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When I was a kid, I traded my NES for a Game Boy with a sketchy kid in school. He essentially scammed me into believing that I was gonna get tons of games, but when we got home to my house, he just pulled up two pirate cartridges from China, each loaded with a bunch of random games (and many duplicates), selectable in a list upon boot. (I did not grasp the concept of piracy whatsoever at that age.)

Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that I never owned the actual Tetris cartridge, so I'm unsure if my copy is identical in function to the original game. I have tried for a longer time now to find this information online, without any luck.

What made me start thinking about this is the fact that while the game allows you to enter three hi-score names for each difficulty setting, they are all erased as soon as I shut down the Game Boy. I believe that whoever made the pirate carts sometime in the early 1990s must have picked titles which don't require saving/loading (and thus a battery), but the fact that Tetris has such a "hi-score table" feature makes me wonder if the game is expecting a battery inside the cartridge after all.

It seems ridiculous to me to enter your name and then have it only last until the next time you turn the Game Boy off. I basically refuse to believe that this was the intention by Nintendo, but I'm not at all sure. They could have had the mentality that "games are supposed to have hi-score tables" or something. Or maybe they thought that all the kids playing for hi-score will want the winner to only have the "trophy" until the next recess? Nintendo saving a little money on each cartridge?

My honest best guess is that yes, the game did have a battery memory, and my pirate copy author simply didn't care about this or maybe didn't realize it? I doubt they modified any of the game ROMs. (Although that seems like it would freeze/hang when trying to save to the nonexistent battery memory...)

Would love to finally be able to put this to rest.

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    "I basically refuse to believe that this was the intention by Nintendo" - please stop refusing. Such high scores were lost. Also implemented in Nintendo's Tetris for the NES. – TOOGAM Oct 30 '19 at 11:52
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    It was really the norm at this time to loose highscores, and not only on consoles where it needed special hardware in the cartridge, but even on coputers too. Many games were one executable file only or on floppy disks (some didn't even have the physical switch to enable writing on it), and it was in most cases considered too complex/long to code writing access to files to store scores. Scores were session-only! – Kaddath Oct 30 '19 at 14:06
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    Keep in mind that the Game Boy was the first console Nintendo released after the NES, that Tetris was a launch title for the Game Boy, and that the NES usually did not support battery backup (any games that did required you to hold down the RESET button while turning it off, and most games, including Tetris, didn't bother - and most games for the NES did have high score tables). – TheHansinator Oct 30 '19 at 14:13
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The answer is no. As you can see from this page (and in the picture below), which shows the internals of the game boy Tetris cartridge, there's no battery inside, so the game doesn't have any kind of battery backup.

Picture of inside of cartridge

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    And for the record, many of those old games have highscore tables that gets reset, a remnant of their arcade origins. – Fana Oct 29 '19 at 13:45
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    @Fana: so presumably when porting to GameBoy, they just left that code in. (Or if the source is assembly, ported it too because that's maybe easier than risking introducing a bug in higher-level logic.) – Peter Cordes Oct 30 '19 at 4:55
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    @PeterCordes: there is no code that resets the high scores. The scores are only stored in the Game Boy RAM and never written to the cartridge at all. The Game Boy RAM is reset whenever it is switched off, no code needed for that. – Aaganrmu Oct 30 '19 at 8:24
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    @Aaganrmu: I mean the code that implements the high score table at all, or at least the part that asks you to enter a name instead of using a fixed string. The arcade version doesn't have code to clear the high-scores table either. – Peter Cordes Oct 30 '19 at 8:27
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    Bear in mind that ports (or conversions as they were more usually called back then) were very different in this era. For one, the hardware was often vastly different between machines, and all the original code would have been making full use of hardware-specific details to squeeze performance out of the machine. For another, intellectual property law on software was less mature so companies were much more protective of their source code. A conversion in these days usually involved rewriting the game from scratch, often without access even to the original artwork, let alone the code! – Muzer Oct 30 '19 at 10:51
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The original 'Game Boy' version of Tetris released in 1989, did not have battery backup.

However, the updated version for the Game Boy Color, Tetris DX (released in 1998/99), is backwards-compatible with the original Game Boy, and does feature battery backed high-scores:

developed by Nintendo and released in Japan on October 21, 1998, in North America on November 18, 1998, and in Europe and Australia in 1999. Tetris DX features battery-saved high scores and three player profiles...
Tetris (Game Boy) - Wikipedia

  • Add photos and you'll have the best answer for sure. – azoundria Nov 1 '19 at 18:03
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My Japanese copy erases it every time i turn it off, not sure about the PAL and NA versions though.

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    Can confirm that my NA copy of Tetris also doesn't save. – TheHansinator Oct 30 '19 at 14:13
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    I can additionally confirm that my PAL copy of Tetris doesn't save. – Williham Totland Oct 31 '19 at 7:02
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The original game boy tetris did not have any save support. The later "DX" version did have save support.

High score tables that did not save were a pretty normal thing in the 80s. Many games started their life in amusement arcades, in this environment a volatile high-score table made some sense. The machine would likely be played by many people between power-cycles and the arcade operator probablly did not want the high scores to be permanent as they would gradually become virtually unbeatable.

For a home port of the game, a volatile high-score table makes a lot less sense, but nevertheless they persisted. In the home computer case it was probablly because games were usually stored on cassette and saving high-scores back to cassette would be more trouble than it was worth. In the console case this was presumablly for cost reasons. A basic game boy cart was literally just a rom on a PCB, a cart with save support would have to additionally add a ram chip and a battery.

It seems very likely that the games on your pirate cart were indeed chosen for their simplicitly, both in terms of not needing save ram, but also in terms of overall size and not needing a mapper chip.

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