Tetris Attack (Game Boy) review
"Some months back, I took a look at Tetris Attack, one of the greatest puzzlers to honor a 16-bit platform with its presence. Branded as a Tetris game but strangely infested by Yoshi and his weird friends, it would have been one bland puzzler save for one great feature: the ability to eliminate groups of at least three blocks, causing the ones above it to fall to the nearest stable ground. This opened up the possibilities of simultaneous multiple completed sets. When set up correctly, you could s..."
Some months back, I took a look at Tetris Attack, one of the greatest puzzlers to honor a 16-bit platform with its presence. Branded as a Tetris game but strangely infested by Yoshi and his weird friends, it would have been one bland puzzler save for one great feature: the ability to eliminate groups of at least three blocks, causing the ones above it to fall to the nearest stable ground. This opened up the possibilities of simultaneous multiple completed sets. When set up correctly, you could string together massive amounts of them, creating chains. The number of chains you linked was represented by a multiplier (e.g. x2, x5), and a garbage block proportional to the size of your chain would get dumped on your opponent's stack of blocks. This is all very hard to explain in writing, but when you had a friend over, rest assured it was enough to make you pop a few capillaries and run bloody beads of sweat down your forehead.
Tetris Attack was nothing to think twice about when trying to pass the time by yourself, but in the hands of two friends, there was more fun there than a mere mortal should be allowed to have. It was more of a rite of passage than a game, in that your skill under a megaton of pressure was the ultimate decider of your status as a true man or woman. You dropped a times-11 garbage block on your friend's head, and you were the king of the world. Five minutes later, the same thing happened to you, and your reign was over faster than you can say ''Alexey Pajitnov.'' Trading the crown of victory could go on for hours at a sitting.
Enter the dilemma the Game Boy is in. As a portable gaming device not bound under normal circumstances to any external wiring whatsoever, the chances for heated multiplayer frenzies are few and far between. On the Super Nintendo, you can memorize the colors of the blocks without having to remember the shapes on them. In a monochrome environment, the latter is all you have to rely on. And when television is right in front of your face, do you really want to go all the trouble of hooking up link cables and hunching over a tiny screen, squinting to see the mighty combo you just executed? You get the idea. Tetris Attack on Game Boy is simply not able to handle the heavy tasks that the Super Nintendo is ready and willing to carry out. Without a multiplayer mode to bring the drinks to the party, so to speak, the very soul and essence of Tetris Attack are sucked dry; every bone has picked clean by the metaphorical Labrador of system crossovers. After a quick look at the features the one-player modes have to offer in the wake of two-player competition's absence, nothing will make you want to take a second trip through any of them.
Such is the fate of this poor bastard child: to live its short life on the road and only come into contact with those it knows once every few years or so.
Of course, in Tetris Attack, the object is to line up at least three similar blocks to make them disappear. Matches of three will not take you the whole way, though. To completely master the game, you must learn to take in your surroundings quickly, noting all useful areas on the playing field in the blink of an eye. You must then apply your plans, mind-bogglingly rushed and thoroughly mapped out all at once, to the situation at hand, going for the matches of four, five, six, seven, and more blocks onward and upward through the number line. You must set up chains at a half-second's notice and learn to look for opportunity before it even appears at the bottom of the screen. More than any other of its genre, Tetris Attack is above all things a thinking man's puzzler, and those able to develop a Zen-like oneness with the game will dumbfound the rest who can't with the lightning-quick reflexes that no one, including themselves, ever knew they had. Chains and combos of more than three are your key to victory. They stop time and give you a short moment of peace to ponder your next several moves.
If you think in the present, the game will destroy you. If you don't think far enough into the future, it will trip you up when you're not looking. And let's not even go into what happens to you if you're not thinking at all. Even without multiple player options, this game on any platform ought to have a successful solo gig, and this Game Boy port will tax your frontal lobe as well as any portable puzzler will. Being alone with it though, no matter how long, will not be enough to stave off the feeling that it was meant as an outlet for social interaction. What is offered is sufficiently fun, but for no more than a couple of hours at best.
