Retro Game of the Day! Tetris Attack
Tetris Attack by Intelligent Systems/Nintendo for the SNES. And then Game Boy. Released 1996. That's right everybody!
Let's get this out of the way post-haste - this is Tetris in name-only. There is very little Tetriscular about this game, other than it is a puzzler, and don't let the blocks reach the top of the screen. Otherwise, very different game from it's namesake. I do believe this was an instance where marketing stepped in and said "we need to call it something that will sell like hotcakes, 'Magical Block Pile' isn't gonna cut it" (that's a joke, the original JPN release was called Panel de Pon.) The US version also got heavily localized with a new suite of art, Yoshi's Island-style, though I do believe the basic gameplay was unchanged.
What was that gamplay, you ask? Simple - the stack of blocks rises to the top of the screen, slowly but surely. You have an onscreen cursor which lays over two blocks at once - hit the action button and the two blocks will switch places. Put 3 blocks of a similar color next to one another or above and below, and they'll clear (and whatever rested on top of them will fall). The genius in technique here lies in how the player can set up complicated combos (more than three colors per match) and chains (as in chain reactions).
A gorgeous game, I never even realized its existence until several years following its release. For some reason, I found a ROM image in spite of the dull-sounding name (I was getting fairly tired of Tetris derivates!) and loaded it up on my GP32. The game had me instantly - it was so satisfying to constantly be matching colors at breakneck speed, who knew?
I hunted down the actual cart to play on my SNES, and discovered the 2 Player battle mode. Oh my gosh! Suddenly 1 Player mode seemed obsolete. Soon my friends and I were having Tetris Attack Parties (nearly 10 years after its release!). The catch with the battle mode, is sending junk pieces over to your rival. Make an enormous chain/combo, and your opponent's screen would quickly fill up with junk pieces for them to deal with. If they were skilled, they could quickly clear them out and shoot them right back over to you. This game made for a lot of trash-talking and controller-smashing.
TA has seen many incarnations. It was rebranded as Pokemon Puzzle League on N64, then Puzzle League on GBA and DS. It's been available for some time on iPhone (Seaglass, Puzzle Panel) in unofficial knock-offs which appropriately borrow from the main theme. As usual, the original is best, but the iPhone versions are nice for what they are.
One of my all-time favorite puzzle games that's also one of my all-time favorite games - I cannot recommend Tetris Attack enough! Our new game 180 draws very heavily from some of the philosophy of this game's design, if you are a TA fan be sure to check out our game when it launches next month!
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