Sometimes, the simplest video games are the best ones. Look no further for a testament to this than Tetris, the original falling-block puzzler which remains one of the most timeless classics in the medium. Tetris is essentially perfect as is, but its iconic status (as well as its simple formula) also means that other games have tried to put their own spin on its gameplay. One of the better of these Tetris spinoffs is also one of the most obscure, and comes in the form of Tetris Battle Gaiden, a puzzle game released exclusively on the Japanese Super Nintendo, the Super Famicom.
This Japan exclusive, released in 1993, features the same addicting gameplay as the perennial classic, with the same exact block shapes that the players must construct in such a way as to complete a row, which eliminates those blocks and prevents them from stacking too high. If the blocks reach the top of the screen, you lose.
Tetris Battle Gaiden changes thing up with one simple yet profound addition to the formula: magic spells.
In Tetris Battle Gaiden, players can select a small variety of cute, colorful characters (like a ninja, a wolfman, a princess, and a strange rabbit-like creature, to name a few), each one boasting four different magic spells.
Spells are used by collecting orb-like crystals during the gameplay. These crystals are found on some of the falling blocks, and if you manage to eliminate a row of blocks that houses a crystal, you gain that crystal. Casting spells is performed (somewhat strangely) by pressing up on the D-pad. If you have only one crystal, your character will use their level 1 spell. Two crystals for level 2, three for level 3, and four for level 4.
These spells all work to either aide you or hinder your opponent. The Wolfman, for example, can make his opponent’s blocks fall in slow-motion for a short time, while the Princess can duplicate the current block setup of her opponent.
The spells are a whole lot of fun, and come complete with fun little animations for each individual spell for each character. But these spells also work as something of a double-edged sword, which prevents them from being too overpowered. For example, if the Wolfman slows down an opponent whose stacks of blocks aren’t as high as his own, it means the Wolfman has to work twice as fast as the other player if he hopes to eliminate his own blocks. And should the Princess’ opponent have a higher stack of blocks, it’s obviously not a great idea to duplicate it.
This may sound like a small addition to the classic Tetris formula, but it really does add a new level of competitiveness and strategy to the equation. Not to mention it’s one of the very few instances in which selecting a different character in a puzzle game actually makes a difference to gameplay.
There are some minor annoyances with the game, like the inability to select the background stage or music (it simply goes with the stage and music of the character selected by player 2). Nothing major, but the ability to actually select the background visuals and music would have been nice, especially the music, since the soundtrack is insanely catchy and fun.
Tetris Battle Gaiden may not reinvent the formula, but it puts a fresh twist on an all-time classic and gives it a whole new dimension. It’s an incredibly addictive puzzle game that makes for some terrific multiplayer fun. If you can somehow get a hold of a Super Famicom, Tetris Battle Gaiden is a must-have.