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Tetris On CD-i Plays Like Crap But Sounds Like John Tesh

Image: Philips / Kotaku / David Silverman (Getty Images)
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Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s ongoing hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-ass sounds they make. Today we look back to 1992, when, according to Philips, a classic became a legend. You can call it...Teshtris.

The Philips CD-i was a disaster of a games platform, so outside of strangely enduring enthusiast circles, praise for its library tends to be scarce. The CD-i version of Tetris (playlist / gameplay / Discogs) is perhaps a bright spot, if only for its refreshingly tranquil presentation.

Like most CD-i games it plays poorly, with unreliable controls and fewer gameplay options than just about any other Tetris. But by 1992 standards it’s quite a looker, staging Alexey Pajitnov’s timeless falling-block contest against 10 or so picturesque, FMV-enhanced natural backdrops. It’s actually really neat how the playfield is made to blend into the environment, as if it’s standing there in a field or in the middle of the desert. If only the gameplay received as much loving attention.

In any case it’s all very serene, and only becomes more so when the distinctive soundtrack by Jim Andron kicks in:

Philips / James CyberLink (YouTube)

Those’re some real John Tesh vibes. Easy listening. Relaxing pianos and synths, meandering in predictable melodies that repeat several times before fading. When the first notes of the pleasant, laid-back “Level 0” hit me I was intrigued, thinking I’d just stumbled onto a rad hidden gem. And it’s a nice song. But at about the minute mark you’ve heard it all, and the remaining three minutes offer little variation. The audio quality, too, sounds muffled by compression, which is odd since you’d imagine pristine redbook audio should be one of the CD-i’s few strengths.

So it goes with most of the other 12 tracks: tranquil soundscapes of modest audio quality that tend to carry on for a little too long. “Level 1” is a slower piece backed by a “pah, pah” sample I find slightly irritating. “Level 2” enjoys about two minutes’ of development, the latter half introducing a very MIDI trumpet. “Level 3” has a unique guitar sound I dig, but gets repetitive. “Level 5” is the charming-in-retrospect backing to a good infomercial. “Level 6” is...heartwarming? Yeah, that fits. “Level 8” might be the most unusual track, with something of an Asian string motif. I like it. Only the slightly Slavic-sounding (?) “High Scores” could, maybe, be mistaken for a typical Tetris song. And only possibly.

Philips / James CyberLink (YouTube)

This soundtrack isn’t the total slam dunk the first 30 seconds had me hoping for, but Andron’s soothing CD-i Tetris OST still manages to charm as an odd artifact from the bygone days when “interactive multimedia” seemed like a plausible future for entertainment. If you encountered this strangely placid take on Tetris back in 1992—and squinted hard enough, and maybe took some substances—maybe you, too, could believe a classic would become a legend.

But then you notice the terrible controls and everything goes tits up and you feel relieved your rich neighbor wasted a grand on this CD-i junk instead of you and why did the stupid L-block just land in the wrong place and...ah, ah, you’re losing your zen. Relax! Breath. Slower…slower. There. There you go. Okay, you’re good now. Go in peace. Play some SNES or something.

That’s a wrap for today’s Morning Music! Would you like a rad MIDI of “Level 0”? Here you go, courtesy of one of my favorite Twitter follows, MIDIs on Display. They’re great! How are you? Me, I’m glad to be back on the Morning Music beat, bringin’ you the nerd tunes. See you in the comments!