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Tetris Attack (SNES) artwork

Tetris Attack (SNES) review

"''Nintendo!'' "


That was what greeted me when I first pushed Tetris Attack into my SNES and turned it on. It should be no surprise; in fact, it ought to be expected. But what was different about this particular screen was that a voice was uttering the word. A prepubescent, high-pitched, irritating, butchered-by-SNES-sound-capabilities voice, but a voice nonetheless. And that is highly unusual given the system that it is on.

After overcoming the semi-shock of hearing voices on the SNES, I pushed the Start button. A message appeared on the next screen, saying, ''Now, lets go out and play, together, under the clearest of blue skies....'' The title screen came up next; four different-colored Yoshis (you ought to remember those little dinosaurs from Super Mario World) sat on brightly colored flowers against an even more brightly colored background, singing. Yoshi himself (it's a name for both the species and the individual, it seems) is in the foreground, batting his eyes playfully, while the message, ''push any key'' appears.

Now, a person more concerned about his IQ might turn the game off, immediately send the cartridge to his worst enemy, and give his SNES a thorough cleaning. But figuring that I'm already as stupid as can be, I bravely pushed the A button and advanced past the title screen.

What a great decision it was.

Tetris Attack, released by Nintendo towards the end of the SNES's lifespan, adapted a certain Nintendo game as its ''theme.'' Just as Pokemon Puzzle League, its later reincarnation, flaunted its Pokemon theme with no reluctance, Tetris Attack saw no point in holding back on references to Yoshi's Island, the sequel to the mega-hit Super Mario World. The game thus adapted the same exuberant art style as Yoshi's Island. Though the crayon drawing-like look and feel is nonexistent, the large and boldly drawn sprites, the animation, and most importantly the bright colors are all instantly recognizable. Of course, this particular art style also makes Tetris Attack seem - ah, that's the dreaded word - ''kiddy.''

Like Yoshi's Island, though, Tetris Attack has a core of extremely solid gameplay under the ''kiddy'' veil. Despite its name, this game has nothing to do with the much-celebrated Tetris. Instead of having formations of blocks constantly drop down from the top, in Tetris Attack a solid mass of blocks constantly rises from the bottom of the playing field. There are several different kinds of blocks; line up three of a kind and all three will disappear. You line up blocks with a ''pane'' that is two blocks wide. You can switch around the two blocks that are encompassed by the pane in order to line up three of a kind.

Just lining up three blocks at a time, however, is a very slow and tedious way of getting points. A far faster (but harder) way is through combos and chains. A combo is when you manage to eliminate more than three blocks at once - you can eliminate up to ten. A chain occurs when, after you make some blocks vanish, the blocks on top fall down and manage to line up again. It's very hard to explain in words, but luckily the game provides you with helpful tutorials on exactly what combos and chains are with examples.

On this basic framework Tetris Attack provides you with a plethora of game modes anyone can enjoy. First we've got Endless Mode. In Endless Mode, you play until the mass of blocks touches the top of the screen. As usual, the mass of blocks will steadily rise faster as you play longer. Endless mode is the meat-and-potatoes of the puzzle game genre: all puzzle games have this mode, and it is an excellent arena for beginners to sharpen their skills.

But that does not mean that you can succeed in Endless Mode without any gameplay tactics. Play far enough and the mass of blocks will rise at brutal and unforgiving speeds. Luckily, the blocks will stop rising whenever you manage to score a chain or a combo. This is crucial in the end of the game, as a well placed halt of the action can often result in a further delay of doom.

For those accomplished in Endless Mode, Time Trial is a great place to test your skills. In Time Trial, you attempt to score as many points as possible in a set amount of time. It is for the speed demons who can spot chains and combos quickly; typical three-of-a-kind lines simply won't score enough. Time Trial can also be played with two players.

People unskilled in putting together combos and chains will be wise to check out Stage Clear. Stage Clear is divided into several stages. In each, a ''clear line'' will appear. When you have cleared away all blocks above the clear line, you have cleared the stage and will advance to the next. This is another great mode for beginners, as fancy moves matter little in Stage Clear.

