Tetris is (probably) the most famous puzzle game of all time and this week it turns 35 — so, to celebrate, we show you how to play Tetris in the terminal.

Why the terminal? Because why not! Besides, I associate the terminal with being productive, so this way I kinda get to fool myself. 😉

With estimated sales of 170 million, Tetris is one of the best selling games of all time

Chances are you know of Tetris, even if you’ve never played it. In fact, you’d probably struggle to think of a game of falling blocks other than Tetris (sorry Columns, you tried).

And I can’t think of better way to mark the puzzle game’s anniversary than to show you all how to play Tetris in a terminal emulator of your choice.

Yup, whether you’re wedded to Tilix, cosy with Guake, or keeping things vanilla with GNOME Terminal, you have everything you need to play command line Tetris on Linux.

Happy Birthday Tetris

Nintendo Game Boy, the console which made Tetris famous

Tetris is one of the best selling games of all time with estimated sales of 170 million over the past 35 years, across multiple platforms. Even my beloved Amstrad CPC got a port.

The first commercially available version of the famed game of falling blocks game was released on June 6, 1984, created by Russian game designer Alexey Leonidovich Pajitnov

While Tetris found success early on it was with the Nintendo Game Boy to which it become a mainstream hit. The handheld console even bundled a free copy of the game for a time, further cementing the puzzle game in the public consciousness.

The success of the original game meant, inevitably, that imitations soon followed. A veritable stack of would-be and wannabe Tetris clones were (and still are) made, with unofficial recreations even cropping up as playable easter eggs on lab equipment!

In all its guisesTetris still going strong today. The most recent ‘official’ version is Tetris 99, a Battle Royale-style multiplayer version, available exclusively on the Nintendo Switch.

How to Play Tetris in the Terminal

A veritable stack of Tetris clones are available on Linux and other platforms — more than enough to fill several blog posts several times over! Better yet, most of them are playable outside of the Linux terminal, too.

But since I think there’s something unabashedly nerdy and, yes, cool, about being able to play Tetris in the terminal, that’s what this post focuses on.

Hate CLI? Check out Quadrapassel. It’s a free GUI Tetris clone that’s available in the repos of most major Linux distributions (as well as the Snap Store).

Below, I highlight two different versions of “Tetris” you can play at the command line: one is basic, but easy to install, while the other is more flashy, but requires a binary download.

Nver played Tetris? The concept is this: rotate and reposition blocks as they fall to create horizontal rows (lines) which disappear and score you points when made. The more points you score the faster the blocks fall. When the stack gets too high the game is over.

Tint Tetris

We highlighted the terrific terminal Tetris clone ‘Tint’ way back in 2009 (yes, we’ve been around that long) but I’m pleased to say it still stands up today.

Tint tries to stay as close to the original game as possible, but there are a few small differences

Tint tries to veer ‘as close to the original game as possible’, but there are a couple of notable differences. For instance, there’s no ‘preview’ of the next block to fall and there’s no option to pause the game.

The play screen keeps track of your score, including how many lines you’ve made. There’s also a statistics section counting the number of specific tetronimoes that fall.

A (minor) downside to Tint is that doesn’t let you use your keyboard’s arrow keys to rotate or speed up blocks, only reposition.

To install Tint on Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Peppermint OS and other related distros run this command:

sudo apt install tint

To play the game run:

tint

Enter a number from 1-9 to pick a level (1 being easiest, 9 being hardest).

Sam Tay’s Tetris

Tint is impressive, but it’s Sam Tay’s open-source ASCII implementation of Tetris that is my own personal go-to version.

The dotted grid behind the play area makes it easier to gauge exactly where tetronimoes will fall

His version looks much nicer. It has a cleaner, spacier layout, and the dotted grid behind the play area and use of shadows makes it much easier to gauge exactly where tetronimoes will fall.

Like the Game Boy version, there’s a handy “preview” window to see you which block is coming up next (which might inform where you put the current piece).

I’m pleased to say that in this version you can use your keyboard arrow keys to reposition and rotate blocks. And if you need to pee or answer the door, just hit the p key to temporarily pause the game.

So far, so positive, right? But things are about to go south.

I’d love to say you can run snap install tetris to play this version, but alas you can’t! There’s source code, a precompiled binary, and instructions for running the app as a Docker image — those are your options.

The developer does provide a pre-compiled binary. This requires permissions to run which, in theory, makes it something of a security risk. I haven’t experienced any issues using it, mind:

Download Sam Tay’s Tetris (64-bit binary)

Give the binary permissions to run and then run it from the terminal by cd‘ing in to the download directory and running it with ./.


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