The original release of Tetris was pretty comprehensive already, even though the graphics used text mode.
At least three versions of Tetris have been released on NES:
- Tengen (Atari)
The BPS version was the first to be released, but it was tough to play due to very awkward controls. Nintendo's version plays much better. Tengen's own version (dubbed TETЯIS) has a long story to it since it was subject of a copyright dispute. It ended up being quickly pulled off the shelves after Atari's loss in court. This is a pity, because it had a two-player mode and a lot of polish. Here in Poland it was often available on bootleg "9999 in 1" cartridges. (Note that in the 90s in Poland there was no official distribution of Nintendo products, but every flea market sold Famicom clones and bootleg carts.)
Evolution of the game
The game has greatly evolved from its original version. The most visible addition in modern titles is the Hold feature that lets you stash an unwanted tetromino for later. This makes the game much easier, but also gives you more options, so it's a net plus in my book.
There's also been plenty of innovation in terms of how the next pieces are determined. In old versions, it was completely unpredictable, but that caused frustration where one piece wouldn't arrive for a long time. Various Tetris developers attempted different approaches to fix this and ended up settling on the "bag" generator that repeatedly picks a set of all 7 distinct tiles and serves them in a shuffled order. This gives an uniform distribution and just a little extra predictability.
Two major competitive variants are around:
Classic tetris - played on the NES version. This is Tetris in the pure original form: There's little to no interaction between players, it's simply who can score more points before losing. Annual championships - Classic Tetris World Championship - are played in USA since 2010. Another title played on tournaments is The Grand Master series by Arika (Capcom), best demonstrated by this video (the end might be surprising). TGM is only available on arcade machines.
Modern 'vs' tetris - various variants that bring in more interaction between players, such as the ability to send extra "garbage lines" to the opponent as a reward for clearing a lot of lines. Puyo Puyo Tetris (PC, Switch) is the best modern example - it's a crossover title that also packages Puyo Puyo, Sega's own classic puzzle game. Then there's Tetris Battle Gaiden (SNES) that gives you a selection of characters with different abilities that affect game rules in various surprising ways.
Non-competitive Tetris is still a thing: the most notable release of 2018 is Tetris Effect for PS4 (best played in VR) which is strictly single-player and aims to provide an immersive, zen-like experience. The way sound effects are synchronised with music is absolutely brilliant.
Tetris is a simple idea that has been remade countless times, each time with subtle differences in gameplay. This caused extra difficulty for competitive gamers who wanted to switch to a different version. In 2003, The Tetris Company (who owns the copyright) actually created a spec that sets requirements for each game that wants to call itself Tetris, such as how tetrominoes should rotate exactly, or even official colours of each piece. (The T tetromino is purple!)
The rules are followed by each new licensed Tetris title. Implementation was, however, somewhat difficult, given that many players were used to previous rulesets. This is why Arika's TGM3 offered a choice between "classic" or "world" rotation systems.
New scoring elements
Historically, good scores were accomplished by clearing multiple lines with a single piece, and of course, surviving long enough. Newer Tetris editions expanded on this a little. An exciting innovation is awarding extra points for the T-spin, which is a manoeuvre where you clear lines by placing the T piece in an awkward position and rotating it into place. Under the official post-2003 rules, this can be sometimes done in surprising situations.
The T-spin is interesting because it prompts players to try a different tactics than just playing flat, building a well and filling it with I-pieces. You can leave gaps on purpose in various creative ways, and then fill them with a cleverly squeezed T tetromino, or even figure out a way to do it consecutively. The Hold feature plays with this well since it doubles your possibilities at any given moment.
If T-spins are not enough, you can set up a Perfect Clear, which means a situation where you leave the board empty after clearing some lines. Perfect Clears score a lot of points too (even more so if you can clear 4 lines with the I-piece when completing one). Generally, the Perfect Clear possibility depends on how lucky you are with the pieces, but there's also a little strategy to it, and even more so given that bag-based random generator gives you a little insight into the future.