Game music: Tetris

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It’s been a year now since I started this series with Bastion so let’s celebrate with the greatest piece of video game music ever written. If the whacking great big banner up there didn’t give you a clue and you skipped the title completely, I am of course talking about Tetris.

Two versions of Tetris really. The Game Boy version, released in 1989, featured the iconic track composed by Hirokazu Tanaka, and the NES version released the same year, also composed by Hirokazu Tanaka. That being Hirokazu “Metroid” Tanaka.

The Game Boy track that everyone knows is actually based on a Russian folk song called “Korobeiniki” (Peddlers, loosely translated) and hearing the original is a strange experience to say the least:

The first of the NES tracks (Music A) is actually a rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”, and Music C was actually what you’d hear if you called Nintendo and got put on hold (did you also spot the similarity to Metroid’s idiosyncratic style there?) While Korobeiniki is the most iconic of the tracks there’s no doubt that the “Victory” track on the NES, based on the “Toréador Song” from Bizet’s “Carmen”, is the track I want to hear the most. Just listening to it reminds me of all those blissful occasions where you push through a thumb-rending challenge and clear the level. The little animation starts and the music plays and you know you’ve won. Relief, pride and triumph in equal measure.

Without question, the Game Boy theme – Korobeiniki – is the best piece of music attached to any video game ever. Decades later I’m still humming or whistling it at odd intervals. It still pops randomly into my head, it’s instantly recognisable and it has such crystal clear emotional and ludic associations with the game that I doubt anything is ever going to unseat it.

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