Recently, there has been a constant emerging of new national/regional NES Tetris competitions around the World. But at the same time, there seems to be a bit of a confusion whether one should play PAL or NTSC version of the game. As there are two main versions of the game, there are two main competitions held annually: the Classic Tetris World Championship (CTWC) and the Classic Tetris European Championship (CTEC). In the CTWC, the NTSC version is played as the competition is held in an NTSC region (USA). In the CTEC, the PAL version is played as the competition is held in PAL region (Europe/Denmark). However, when arranging and playing in an online or live national/regional Tetris competition (other than the CTWC/CTEC) it is not necessarily obvious which version is, or should be, played.
This webpage gathers some similarities and differences between the PAL and NTSC versions of the NES Tetris by making some simple comparisons of the games. Hopefully this will clarify some of the misunderstandings that regularly pop up on (Facebook, Discord, etc.) conversations. As of 2021, there is a separate page for identifying whether your NES console+game cartridge (i.e. a Tetris cart) is NTSC or PAL.
Level speeds and ”kill screens”
The ”kill screen” in the NTSC version of the game is lvl 29 – the pieces fall at top speed and it’s VERY difficult to play anymore. There are only a couple of players who have reached lvl 30, and even fewer who have reached higher lvls. The ”kill screen” in the NTSC version truly is the kill screen!
The ”kill screen” in the PAL version of the game is lvl 19 – the pieces fall at top speed and it’s difficult to play anymore. However, the improved DAS (=how the pieces move sideways) of the PAL version facilitate gameplay so that it’s not uncommon for top tier PAL players to reach lvls 20 and beyond. It could be argued that the ”kill screen” in the PAL version is not actually a kill screen!
Regardless of the obvious differences, as the lvls 29 (NTSC) and 19 (PAL) are the technical equivalents (pieces move at the top speeds of the games), it’s in any case practical to speak of both of them as the ”kill screens” of the games.
Comparison of level speeds on NTSC and PAL systems
In the following chart ”x/G” is the amount of frames (x) in and equation of frames/framerate (NTSC framerate [G] is 60,0988 frames/second and PAL framerate [G] is 50,0070 frames/second). ”1 space” indicates how long it takes for a piece to fall one space downwards (in seconds). ”20 spaces” indicates how long it takes for a piece to fall from top of the game area to the bottom of it (in seconds).
|NTSC system||x/G||1 space||20 spaces||PAL system||x/G||1 space||20 spaces|
|lvl 9||6||0,099||1,996||lvl 9||5||0,099||1,999|
|lvl 10-12||5||0,083||1,663||lvl 10-12||4||0,079||1,599|
|lvl 13-15||4||0,066||1,331||lvl 13-15||3||0,059||1,199|
|lvl 16-18||3||0,049||0,998||lvl 16-18||2||0,0399||0,7998|
|lvl 19-28||2||0,0327||0,6655||lvl 19->||1||0,01999||0,39994|
From level 13 onwards PAL version’s faster drop speed starts to be notable. PAL lvl 13-15 speeds are approximately in between the speeds of NTSC lvls 13-15 and 16-18, and PAL lvl 16-18 speeds are closer to the NTSC lvl 19-28 speeds than NTSC 16-18. Only at the end of the speed curve, at the ”kill screen” speeds, the NTSC version goes faster than PAL version. However, it’s not only the drop speed of the pieces that affect the playability of the game – as said earlier, DAS is a significant factor in NES Tetris.
DAS (Delayed Auto Shift) describes how fast the pieces can be moved sideways. Understanding and mastering DAS is important both in NTSC and PAL versions of the NES Tetris but even more so in PAL version – top speeds of the NTSC version can be played by using DAS or hypertapping technique, but there is not as much of a significant advantage to play the top speed of the PAL version by hypertapping since the DAS is so much better. Here is a REALLY short introduction to DAS.