The meat of this game, however, is Versus Mode. There's actually a story to this mode: apparently, Bowser has put all the inhabitants of Yoshi's Island (except for Yoshi himself) under a spell, and is now drenching the Island with torrential rains. Yoshi must free his friends from the spell and defeat bowser, all by manipulating huge masses of rising blocks! Completely absurd, but who cares?

In 1-player Versus Mode, you must battle through 30 stages over three difficulty settings. Both you and your opponent are given a playing field; the first to let his mass of blocks build to the top of the screen loses. But it's not that simple: every time you make a chain or a combo, you can drop garbage blocks on your opponent's playing field. Your opponent, meanwhile, can do the same. In the early levels, you can usually just wait for your opponent to mess up without ever having to send a garbage block; later on, though, they are the key to winning. Versus mode can also be played with two players - merciless multiplayer mayhem.

Tetris Attack is an unbelievably addictive and long-lived game. Simply beating the Stage Clear and 1-player Versus modes on all difficulties will last you a long time. And even after you have, Endless Mode is still, well, endlessly fulfilling. Nothing beats the sheer thrill of defying death with a well-placed combo, or hearing a human opponent groan in despair after seeing the size of the garbage block you tossed at them, or (an extremely rare phenomenon) hearing the fanfare after you managed to clear out the entire playing field with a long chain. These maneuvers can be pulled off even by a beginner in his first match, but it takes a lot of practice to do consistently.

And that is the beauty of Tetris Attack: the moves are easy to learn, yet extremely difficult to master. Upon seeing Yoshi effortlessly pull off a chain of over 11, I immediately dismissed the notion as simple. How very wrong I was. Yes, doing long chains is easy if you know what to do - but that's the hard part. Only experience will allow you to know exactly what blocks to shift in order to perform killer moves. A quick mind - and quick thumbs! - is something that you will inevitably pick up while seeking to master this game.

But all is not lost for those who prefer slow thinking; that is what Puzzle Mode is there for. In Puzzle Mode, no blocks rise from below; your goal is to clear away all of the blocks in a set amount of moves. Unlike in the other modes, you cannot simply listen to your adrenal glands when you're playing Puzzle Mode. Every single move must be plotted carefully, as there is next to no margin for error. This mode can drive you to insanity - perhaps to the delight of some people. And it rounds out this package of game modes perfectly.

Especially for a puzzle game, the technical aspects of Tetris Attack are quite spectacular. Though (of course) not as breathtaking as Yoshi's Island, the game it was themed after, the graphics are very good. Backgrounds are colorful and well animated, unlike the dull backgrounds of most SNES puzzle games, but they are never obtrusive. The variety in the backgrounds approach that of some adventure games, with such locales as jungles, snowfields, and lakes.

The audio aspects are well done too. The music is bright and cheery, vintage Nintendo, and each background has its own music. The music complements the background well and never becomes annoying. Sound effects are few, but there are a few more snippets of voice besides the title screen, which is always a fun surprise.

But this analysis of the game still does not sum up the appeal of Tetris Attack. For a while when I was in the middle of my greatest addiction, I saw different-colored blocks slowly yet constantly moving up whenever I closed my eyes. Even now I enjoy playing out imaginary games of Tetris Attack in my mind - that is how intoxicating it is. I can't explain why it maintains such a grip on my brain - it just does.

The charming aesthetic aspects coupled with the brilliant gameplay system make Tetris Attack one of the best puzzle games ever. With tons of variety in single-player and an infinitely entertaining multiplayer, It deserves to be played whether you're a fan of its genre or not. Only two little flaws - not being able to save high scores and somewhat too difficult-to-master moves - keep it from perfection, but those are perfectly negligible. Tetris may forever remain the king of puzzle games, but its feisty offspring stands just as proud.

lurkeratlarge's avatar
Community review by lurkeratlarge (January 12, 2004)

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