If you were a kid in 1989, there was nothing more exciting than holding a Nintendo Gameboy in your hands. For kids who grew up loving the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) video game console, it was almost unbelievable when the creators shrunk the system into a handheld device that could be played anywhere—if you had a steady supply of AA batteries.
The original NES came with a now-iconic game that helped sales skyrocket—Super Mario Bros. When the Gameboy was launched, it was sold with an equally iconic game that boosted sales of the device into the tens of millions—Tetris.
When the square gray cartridge was inserted into the back of the Gameboy, the screen lit up and made a chiming sound when the word “Nintendo” appeared. Then the title graphic for Tetris would appear. Most kids who played the game never questioned the swirling domes displayed in various shades of green and black in the background. If they had, they would have discovered the buildings to be Russian architecture resembling the domes of Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.
It might seem strange that a Japanese company would release a video game with Russian architecture in a place like the United States of America, especially during the heightened tension of the Cold War, but not if you understand the background of the game and the origin of its creator, Alexey Pajitnov. This is the basis of the movie Tetris, streaming on Apple TV+, starring Taron Egerton.
Doing business in Russia in the 1980s was a complicated and sometimes dangerous negotiation process. With the fall of the Soviet Union imminent, side players making deals to secure their own financial stability are strongly at play when things begin to go sideways. This illegal activity is contrasted with Russian patriots who want to continue to do the right thing for personal integrity and a deep love of country. Caught in the middle is Henk Rogers.
Henk Rogers is the owner of the small game technology company Bullet-Proof Software. He bets everything on a rare opportunity to secure exclusive rights to the game Tetris—for handheld. There is only one problem—a more powerful and wealthy company is also vying for the rights. To beat them to the punch, Rogers decides to fly to Russia to negotiate face to face. What unfolds becomes a high-risk game of its own.
Tetris is a simple game. Falling blocks arranged in different shapes of four are flipped left and right, up and down by the player in order to fit them together in larger blocks without any gaps. When complete rows are secured, they disappear, lowering the whole stack. It’s fun and addicting. It was so in the ’80s, and with over 200 million copies sold, it still is. Now, with this movie, we can see how it came from Russia to the world. (Rated R for language. Apple TV+)