had something special, a glint off its edge that shines out from a class full of other bricks that time forgot.
1984: "I'll fit that"
In 1984, people were fascinated by the digital age and the possibility of time travel. S-shaped Tetromino embodied that excitement, and - as academics point out - clearly represents a nexus where past, present and future converge. The theory is simple: The past is in the uneven, tiered structure that you have built thus far. The present is signified by the act of slotting the new piece into place, perhaps to fix previous errors or even making a new one.
And it represents the future, for its shape ensures that the current situation in Tetris will definitely remain unresolved, as even if you use it to clear two lines, you're always left with one 'mino' to contend with on your next turn. Unless, of course, your wall was too high and this triggers the Game Over state... which is more sobering and profound than anything else I could possibly come up with. Well, except that in the short time we knew the 1984 S-shaped Tetromino, it frustrated us a lifetime's worth.
1986: S finds fame on NES
Tetris appeared on NES, resulting in huge success for all involved. But such fame almost always comes at a price. And in those early days, the S-shaped Tetromino was young and reckless. Not content with sharing the billing with the likes of the L-shaped Tetromino and his nemesis, the Z-shaped Tetromino, S started infiltrating other games.
He'd turn up drunk in Hyrule and play 'hilarious' games, like hiding in the old man's bag so that he'd be given to Link instead of a sword. Or he'd stand by a mirror and pretend to be the player's ship from Galaxian. Which was great until he got his head shot off by an alien. Fortunately, there's always another S-shaped Tetromino waiting in the window (unless you're weird and switch off the window), and so the evolution continued...
1989: The bittersweet Game Boy days
You'd think that the Game Boy version of Tetris would be a high point for S-shaped Tetromino, and in many ways it was. Incredible commercial success, pack-in status with the hottest handheld around... but it was also a bad time for our hero.
For starters, ALL of the other blocks are shown on the front of the Game Boy packaging, yet S-shaped Tetromino is nowhere to be seen. It's true - I haven't used any Photoshop tricks. And on the back, it's the Z-shaped Tetromino that's given window status in both screenshots on the back of the box. S-shaped Tetramino is even shown pinned by an inverse-L - the unwanted runt of the tetromino family. I know - it isn't until someone points it out to you that you realise just how deep the rabbit hole goes.
1991: Super speed
The S-shaped Tetramino's first major evolution came in 1991 as it tore the shackles from its 8-bit past and blazed vertically down our CRT screens. The sheer speed at which this one block moved in 16-bit Tetris was - to easily impressed '90s eyes - incredible, although many naysayers would later make YouTube videos showing that actually, the 8-bit version moved faster all the time and it was only fancy animation and advertising that made everyone think the 16-bit S-shaped Tetromino was moving faster.
I say it doesn't really matter. S-shaped Tetromino was on top of the world and could do nothing wrong. Indeed, in later years, many would argue that the movement of the S-shaped Tetromino has never been as satisfying as it was in this game. In new versions, it goes straight down. In its 1991 incarnation, it goes straight down.
1996: 3D Tetris hits Virtual Boy
The S-shaped Tetromino was selected to make the jump into 3D in the ill-fated Virtual Boy version of Tetris. It wasn't a success. The game was even cancelled in Japan. S-shaped seemed to enjoy the drama, however. Look at that face on the bottom-left of the screenshot. That's the face of someone who wants the game to fail.
And so, S-shaped Tetromino rode the Virtual Boy bomb all the way to the ground. It's ironic, really - the 3D version of Tetris gave us the most detailed 2D interpretation of the S-shaped Tetromino to date. But it's little wonder that we never saw this version of S-shaped anywhere 'less red'.
2002: The cel-shaded version
Everyone was doing cel-shading in the early noughties. But the S-shaped Tetrimino alienated a good 50% of its own fanbase by appearing at E3 sporting flat-shading. You might think that it looks exactly the same as it did in the other pictures, but it's definitely flat-shaded here, whereas in the other pictures it was 'block-filled' with colour. Totally different.
Ironically, the cel-shaded version of the S-shaped Tetrimino would go on to be one of the block's best-loved looks. And why am I writing Tetrimino with an 'i' now? Ah...
2006: A new game... and a new name
By this point, S-shaped had changed his surname from 'Tetromino' to 'Tetrimino', publicly embracing the series that he had once treated with such disdain. This move was welcomed by Nintendo, who allowed S-shaped Tetrimino (get used to that) to appear in the first publicly-released screenshot of the DS' version of Tetris.
And doesn't he look smart? Gone are the attitude-heavy stylings of his Virtual Boy incarnation. Gone is the dark, shadowy... er... shading of the Game Boy edition. Instead, a retro-tastic green hue reminiscent of his NES glory days, while echoing the cel-shaded. And, sure enough, this game was also a return to form for Tetris, which had tried to be so many different things, but really only needed to be itself. And that Tetris grew up to be...
2007: The then-new-gen 'gloss' version
When you're appearing on a new generation of consoles that have the processing power to be able to render hundreds of thousands of your entire body without breaking a sweat, you need to look your best. You need to prove that you are still relevant despite having been born in 1984 and being limited to forever being a collection of four identical squares because that's all you can ever be. The answer? gloss.
This Tetris Evolution version of the S-shaped Tetrimino has been sand-blasted and then given two coats of polish before being brushed with melted butter, waxed, oiled and then finally glazed with melted sugar. The result is a little disappointing. I'm sorry to say that, by the way. I just say what I see.
2014: Tetris Ultimate
This S-shaped Tetrimino came from the moon.
I know, I wouldn't have expected that, either. And you're right, I could have sounded more excited about it.
2015: The end...?
S-shaped Tetrimino has seen its graphical resolution, dimensions and even its name changed over the past 30 years. And I don't think anyone could argue its rise has been anything less than meteoric. So much so, in fact, there was little left to do but to try to further the advancement of mankind itself. That's why S-shaped Tetrimino volunteered to sign up with NASA and attempt to land on a comet soaring through space.
Sadly, although the landing took place as scheduled late last year, S-shaped Tetrimino took a nasty bounce in the low-gravity environment and ended up wedged at a bad angle in the shade of a rock. Having become unresponsive to left or right controls, the only thing that could possibly save it is 'a long one'. But, as we know, the wait for one of those can be inexorable. Will it come in time? Who knows. We can but hope. Until then - sleep well, you beautiful collection of squares, you.
Don't know what's real any more?
Alright, some of the preceding slides may have been embellished slightly. But that's OK. Can you imagine how dull the article would have been if I'd just listed every single incarnation ever released of the S-shaped Tetromino? Cos I definitely didn't pitch that idea originally. Nosiree.