The Wild Story Of Tetris World Records Has To Be Seen To Be Believed

The Wild Story Of Tetris World Records Has To Be Seen To Be Believed

YouTuber and video game documentarian Summoning Salt has made a career out of chronicling remarkable tales of competition and achievement in speedrunning. He’s so good at capturing the inherent drama in these struggles that his videos routinely rack up millions of views, whether he’s recounting the history of Super Mario Bros. 3 world records or world records in Wii Sports Resort golf. His latest video, however, may be his most jaw-dropping. It’s all about the history of world records (and other mind-blowing achievements) in NES Tetris, and it is absolutely not to be missed.

The History of Tetris World Records

I don’t want to say much about the actual history the video covers, because so much of the pleasure of watching is in the way that Summoning Salt breaks it all down for his viewers, taking concepts that may seem a bit technical or alienating to non-gamers (or even just to people who aren’t familiar with the specific quirks of NES Tetris) and making it all clear, accessible, and absolutely thrilling. Like a great sportscaster who wants to make sure everyone watching can appreciate the action happening on the field, even if they don’t know a first down from a field goal, Summoning Salt is a wonderful tour guide through all the incredible achievements that his video recounts.

Pushing beyond the limits of NES Tetris

Still, let me say just a little bit to set the stage. In the early days of the saga, which Summoning Salt recounts with archival records of high scores in Tetris from sources like a 1992 issue of Nintendo Power and online chats from circa 2005, there was skepticism among players that a score of 999,999 was even possible. That’s because, when you reach level 29, the game begins moving so fast that it was clearly the programmers’ intended way of saying, “this is where the game ends”; playing (with normal methods anyway) just didn’t allow you to move the pieces fast enough to arrange them skillfully, so you were promptly met with a game over. Level 29 was dubbed the “killscreen” for that reason, even if it’s different from killscreens in other games like arcade Pac-Man and Donkey Kong in which some sort of glitch or other oddity literally makes additional play impossible. And it wasn’t clear if it was even possible to rack up 999,999 points—the highest number the game’s score window could display—before reaching the killscreen and being forced to game over.

However, what follows over the video’s hour-and-50-minute runtime is so astounding and transformative that by the end, people’s perceptions of what’s possible in Tetris have been completely obliterated and remade, as new understandings of the game and approaches to playing it result in a total sea change. At one point, for instance, a shift in how players in the Tetris community hold and manipulate the NES controller completely destroys perceived barriers in just how far people can push the game. Suffice it to say that there’s no doubt any longer that people can reach scores way, way, way beyond 999,999 in NES Tetris. And just how we’ve gotten to this point is a story for the ages, packed not just with remarkable innovations and accomplishments, but new obstacles as well. For example, if you progress far enough in Tetris, the blocks will start having glitchy, unintended color palettes applied to them, some of which make the action very hard to see. It’s just one of those things you have to deal with when you push a game way past what the original programmers ever envisioned a player would achieve.

Don’t balk at that 110-minute runtime, either. It may sound like a lot of time to invest in a video about people making number go up in a video game, but there’s as much drama here as there is in an outstanding sports documentary. And one of the really exciting things about this story is that it’s not over yet. Shortly after Summoning Salt’s video was released, competitive Tetris player MylesTheGreat was streaming his own gameplay, but decided to call it a night. Just then, however, Summoning Salt himself piped up in chat. “One more!” he said. Reluctantly, Myles agreed, and—of course—had an absolutely amazing game, as you can see in this YouTube video of his, appropriately titled “SummoningSalt Said ‘One More Game’ AND I BROKE TETRIS.” The story of Tetris’ past is absolutely bananas. Its future could be even wilder.


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