Arriving just in the nick of time for Christmas of 1993 (December 24), Tetris Battle Gaiden is the best Super Famicom puzzle game to never hit North American shores. It’s truly a shame they never ported this over for a US audience. If they had, this game would be more universally recognized and lionized to this very day. Thankfully, anyone with a Super Nintendo (or a computer) can experience it all the same nevertheless. Well, there is a bit of Japanese to wade through, but being a puzzle game and not an RPG, a fan translation is not absolutely needed to enjoy this as is.
Released on December 24, 1993, one wonders why this didn’t see a US release in mid to late 1994. There wasn’t much to translate and the Tetris name alone would have sold a ton of copies. Not to mention the gameplay is very expansive with several different game modes and new tricks that freshen up a classic, proven formula. Sure the characters were on the anime side, and back in the mid ’90s that wasn’t really a thing in US culture. But they could have easily modified the characters, no? Alas, it just wasn’t meant to be. On second thought, look at those zany lovable Japanese-y characters. Maybe it’s a good thing these guys weren’t turned into generic boring barbarians and the typical “radical” mid ’90s look in American video gaming. Speaking of characters, let’s take a look at them now!
Pumpkinhead here adorns the cover and has a classic colorful Halloween backdrop. Yup, I can definitely get behind this guy.
Awwww, isn’t it adorable? Because bunny things just are! By the way, I love the bright visuals of this game. The art style is also on point.
Witch doctor at your service! Look at all those exotic animals.
Disney’s version this ain’t. Still got his Magic Carpet and Genie though. Beautiful backdrop.
Majestic background if I ever saw one. Good job, Bullet Proof Software.
#SMALLLIVESMATTER. At least a little bit, right? [I see what you did there -Ed.]
Ninjas were cool back then in the ’90s, and gosh darnit, they’re still cool today.
Wolfman’s stage is simply gorgeous. Perfect to play on a late fall afternoon!
FROM THE BOOK OF TETRIS
Always been a sucker for a good page turner, and this game most definitely is.
Select from any of the eight characters, then select your desired first opponent. The game’s presentation is on point. Puzzle games aren’t usually noted for their visuals but there’s no denying this game has a very pleasing look to the eye. Everything is bright, bold and colorful. Graphics don’t make a game, but they certainly don’t hurt.
Your eyes deceive you not. One of the most unique things about this game that you’ll noticed right away is that the pieces are communal. Rather than both players getting the same pieces, here you share one queue.
Tetris purists may scoff at this, but I personally find it refreshing. It lends a whole new strategy to the game. Sometimes you find yourself stalling in order to get the desired piece. Other times you purposely rush in order to secure the next block. Which is exactly what I did here. Notice I dropped the “z” block in a bad space just to ensure that I can get the square piece which has a crystal. The crystal brings a whole new dimension to the classic formula. Observe!
Every time you clear a crystal you earn one point. Each character has four different special battle skills. Some are offensive while others are defensive. You can use your skills right away, or save them. The number of points required to use a skill is respective to its level. For example, a level one skill requires one point while a level four skill requires four points. Do you use a certain power now, or do you save for a stronger power later on? It’s all part of the strategy.
The battle can quickly grow intense as players joust for the right block at the right time. Sometimes, you simply want to play defense by, er, blockblocking the opposition. Yeah I just made that word up. Who knows, maybe it’ll catch on? [Oh sure… -Ed.]
What’s sweeter than earning a crystal point? Clearing two crystals in a line and earning two points! Now I have three points. Do I unleash my level 3 skill, or save it to use a level 4 skill down the road? Decisions, decisions!
Meanwhile, Mirurun ain’t waiting around. He uses his level 1 skill to blow up a few rows from his well. Like I said, this ain’t your typical Tetris game.
Every Tetris player knows the feeling of anguish and self-loathing when you accidentally misplace a block. But in this case, it’s your opponent who does. Well, in a manner of speaking. You see, one of Miru’s skills is the power to distort the way you control your blocks. Naturally this is temporary, but it’s long enough to throw you off your game leading to some unfortunate block positioning. But never fear, I see a tetris piece coming soon! Commence the “rush or stall” game within a game! Again, some purists may scoff at this, but I say it brings an added rush to the table!
Nothing beats clearing four lines at once! I love the way the pieces rotate and disappear from the field. There’s something satisfying about it, for sure.
Miru’s distortion of control skill is super annoying. Don’t get me wrong, with Christmas season here and everything I truly appreciate what the cross stands for, but I didn’t want to make a cross up there! Bloody stinkin’ bunny thing!
Alright Mr. Bunny, time to unleash hell. Pumpkin blows up Miru’s well, leaving only bits and pieces standing (many awkwardly in mid-air). This power wreaks havoc and can really mess up the opposition.
Another point added *and* I scored the tetris block. Win! Moments like these can really demoralize the competition, and provides plenty of trash talking opportunity.
Scored four points (again) and about to murder Mirurun. Take a look.
With his well nearly filled up, all it takes is one final shove to send the whole thing crashing. I love how your character appears on screen for a brief moment before unleashing their special attack. It makes it feel a little more important (not to mention a lot more fun, too). Oh man, look at that well. He’s so screwed.
