It’s a strange thing, but when I think of games that are popular in the San Francisco Bay Area, I think of Street Fighter and Tetris Attack. The games both require twitch-like reflexes to gain an advantage and defeat your opponent. Lest we forget, the “Twitch” streaming service – which streams popular video games and tournaments – got its start in San Francisco. Much to my surprise, Tetris Attack is still going strong, despite being released in 1995. At PAX West (a gaming convention) 2017 in Washington State, there was a Tetris Attack tournament. Long before Bejeweled and Candy Crush dominated the “match three” genre, there was Tetris Attack for the Super Nintendo, a match three or four or five or six, with competitive game-play in mind.
Despite the claim in the game’s credits that “Tetris Attack was inspired by [the] original Tetris,” the two games don’t have a lot in common, aside from the theme of deleting blocks. The original Tetris was more to do with shapes, specifically the six shapes you can make with four square blocks. In Tetris Attack, colored blocks rise from the bottom of the screen, a feature that can be expedited with the “R” button despite blocks being a threat. The blocks are as follows: green circles, blue triangles, purple diamonds, red hearts, yellow stars, and occasional stone exclamation marks. You delete blocks by matching three or more of a kind, such as a row or column of three red hearts. You can get a “combo,” which is three or more of the same block cleared. You can also have a “chain reaction,” for example, when you clear a row of four that in turn clears a column of three.
If you’re playing two-player, the blocks aren’t truly deleted. The game does well as a competitive game, and the second player can be computer-controlled, or a real person. When you clear your own blocks, the opponent receives “garbage blocks,” a horizontal bar block of varying heights, bringing the opponent’s blocks closer to the top of their screen. If the opponent passes a certain threshold with blocks going over the top of their screen, the opponent loses. Garbage blocks can be converted into regular blocks by having three or more in a row or column merely touching the garbage block. The blocks systematically become the colored blocks that aren’t garbage, but beware. A talented opponent can give up one line of garbage, and have the remaining garbage stay garbage by clearing blocks on his or her screen. This is where raising your own block level with the “R” button comes in handy: you will spot more combinations.
The unfortunate truth is that if you have anything bigger than a twelve-row garbage block, the game stops counting. It was likely a space limitation on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System to allow only a twelve-row garbage block, as much as your opponent needs “love and mercy” (as Brian Wilson would say). I played the game years ago with friends, but it was interesting to see a competitive match between pro-level players at PAX West 2017. It becomes a sort of waiting game, where you both have lots of garbage, and are waiting for the opportunity to undo the garbage with a color combination. It is the moments between these moments that the competitive game is truly played. The game even has slow-down, because hey, this is the Super Nintendo.
There are other modes, including a Puzzle Mode with blocks arranged a set way and a limited number of moves to make. You must clear all blocks. There is Endless Mode, where you are trying to play for as long as possible. A Timed Mode asks you to get the best score in two minutes. Stage Clear Mode has you delete blocks below a set line. Story Mode is competitive, you versus the computer, and based a little off of the characters in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. The game has been remade a number of times, most notably as Pokémon Puzzle League. I believe PPL does away with the twelve-row garbage block limit, but I might be wrong. Have fun with Tetris Attack if you can get your hands on it. It is not in any Nintendo eShop, so eBay is the place to go.
Tetris Attack was another one of Nintendo’s attempts to recontextualize a completely unrelated game so more people would buy it. It’s a good game, though, so it was probably for the best.
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