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Ready, go!

Thought you were awesome at Tetris? Guess again.

Tetris: The Grand Master is a series of challenging Tetris games developed by Arika, intended for advanced players.

The TGM series plays a bit similar to usual Tetris games (specifically, Sega's versions of the game). However, there are a few mechanics that alter the game dramatically. Leveling up, for instance, is no longer just done through clearing lines; instead, every piece you drop will raise the level counter by one, as well as clearing lines (one per line clear). However, level numbers also take on a different meaning: the game speeds up only at particular levels, rather than with every level. The level stops going up at level n+99, where n is a multiple of 100; at that point you must clear a line to level up.

At level 500, the game's drop speed maxes out and pieces drop instantly in what is known as "20G"[1] speed, forcing you to slide pieces along the stack (or ground) into place. And in newer games, some of the game's finer details are adjusted to make the game harder. 20G went on to be featured in other, more mainstream Tetris games, such as Tetris DS, but most of those games had a mechanic known as "infinite rotation", so in practice, the drop was instant but the lock could be delayed indefinitely for each piece; this is not the case in TGM. In speed-ups after 20G, the time that the pieces take to lock decreases. The game ends at level 999.

Another major mechanic is the grade system. Instead of being ranked by score, you are given a grade, typically starting at 9 and going down to 1, followed by S1 through S9, followed by the titular Grand Master rank (or filler grades between S9 and GM, depending on the game). In the original TGM, Scoring Points will raise the grade, but newer installments use more complex mechanics to increment one's grade.

The series spans multiple games:

  • Tetris: The Grand Master (Arcade, 1998; aka TGM1) — The first game in the series. The easiest in the series (both to complete and to achieve Grand Master rank), though that isn't saying much.
  • Tetris: The Absolute - The Grand Master 2 (Arcade, 2000; aka TGM2) — An update to the original. Offers two modes: Normal (in which you play for points to level 300), and Master (which has a tougher grading system than TGM1 and continues increasing in difficulty after level 500).
    • Tetris: The Absolute - The Grand Master 2 PLUS (Arcade, 2000; aka TGM2+ or TAP) — An upgrade to TGM2 that adds two new modes: TGM+ (in which garbage rises from the bottom at intervals), and the infamous T.A. Death mode (in which 20G kicks in as soon as the game starts. Here's the infamous video that introduced many Westerners to TGM.) TAP was going to be ported to the Play Station 2, but legal issues with TAP's emulation in MAME caused Arika to not publish it.
    • Tetris with Cardcaptor Sakura - Eternal Heart (Play Station, 2000; aka EH) — A console-exclusive Licensed Game that uses the rotation system of TGM2. Rather than play Tetris for a grade at high speed, the emphasis is clearing seven jeweled blocks in a Tetris board as quickly as possible (at minimal speeds) over a number of stages, similar to the Sega-produced Tetris derivative Flash Point. A combined time limit for all stages is imposed in the story mode. This mode of play has been carried over into Tetris: The Grand Master 3 as Sakura mode (with Serial Numbers Filed Off, obviously).
  • Tetris: The Grand Master 3 - Terror-Instinct (Arcade, 2005; aka TGM3 or Ti) — Makes a few changes to the series' signature rotation system and incorporates the Super Rotation System (the rotation system used in "guideline" Tetris games). Revises the Master mode grade system and implements a "qualified grade" system that indicates your (roughly) average performance, similar to those of martial arts classes. T.A. Death has been replaced by Shirase mode, which has faster speeds and goes up to level 1,300 instead of 999. For those who aren't too bright at TGM, there's Easy mode, which has a slower speed curve and a special scoring system, as well as Sakura mode, which is based on the "target block"-clearing system from Tetris with Cardcaptor Sakura: Eternal Heart. This is also the game on which the infamous "Invisible Tetris" video was recorded.
  • Tetris: The Grand Master ACE (Xbox 360, 2006; aka TGMA or simply ACE) — The only console release of TGM thus far. (A port of TAP for the PS2 had been previously in the works but was scrapped.) Due to Executive Meddling on The Tetris Company's and Microsoft's parts, ACE's gameplay deviates strongly from other TGM games.
  • Tetris: The Grand Master 4 - The Masters of Round (Arcade, CANCELED; aka TGM4 or (T)MoR) — The latest game in the TGM series, due to come out in 2010. The new "easy" mode in this game is Konoha mode, a simplified "big" mode in which the goal is to completely clear the playfield of blocks as many times as possible. Its answer to Ti's Shirase mode is Rounds, which goes up to at least level 1,400 and puts a new twist on the line-clearing mechanic. A location test was held in late 2009, but little details of the game's development have arised since; in fact, an entry on the blog of Arika vice president Ichiro Mihara suggests that the game has been canceled.