Nothing compares to the sweet thrill of victory. Sure in other puzzle games you tend to send debris over after landing chain reactions, but I like how battle-oriented Tetris Battle Gaiden is. Hence the “Battle” middle name. It’s more than just sending debris over to your opponent’s field. It’s an all out war where you get to literally sabotage your rival. It’s a fight to the very bitter end.
Battle all seven of your rivals. After successfully conquering each of them, this big bad dragon baddie is your reward prize. Lucky you.
SOME MORE SKILLS AND SPECIALS
Clearly what’s happening here is that those blocks have displayed exemplary behavior, and are being beckoned to block heaven. I mean, duh!
Those bats swoop to your opponent’s side to steal any crystal points they may have earned. ProTip: make sure first though that your opponent has something to steal. D’oh! But yeah, play your cards right and you’re well on your way to victory. No more L’s… well, except when you get the L blocks [… -Ed.]
Searchlight skill is downright evil. It blackens the field and only gives you a small flashlight with which to contend. Talk about devious.
Speaking of blackening, and seeing the light, here comes the Reaper!
Sometimes it just ain’t fair. My blocks, my beautiful blocks!
Wolfman’s level 2 skill is rather strange but endearing. A peculiar old man appears at the bottom of the screen and prevents your opponent from sending blocks down at the fastest speed possible. Whenever the opponent tries to press down, the man will strain to resist to the point that you can see small sweat beads flying off his forehead. Good stuff. This power lasts for 28 seconds (yes, I actually timed it…)
Wolfman can also summon a miniature samurai to slice off the first few rows.
Wolfman’s level 4 skill inserts gravity into the picture, which allows for suspended blocks to fall until they land on something. This leads to some deadly combos. The only blocks that don’t fall are the ones that contain the crystal. This skill, however, is useless in the “Rensa” mode, but more on that in a little bit.
I SAW JESUS ON MY TOAST BREAD!
Know how some folks claim to see Jesus in the oddest places? They saw him in the clouds, or their morning toast. Whatever the case may be, Tetris Battle Gaiden reminds me of such stories. Because the way the pieces can form causes some interesting sights for sure from time to time. Check out the red monster in the second pic there, as well as the two middle fingers [Oh, I thought that was just a really long raccoon face. Or hell, since this is the Japanese we’re talking about here, a Tanuki -Ed.]
MODES OF PLAY
Battlis is Tetris Battle Gaiden. The pieces operate as they do in normal Tetris, but certain blocks now contain crystals. Cleared crystals build up your point stock, and these can be redeemed to launch various powers.
Not a fan of the crystals and unique character abilities? Then select this mode for old school Tetris fun. It’s definitely nice that Bullet Proof Software included this option as it almost feels like two games in one. I personally prefer Battlis but it’s nice to know you always have the original mode to fall back on.
Rensa is an interesting mode. It includes the crystals and powers of Battlis, but now the pieces operate with gravity in mind. Remember Wolfman’s level 4 skill highlighted a bit earlier? That’s basically Rensa. Here, take a look.
Notice that the pieces fall until they reach the top of another block or the floor itself. Crystals, however, do not fall. Rensa allows for chain reactions, making it feel more like a “modern” puzzler.
Check out this 3 line chain reaction. Personally, I prefer classic Tetris over Rensa, but it’s nice to have this mode if you’re in the mood for something a it different.
Tetris Battle Gaiden has quite the positive reputation. Although a few purists dislike it, it’s generally well received. Super Play Magazine, a UK publication dedicated to the SNES back in the early to mid ’90s, were huge fans of the game. They loved it so much that they ranked it an impressive #24 on their Top 100 SNES Games list in issue #42 (April 1996). They did fail to mention above though that the game actually features three modes, not two. Poor Rensa. Always the forgotten red headed step child.
Tetris Battle Gaiden has been recommended to me over the years. Picked up a copy in 2006 and fell in love with it. It’s the best Super Famicom exclusive puzzle game in my book, and one of the best puzzlers on the SNES, period. Some purists aren’t crazy about the Battlis mode, but you can always switch to classic Tetris mode (or Rensa mode). I love that there are three different playing options and eight different characters with a total of 32 unique skills and abilities. The replay value on this sucker is insane! Some purists also scoff at the fact that the blocks are shared between two players. I actually don’t mind this. It brings a certain sense of urgency (and strategy) to the fold. Do you drop that piece as fast as you can in a race to grab the next much needed block, or do you stall a few blocks ahead as to time it just right? It’s the ultimate hand-eye coordination test as you have to continually eye the queue more than your average puzzle game. You have to constantly be thinking 3-4 pieces ahead all while taking care of your own field and contend with your opponent sending over debris or sabotaging you in various ways. I also love how sometimes you play offense, other times you play defense. And nothing’s better than “blockblocking” your opponent — to snatch that much needed tetris block piece right before they can — and rubbing it in their faces. Good stuff.
I usually don’t commend graphics in most puzzle games as they’re usually serviceable at best, but Tetris Battle Gaiden is full of amazing art and endearing animations. The backgrounds are all incredibly detailed and bursting with rich colors. It’s almost a shame that you really can’t see them due to the blocks. The music is extremely catchy and there are several tunes that I’m particularly fond of. The gameplay strikes a sweet spot with three different modes that expand the game’s longevity tenfold. What can I say, Tetris Battle Gaiden is a winner through and through. I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who enjoys a good puzzle game now and again.