Block Out for the NES

It probably made a lot of sense to bring Block Out to the NES.

When American Technos announced its intention to release the game at the 1990 Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the video game industry was in the middle of a mini goldrush for puzzle games, thanks to the monster success that was Alexey Pajitnov's Tetris.

Blockout was originally designed as a home computer game by Polish mathematician Aleksander Ustaszewski, and distributed through publisher California Dreams. It plays like a 3D version of Tetris, but in a grid insead of a straight line, and with way more complicated pieces (Tetris has seven; Blockout has forty-one).

The NES version is actually based on Technos' own arcade rendition of the original, which added new features like a two-player competitive mode and a character in the mysterious (and kind of annoying) Block Master, who taunted you between levels.

A prototype of the NES version was randomly found at a Goodwill by game collector Jim Cook. This is, as far as we're aware, one of two prototypes of the game that still exist and it is, in the estimation of the other one's owner, the more complete of the two. Fellow collector Steve Lin was generous enough to acquire the game for $2,000 in a public auction in 2012 and release the ROM to the masses.

So how does it play? Well...

What's important to realize about Tetris versus Block Out is that in a flat 2D game like Tetris, you can only rotate your pieces in two different directions at any given time. If you've got a 3D shape like in Block Out, you can rotate it in six directions.

On the original PC version, you could instantly move in any of these six directions with six keyboard keys. On the arcade (and later, the Genesis) versions, you had three keys, meaning that -- at most -- it would take two button presses to make the move you want.

On the NES, there are only two buttons, meaning that some positions that might take you just one button press on the original could now take three.

For the most part, this isn't an issue. It only takes a minute for controls to sink in, and at lower levels the game plays wonderfully. Multiplayer feels great, and is a surprising amount of fun, with a lot of extra polish not even included in the arcade version.

However, the button presses become a real problem when trying to get far in the single-player mode. The pieces fall faster as time goes on, and the game becomes impossible to play just a little too quickly. One would assume this would be tuned if the game was finished (the title screen clearly says it's "Sample Version 1," the game isn't finished yet).

Still, though, that doesn't prevent the game from being worth your time, especially in multiplayer. Download it and give it a shot!

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly reffered to Blockout designer Aleksander Ustaszewski as being Russian; he's actually Polish. The article also incorrectly spelled his name as "Alexander." We regret the error (dot com).


Download Block Out here.


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