Unfortunately, if you want to play TGM, especially legitimately, you're not going to get a chance so easily. None of the arcade games have had ports (as mentioned above, TGM2 almost got ported to the PS2), and TGM ACE, as mentioned above, isn't exactly a TGM game. There are, however, clones that allow you to simulate the TGM series:

  • NullpoMino — A Java-based open-source clone with a wide variety of modes (not just TGM) and customization, as well as online multiplayer.
  • Texmaster — A more minimalist clone aimed simply at simulating TGM modes. Perhaps noteworthy for inciting the anger of Arika (and allegedly getting the PS2 port of TGM2 cancelled).

The Tetris: The Grand Master series provides examples of:

  • Advancing Wall of Doom: TGM+ in TAP has a slowly-rising stack of garbage blocks rise from the bottom, as well as part of Ti's Shirase mode.
  • Blind Idiot Translation: In Ti, the message you get for going through a section fast enough reads "COOL!!" But go too slow and you get..."REGRET!!"?
  • Breather Level: The speed resets at level 200. At that point on, the speed increases much faster than before.
  • Catch Phrase: "Ready, go!", spoken by a distinct robotic voice at the start of each game.
  • Challenge Gamer: If you're playing this game, and are not one (nor were you introduced to it by a friend), you're probably playing the wrong Tetris.
  • Creative Closing Credits: The game doesn't end at level 999. After clearing a line at level 999, the board clears and the game goes on for 60 more seconds at 20G speed. In TGM2+ and later games, if you reach the end fast enough and have a high enough grade, you then have to clear the Invisible Roll, in which pieces disappear on lock. A good performance here is mandatory to get the highest grades.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory!: Trying to use TGM3's World Rule (based on the more commonly-used Super Rotation System)--the rotation buttons are reversed.
    • TGM4 replaces the second counterclockwise rotation button with a special button that makes moving pieces sideways faster. Those who use both CCW buttons may get thrown off by this feature.
  • Development Hell: TGM4. It's been over a year and there's been very little word of its release in months. it ended with announcement of cancellation.
  • Difficult but Awesome: Firm drop/sonic drop, which drops the current piece to bottom immediately like the hard drop in SRS-based games like Tetris DS, but doesn't lock the piece down. Newer players think it's retarded, but once you get the hang of it, it makes overhangs much less of a time-waster.
  • Do Well, But Not Perfect: Due to a glitch in combo bonus calculation, TAP awards consecutive triple clears far better than consecutive Tetrises. This was corrected in the sequel
  • Dummied Out: The original TGM has English text for the game demonstrations (which are in Japanese) buried somewhere in the game's memory, suggesting that TGM was going to have an overseas release.
  • Dynamic Difficulty: In TGM3, getting a COOL!! will cause you to skip 100 levels of speed when you go to the next section. So if you get a COOL!! for the level 0-99 section, for instance, level 100 will play as if you're playing at level 200.
  • Easier Than Easy: TGM4's Konoha mode was going to be this; all pieces are doubled in size and the S and Z blocks never appear.
  • Five-Man Band: Tetris TGM4's Konoha mode was going to have only 5 different pieces.
  • Gaiden Game: TGM ACE.
  • Good Bad Translation: The message you get in TGM3 if you take too long to pass certain levels: "EXCELLENT — but...let's go better next time"
  • Harder Than Hard: TAP's T.A. Death, Ti's Shirase, ACE's Another and Another 2, and TGM4's Rounds.
  • Interface Screw
    • Invisible roll. That is all.
    • In Ti's Shirase mode, at level 1,001, the blocks you get for the rest of the game will have a black-and-white (or black-and-green in World Rule) "[ ]" pattern, as a Shout-Out to the original Tetris (which uses "[ ]" to represent blocks).
