The sweat is pouring down your forehead. You manage a furtive twitch of your bloodshot eyeballs to the other half of the screen... you see small square stones being lined up. Horror grips you as you frantically look for an escape strategy. You then hear the most horrific sound of them all... a high pitched "Weehoo!" Stone death rains from above.... your hopes dashed, you have fallen...
Ok, time for just one more round.
This is the typical experience of a two player Tetris Attack game. A phenomanlly fast paced and exciting action/puzzle game from Intelligent Systems, one of Nintendo's many in house development studios and also one of its main technical design hubs. Intelligent Systems is famous for games such as Super Metroid and Advance Wars.
The game can be divided into three main modes: Puzzle, Story and Vs.
In Puzzle mode, the game is a fairly typical match-three variant. The big difference is that the only means of switching blocks out with one another is through a small two block horizontal parser, which lets the player swap the positions of two blocks sitting side by side with one another. This limitation makes solving puzzles very challenging in advanced levels and forcing the player to think many steps ahead to create complex chains in order to clear all the blocks from the screen.
The Story and Vs. modes have a very different gameplay mechanic. While the two block swapping mechanism is still in effect here, the goal is now not to clear the screen, but to create large chains of combinations that result in stones dropping on an opponent. Using a split screen, both sides are constantly bombing the other with flat, horizontally laid stones which eat up valuable screen real estate. These stones vary in size and ease of elimination, based on the number of stones destroyed and the type, because beside regular colored stones there are now also "rock" stones that create stone slabs dropped on your opponent.
The story mode allows you to play as Yoshi, as you are on a quest to free the other characters of the Mushroom Kingdom who have been caught in a spell cast by Bowser. This mode features a level cap based on the difficulty level (you don't get to actually beat Bowser on Easy or Medium difficulty, with the game stopping you before that.) This gives the game an impressive replay value in single player as you try to finally beat it in Difficult mode.
Tetris Attack was a relatively low key release back in 1995 in Japan as Panel de Pon, where it featured a cast of original characters. The US release was made a bit more high profile through the swapping out of the characters for those from Super Mario World 2 and the Tetris license.
The 2 player VS mode though is the real reason to play this game... again, and again and again.
The frantic pace of the game and the limited movement ability, makes this game very easy to pick up but devilishly hard to master. The strategies employed to create combos can become very intricate for advanced users and games can run as little as 30 seconds all the way up to 4-5 minutes when both sides are evenly matched.
Personally I've been playing it for years now, as one of THE go to party games in my home (beside Scorched Tanks and Street Fight Alpha III). The matches are quick, deep and you never feel like you just got a bad draw, like in Puzzle Bobble. The game does absolutely everything right and pity the fools who have yet to feel its glory!