When a piece is moved sideways by pressing left/right D-Pad on the NES controller, the first movement is ”instantaneous”, the piece has moved one space left or right in the next frame (NTSC = 60 frames/second, PAL = 50 frames/second). However, if the left/right button is still held down, all the following movements are delayed: NTSC has initially a 16 frame delay and after that 6 frame delays for piece movements, PAL has initially a 12 frame delay and after that 4 frame delays for piece movements. In other words, the DAS frame sequences are for the NTSC version 1-16-6-6-6-… and for the PAL version 1-12-4-4-4-… With some practice, the sequences can be manipulated to 1-6-6-6-6 (NTSC) and 1-4-4-4-4 (PAL).
With some simple math it’s easy to see that, for example, the I-piece can be moved (in an upright position) to the right edge/wall of the game area in 19 frames in NTSC (1-6-6-6) and in 13 frames in PAL (1-4-4-4). Notably, on ”kill screen” speed the I-piece falls all the way to the bottom of the game area (in an upright position) just when it also hits the wall in the NTSC version, which basically means that it is impossible to score a tetris with a ”right side well” by using only DAS. But in PAL version, when the I-piece touches the wall, there are still as many as 6 frames (i.e. 6 spaces/rows) before the piece hits the bottom. Therefore it is theoretically possible (but VERY difficult) to score right side well tetrises even in ”kill screen” speed on PAL system. In any case, the ”kill screen” speed is considerably more playable with the help of DAS in PAL Tetris than in NTSC Tetris!
So, which version should I play, then?
There is no general ”correct” answer why either NTSC or PAL version of the NES Tetris is ort should be chosen. Both versions are, after some 30 years, still played and enjoyed around the World – both in competitive and more relaxed settings. Also, during and after 2020, the popularity and demand for various online Tetris competitions has skyrocketed, so it’ll be easy for anybody to find a suitable online competition easily. Live events may be more difficult to find, and it’s not always obvious which version will be played in an event…
Obviously, one thing to take into consideration when arranging and participating in a local/regional (live) competition is the locally used TV-standard (PAL/NTSC). Another thing is the bigger regional competition (i.e. CTWC/CTEC) where players could advance from the smaller competition. For example, in 2018 the CTDC (Danish national championship) and CTFC (Finnish national championship) made the fairly straightforward choice to play PAL version since both are in a PAL area, and the next logical competitive step from those national competitions is the CTEC.
A trickier situation was in the CTWC Germany (2018) which was held in PAL region, relatively close to where CTEC is held, but where the winner of the competition won a trip to the following CTWC (held in the US, and the played system NTSC). They played on PAL systems in the German event, even though either PAL or NTSC would’ve been a justified choice. Another tricky situation was in the Aussie competition 2018: Australia is a PAL region but geographically slightly closer to Portland, Oregon (CTWC) than Copenhagen, Denmark (CTEC). Aussie competition organizers chose to play on NTSC systems even though the player base is mostly PAL oriented and there was no ”trip to the CTWC” prize in the competition. It still can be argued that the choice is equally justified as in the German competition.
Anyway, regardless any of that, I hope this short introduction has provided a short but indisputable answer to the question whether there are differences between the two versions – the answer is YES, there are! It could be even argued that the differences are so significant that the NTSC and PAL Tetrises are two different games (even though they look exactly the same). So, if possible, try and play both versions! Because, after all, both are very good games and equally enjoyable – so why not give it a go? And maybe play another one. And another one. And perhaps one more… Oh, and if that one ended too early, it’s OK to play just one more…and one more…and one more…and …. 😉
9.11.2019, updated 13.1.2021
Something wrong (or perhaps good) in this text? Send your feedback to tetrissuomi(a)gmail.com
Check out more facts and tricks from Brian Smith’s (NTSC) booklet: https://www.amazon.com/Tricks-Classic-NES-Tetris-Masters/dp/1500542199
Tetris.wiki is also a good site to check out: https://tetris.wiki/Tetris_(NES,_Nintendo)
Here’s also something to think about: https://seblog.nl/2019/09/20/2/nes-tetris-scoring-pal-vs-ntsc – an effort to make a comparison formula between the NTSC and PAL Tetris scores. Although those efforts more or less fail, it would be interesting to see if someone would come up with a working formula!