    • TGM4's Rounds mode had a haze that covers the bottom part of the screen, though its screwiness extends beyond this: any lines made in the haze will not clear until you complete the current section.
    • In the normal Master mode, you're given a ghost piece to guide where pieces will lock in the first 99 levels. It's inexplicably taken away starting at level 100, which can throw off players who look at it for too long. It's especially jarring when the speed resets and you suddenly have to play at low speed without this guidance. This becomes a non-issue in later sections when pieces fall so fast that the ghost doesn't help at all, but in the meantime, expect many misplaces for the next 50 levels or so.
    • TGM1's Upside-Down mode. There are GM-class players who can't even reach level 200 with it.
  • Kyu and Dan Ranks: The 9-to-1-then-S1-to-S9 grade system is very similar to these.
  • Lighter and Softer: TGM4 was developed with a theme of "kindness" and incorporated pretty flowery graphics to that end. See for yourself. Big step down from Terror-Instinct to this, isn't it?
  • Musical Spoiler: If the music cuts out towards the end of a section, the next section is going to have significant changes from the current section.
  • Nintendo Hard: On top of the difficult learning curve, getting GM in any of the games (other than TGM1) is a feat that takes many months, if not years, to attain. As of this update, there are maybe about 100 or so players with a GM rank in TAP Master (a mere three of which come from outside of Japan), and three Ti GMs.
  • No Export for You: The entire series, pretty much. Most players outside of Japan use clones or emulators to play, and a few are lucky enough to live near an actual TGM machine, and even fewer are able to find and afford to own the actual hardware.
  • Non Indicative Difficulty: Level ~300 to 500 in TGM1 and TAP is regarded as the trickiest part of Master mode; since it's partway between minimally-low gravity and 20G, it can be tricky to tell what moves are possible and what moves are not.
  • Nonstandard Game Over: Certain modes have what is known as a torikan, which terminates your game if you hit a specific level too slowly. TAP's T.A. Death and Ti's Master have one at level 500, and Ti's Shirase has two--one at level 500, and one at level 1,000. Word of God has claimed that level 1,300 (the highest level reached so far) is a torikan, but even the best players in the world have yet to find a way to see levels 1,301 and up.
    • It's confirmed with the leaked data that this torikan doesn't exist.
  • Public Medium Ignorance: Trying to explain the difference between this and other versions of Tetris to other people, particularly those who haven't seen the infamous "Japan Tetris Finals" or "Invisible Tetris" videos, in which case they'll probably flip out and declare the series as some sort of evil freaky Japanese thing. Pick your poison.
  • Rank Inflation (The series takes this to extremes. And then there's a TGM fan clone in the planning stages that takes scores to Giga Wing levels.)
  • Sarcastic Clapping: The game shoots fireworks at the end of most modes when they end without your losing, but not all endings are victories. If you imagine the fireworks as representing clapping, failing the torikans or missing out on GM qualification conditions may get you this.
  • Scoring Points: Used for TGM1's grades, becomes a mere number in TGM2 outside of Normal mode, and is barely even shown in TGM3. However, screenshots of TGM4 show that it would have had an actual use again in one of the modes.
  • Screwed by the Network: TGM4 was canceled due to Sega's refusal to publish it, as well as Mihara's hatred of fan clones.
  • Self-Imposed Challenge: A handful, from playing one-handed, to playing TAP's normally 2-player Doubles mode by yourself, to the infamous "form a '>' sign in the playing field" challenge (which the game recognizes, and will give you a secret grade for doing so).
