GameSpite Journal 10 | Tetris Attack

Tetris Attack | Dev.: Intelligent Systems | Pub: Nintendo | Genre: Puzzle | Release: Aug. 1996

Nintendo has an interesting and long history with Tetris. They wisely grabbed the console rights to the game, just in time for the GameBoy to have its killer app, netting ailing competitor Atari a black eye in the process. The inevitable sequel for the NES and SNES -- the aptly named Tetris 2 -- was not based on the work of Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov, but was developed internally and, in a move that kind of makes sense, plays like a combination of Tetris and Dr. Mario. By the time Tetris Attack came along, late in the SNES lifecycle, the series no longer had anything to do with Tetris whatsoever.

In the 16-bit era, Japanese puzzle games were often rebranded with mascot characters to widen their appeal. Falling blob game Puyo Puyo became Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine on the Genesis and Kirby’s Avalanche on the Super NES, yet the game remained largely unchanged. When Nintendo planned on releasing the puzzle game Panel de Pon to the west, they went one further -- by not only rebranding with Yoshi and his foes from Yoshi’s Island, but also slapping the Tetris name on the box. It must have felt like a win-win. Coincidentally, the Tetris licensees allegedly regret this decision. Luckily for them (and us), it’s a great game.

The goal in Tetris Attack is to manipulate a pile of slowly rising colored blocks. With your cursor, you can swap the horizontal positions of two pieces, or pull a single piece out to drop down if one of the slots is empty. Line up three pieces in a row and they will vanish, line up more than that or cause a chain reaction and you’ll rack up big points (as well as drop junk pieces on your opponent). It’s simple to learn, difficult to master, and just original enough to feel like its own game. Tetris Attack is also well-stocked with game variations beyond assumed Endless and Versus modes. Story mode is a series of matches against different opponents, leading to the inevitable Bowser encounter, while Puzzle mode teaches you advanced techniques with a limited number of moves. Stage Clear and Timed modes round out the options.

Whether it was an inspired choice or simply dumb luck, the look of Yoshi’s Island fits this game like a glove. While not sporting the children’s drawing look of the SNES platformer, Tetris Attack does feature its settings and creatures to great effect. Panel de Pon by itself is a great looking game with better usage of colors and fonts than you’d expect in 1996, and the added Yoshi look is colorful and vibrant while avoiding garishness. When you compare this rebranding the work done on the aforementioned Puyo Puyo releases, it’s almost no comparison. The art team really went the extra mile on the details, and it shows. All of this adds up to one of the prettiest-looking 2D puzzle games I have ever played.

Panel de Pon has since been released on many of the subsequent Nintendo consoles under some variant of the Puzzle League name, yet I prefer Tetris Attack to the lot. Interface matters, when you compare the look and feel of Tetris Attack to the bland menus of Nintendo’s more recent Picross DS, it’s sad. Who knew mascot branding could make a very good game great?

By Ben Langberg | May 2, 2012 | Previous: Star Ocean | Next: Kirby Super Star