Tetris, released in the summer of 1984, is the most classic puzzle game ever created. Hell, EGM deemed it the best video game of all time (issue #100, November 1997). More than a decade later, Tetris Attack redefined the puzzle genre. Originally released on October 27, 1995 in Japan as Panel de Pon, the game received a Yoshi’s Island makeover for its North American localization in the summer of 1996. It was also granted the Tetris name to further increase its appeal, even though technically it has nothing to do with the Tetris formula. Regardless, Tetris Attack effortlessly worked its way into our hearts and stands as arguably the greatest 16-bit puzzle game of all time.
ATTACK OF THE FLEA MARKET
-Saturday, February 4, 2006-
*BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!*
Staggering out of bed like Otis Campbell on a Saturday night, I shifted my way through the darkness to put an end to the madness. The thought of crawling back in bed was nearly as tempting as Jessica Alba herself. The idea, however, went quickly as it came.
After brushing my teeth and helping myself to a bowl of cereal, I found the dawn just breaking between two white buildings. The sky was mostly gray but a streak of white stretched itself from the end of a flagpole. By the time I finished breakfast, the sky was lighter than it had been when I woke up — the streak of gray broadening into a patch of brilliant day.
I was a man on a mission. Three weeks into my SNES rebirth (1.17.06), I was gearing to embark on my first flea market voyage since 2002. With a wish list the size of Rosie’s waistline and a wallet jammed full of dead presidents, I headed off into that cool early morning, the light February breeze brushing against my face. As I pulled into the parking lot something told me today was going to be a good day. Maybe even a great one. I gazed at the box office where I saw the growing crowd purchasing their tickets. Just think, I thought to myself… beyond that building there… lies a part of my childhood.
I remember the morning rather well; the smell of apricot in the air, the bustling crowds all jabbering for bargains, and at long last — the lady with the game stand parked over at the far end. I dove head first into the SNES bin like Rickey Henderson stealing third base. All her games were wrapped. I eagerly waded through each one, picking out Final Fight, Dino City, Battletoads in Battlemaniacs, Flashback and Tetris Attack.
Each of those games ran me $5 except for Tetris Attack. Some of these games I hadn’t played in 12, 15 years! There’s nothing quite like the rush of rediscovering games from your youth on a brisk, early Saturday morning. There’s just something awesome about it. It’s hard to look back on one’s early collecting days and not break out a nostalgic smile. It was the rush and the feeling of getting back into the fandom after so many years, acquiring games left and right… those are some sacred memories right there!
The vendor was a nice elderly lady in her 50’s. I showed her each game that I wanted as she sprouted off, “Five dollas, five dollas,” but she paused when Tetris Attack came up. Somehow, I knew she would.
There was no way in HELL I was getting Tetris Attack for a measly five bucks…
She grabbed the game from me and squinted long and hard at it. Oh boy, I thought to myself, here it comes. $20, maybe $25. Yup, Steve-O, you can kiss this bargain goodbye. She burned a hole through Tetris Attack before finally saying…
I wanted to jump in the air and pump my fist. But I kept my cool and told the lady in a calm voice, “Sounds good.” All in all, it was $27 well spent! Crazy to think this happened just over 12 years ago now… (read more about my Flea Market Memoirs).
As is the case with most puzzle games, the name of the game is chaining together combo hits to quickly derail the competition.
Don’t worry, there’s even a handy tutorial to acclimate new players.
Eliminate all 10 panels with one simple switch.
Switch the gray block over which drops the red heart. This leads to all 18 panels being cleared.
Combos are nice but chains are deadly. Check out this three hit chain reaction.
Recently I introduced a friend to Tetris Attack. We took time to view the combo tutorial. She kept saying, “Yeah right, like that shit ever happens.”
Speaking of improbable, skill chains are crazy. All this time and I have still yet to pull off one of these bad boys in actual versus competition.
There’s plenty of 1-player modes to keep you busy even if you’re going at it solo. Let’s check out the VS. mode first.
Clearing four or more panels will drop a garbage block on your opponent’s screen.
Clearing three shock panels (the gray blocks with the white ! marks) drops a Shock Block on your opponent’s screen. Shock Blocks prevents any garbage blocks or other Shock Blocks on top of it from being cleared. Match four shock panels to send two Shock Blocks, match five shock panels to send three Shock Blocks and so forth.
Rather than being your typical falling piece puzzler, you move a cursor around the screen and switch pieces around. Part of the fun comes in clearing out one group and quickly yanking out another piece to cause another combo, as seen above. Tetris Attack favors the swift.
Computer opponent is almost done for. Apply the finishing touch by switching those two pieces there. Six piece combo!
Unfortunately there is no battery backed memory here. Just passwords. Yoshi liberates those that he beats.
Computer gets its revenge with a sick 3-hit chain attack, followed up by a 6-piece combo for good measure.
Dropping loads of garbage blocks is the name of the game. After you liberate the eight main characters, you face four bosses.
Hookbill the Koopa and Naval Piranha are the first two bosses you’ll face.
Magikoopa Kamek and Bowser are the final two.
There’s plenty of modes to pick from in the 1-player game. Puzzle Mode gives you a limited amount of moves to clear all the pieces.
Things start out easy but fools rushing in can easily get tripped up.
Another mode is Stage Clear. Clear all the panels above the special clear marker to beat the stage and move on. In addition to the VS. CPU mode, there’s also a Time Trial and Endless mode.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Tetris Attack fared extremely well with the critics. It was widely beloved by most that played it. EGM gave it scores of 7.5, 8.0, 8.5 and 9.0. Super Play rated it 90%. Nintendo Power ranked it the 17th best game in their 100th issue. EGM placed it #16 on their own Top 100 list.
It’s fitting I’m writing this on Valentines Day because I freaking love Tetris Attack. Its main appeal is that it’s competitive and fun as hell. It’s also very accessible — literally almost anyone can play it and enjoy it. The handicap options ensure that everyone has a fighting chance to win, especially with a little practice under their belt. Few things are as intense as a match that goes down to the wire with both screens about to hit critical mass. It’s just a shame that it was released so late into the Super Nintendo’s lifespan. Alas, the old cliché rings ever true: better late than never.
Whereas most puzzle games depend on random falling blocks and a fair bit of luck, Tetris Attack stands out by letting you move a cursor around to rearrange the blocks as you see fit, creating your own combos and chains. It’s easy to pick up and play but difficult to master — the mark of a truly terrific puzzle game. The visuals are simple but bright and pleasing to the eye. There are some catchy tunes as one might expect but ultimately it’s the addicting gameplay that is the main draw of the game. 20+ years and counting and Tetris Attack still finds itself frequently occupying the slot of my SNES. For my money, it’s the best puzzle game on the system and easily one of the Super Nintendo’s top 20 games. Very few games can you constantly play and not get sick of. Tetris Attack belongs in that elite fraternity.