  • Sequel Difficulty Spike: Each succcessive game (except ACE) gets faster and faster, and the GM rank more difficult to get.
  • Serial Escalation: The games strive to push the limits of speed.
  • Serious Business: Surgeon General's Warning - Watching videos of people playing TGM may cause harm to your perception of Tetris as a mere casual game.
  • Sound-Coded for Your Convenience: Each piece has its own unique sound that plays whenever the piece associated with it is next.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: In TGM3, if one player is playing Sakura mode, and the other player is playing any other mode, the Sakura music will override the non-Sakura player's music. This can lead to some interesting situations for Sakura's cheerful music, such as hearing it while in the last 300 levels of Shirase mode.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Sega's Tetris games.
  • Stalked by the Bell: If the game goes on for more than 15 minutes (which is unlikely in TAP and Ti, in which games usually last no more than 11 minutes), the game speed will suddenly kick into Shirase-level speeds.
  • The Tetris Effect: Just as bad as the main Tetris games. Probably even worse, especially if you can get into this game.
  • This Is a Drill: TGM2 and TAP's level 800-899 background.
  • Time Keeps on Ticking: All line clears take the same amount of time to resolve, and the timer counts up while you wait. This is true of all Tetris games, but in a game where time is a critical part of your ranking, this means that high line clears must be made as frequently as possible and not just for points. Long strings of single clears, especially at low levels, can be toxic to your grade. The pressure of the torikans ensure that you prioritize speed over all else.
  • True Final Boss (The invisible credit rolls of TGM2 and TGM3.)
  • Unwinnable By Mistake: TGM1's Big Mode comes close. Blocks are double-sized, but piece movement isn't scaled up to accomodate the increased block size--that is, while all blocks are two cells wide, you still move pieces one cell at a time. Land a piece in an odd-numbered row? You've just made the game go from Nintendo Hard to pretty much impossible.
    • Pieces spawn in a half-column. Although this means you must always move a piece horizontally at least once, it also means that it will always land on the higher of at least two "regular" columns which can be a lifesaver at 20G. It's still really hard though.
    • While TGM2's and TGM3's Big Block Modes correct this (movement is now 2 cells at a time), this isn't the case for Stage EX3, which goes back to TGM1's Big Mode behavior.
  • Urban Legend of Zelda: Word of God alleges that there is a way to surpass level 1300 in TGM3's Shirase mode, but since no one has been able to confirm this even today, it's now believed that they are pulling our leg.
    • It's now confirmed with the leaked data that those extra levels don't exist.
  • A Winner Is You: "YOU ARE GRAND MASTER!"
  • What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome?: Tetris: The Grand Master 3 - Terror-Instinct. You'd think it was a Tetris-themed survival horror or something with a name like that. Although it did introduce the Shirase mode, which can be a nightmare in itself if one tackles it unprepared.
  • Womb Level: A number of TGM1's backgrounds are biology-themed:
    • Level 0-99: Blood cells (except tinted blue).
    • Level 100-199: Let's just call them balloon things.
    • Level 200-299: Vine-like things.
    • Level 500-599: Neurons.
    • Level 800-899: A human brain.
    • Level 900-999: A human fetus.
  • Word Salad Title: Tetris: The Absolute - The Grand Master 2 PLUS, Tetris: The Grand Master 3 - Terror-Instinct and Tetris: The Grand Master 4 - The Masters of Round. Whew, that's a mouthful.
  1. 20 grid cells per frame (1/60th of a second). The playing field is 20 blocks high. Do the math.