From Russia with Love tries to tell the tumultuous story of one of the most fascinating games ever created and it achieves that with a series of intriguing interviews with the people involved.
Few video games had such a tremendous impact in popular culture as Tetris. The deceivingly simple puzzle game was developed in Russia during the Cold War and ever since it came out, Tetris has been ported to every platform and console imaginable. Basically, if it has a screen, you can play Tetris in it. From Russia with Love is a BBC Four documentary that tries to tell the tumultuous story of one of the most fascinating games ever created and it achieves that with a series of intriguing interviews with the people involved.
Back when it came out, Tetris was a breath of fresh air because it had an idea of construction and planning. At the time, most games (particularly those made in the US) were all about shooting martians as fast as you could, so when this puzzler came out, there was nothing quite like it. Tetris was so refreshing that it quickly spread from a group of Russian intellectuals to virtually anyone access to a computer or console. But the creators had to deal with political and legal problems when it came to figure out how to commercialize it.
In this digital era where pretty much anything you can think of (video games, music, movies) is always readily available, we take media for granted. So it’s fascinating to see how one of the most influential games was made and how long it took to reach the hands of people who recognized it for what it was.
In the 80s, Tetris kept expanding and everyone involved was making money. Everyone except the Russians. But this isn’t just a story about acquiring the rights to one of the best (and most profitable) games of all time, it’s a story about communism versus capitalism. A war about ideologies and cultural differences. So if there’s something that can be said about this documentary as a negative is that there’s not a lot of information about the development process, thoughts about the design or bits about how Tetris came to be. From Russia with Love is more interested in the legal battles surrounding the games.
Whenever we think about Tetris, we think about that fiendishly addictive portable game we used to play on our Game Boy, but not a lot of people are familiar with the legal feuds behind the seminal puzzler. Interestingly, the process of making a game where you align falling puzzles as a jigsaw puzzle and the cultural phenomenon around it are barely discussed here, but what’s left (tensions before East and West and how those influence the business around the acquisition of one of the most popular video games ever made) is fascinating to see. In the end, this is an accessible and professional look in what’s basically a corporate and boring topic and that’s its biggest triumph.