Stage Clear is a good introduction to the workings of the game and will put you at ease in the beginning levels with its slow pace and goals that are disgustingly easy to reach - each level contains a line that all the blocks must be under before you can proceed. This goal of cramming all the blocks under a designated row remains ludicrously easy throughout the ten-round-apiece stages, only becoming even slightly difficult when you go to reach Bowser. Endless Mode is a good way to bone up on your chains and combos because, needless to say, there's no specific goal to reach or time limit imposed upon you. A Time Trial mode seems thrown in as an afterthought - whether for kicks, by necessity, or for both of those reasons I'm not sure. Puzzle Mode, the most challenging and entertaining feature in this cartridge, sets you up with a given block layout and then requires you to clear all the blocks in a set amount of moves, usually no more than two or three. If anything keeps puzzle fans attracted to this game, it will be this. And yes, the Multiplayer mode is here, but does not have near the impact it does on a television screen. Overall, the game seems to readily embrace a pet peeve of mine, and that is including gameplay modes for the sake of including them. With a little bit of inspiration, this game could have at least been up to snuff with its 16-bit big brother.
The graphics look great, and the shapes on the blocks are as easily identifiable as the assorted cast of characters starring in the game. Yoshi is looking younger and younger every day (I suspect collagen injections), while the rest of his friends, such as Lakitu and Poochy the rockin' dog, have taken on a caricaturish feel in their transition to the small screen. The cutscenes before stages in the Stage Clear mode look nice, and the speech bubbles in them, while large, don't seem to overcrowd the space around them. (As a side note, the tips contained within them practically hold your hand throughout the whole game - another practice I despise.) For your convenience, just about everything is written either large, very legibly, or both, as if you are old and must buy large-print books to enjoy them through your prescription bifocals. Played on a Game Boy Advance, you might have a little less trouble seeing things, as the addition of a couple of colors (red, green) will help you out with matching shapes with colors. Aside from that, what can you really say about graphics in a puzzle game, other than, ''Nice, uh, umm ..... menus?''
The controls are a bit more of a help to you here than they are on the Super Nintendo, especially since the response time of the falling blocks allows for a bit more leeway in chain creation. Considering how fast you can move the cursor and flip blocks, this sort of sucks the fun out of the game. How so? How so? I'll tell you how so! There is no longer a need to form enormous chains, and thus the feeling of last-minute panic is gone, and all challenge is out the window with it. With the time stopped after a decent combo and the D-pad more responsive than ever, you can actually afford to think in the present. What's going on now has attained higher importance than what has to be addressed in the future. For the first time, Tetris Attack gives you moments of relaxation and relief. I guess what I'm saying is I never thought I would be complaining about precise control in a game, but nonetheless here we are. Worse yet, the speed of the rising blocks is not enough to introduce any sort of mounting tension. What you're left with is a good tutorial for an eight-year-old who isn't ready to do it on a controller yet.
How I also loathe wasted potential.
The Tetris series was of course spawned in Moscow, and in its infancy gave us Nintendo-ized renditions of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies and other Russian symphonic masterpieces. Now, I hang my head in shame as I wonder about the state of musical trends across the Pacific. No longer are surprisingly soothing classical pieces the songs of choice for Tetris. No, now you get a sampling of Russian flim-flam and techno beats that leave a bad aftertaste on your eardrums. I willingly propose that it's time to pop in some real music. Fortunately, the pop-pop-pop of disappearing blocks is not as annoying as you would have it to be, and is in fact amusing when very large combos reaching up into the twenties are formed. Your allies over to the side of the field will make odd sounds that I have divided into Squeaks, Bounces, and Sickening Grunts, none of which happens to be too appealing or able to bring a smile to your face. Together, the whole game is a mix of New Wave, funky sound effects, and block popping that mixes in a way similar to when chocolate syrup and milk have only been halfway stirred. Most of it will be pretty good, but you're definitely taste the foreign material and the rest that didn't fit in quite right.
What creeps up on you the most is the feeling that roots itself deep in your spiritual innards - the feeling that this game simply was not meant for this system. Super Game Boy could help you put together a sort of poor man's Tetris Attack, but if you already have the SNES, just go ahead and get the cartridge for that system. All the colors are brighter, the blood pressure is higher, and the love of the game is more apparent there. Save this port for when you hate everybody and want to stuff yourself into the darkest corner of your closet. Once there, Stage Clear and Puzzle should keep you perfectly busy for a few hours at best. Still, Tetris Attack loses a little something in the translation. Wait, scratch that - it loses a lot in the translation. Nothing it does right can save it from the stripping of its ultimate destiny, and that is to be such a great puzzle game that it could easily be classified as a party game as well. Half of two is one, and the veritable loss of friendly competition only makes this game half as fun as it normally is.
Thus it stands to reason that half the fun equals half the score.
Community review by snowdragon (December 09, 2003)
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