Tetris Battle Gaiden is one of those beautiful games that somehow never left Japan. It’s a competitive form of Tetris, where each player picks one of 10 playable characters and faces off against either the computer or a human opponent. All of the things you’d generally expect from such a game is there. Your goal is to keep your screen as clear of tetrominos as possible, while causing your enemy’s screen to overflow. Success comes from clearing lines as quickly and efficiently as possible, but this particular installment offers extra strategic advantages that result in a more satisfying experience.
When playing a multiplayer Tetris game, you want to go for the fabled “Tetris;” you want to eliminate four rows of tetrominos at once. While that is a goal here, since each line you clear will send one line of “junk” blocks to the bottom of your foe’s stack, there isn’t that same focus on waiting for the perfect pieces to drop as many lines at once. Rather, Tetris Battle Gaiden focuses on reflexes. You have to be more aware of the battlefield than you are in other multiplayer Tetris matches. Waiting isn’t always as advantageous.
That isn’t to say timing isn’t important. It’s absolutely critical in Tetris Battle Gaiden, which is part of what makes a good match feel so fulfilling. At the top of the screen, between you and your opponent’s fields, is a window showing the next three pieces that will drop. Occasionally, there will be an orb within one of them. Getting that piece, placing it in your field and clearing the line it’s in will give you one point toward using one of your character’s four crystal powers. Ideally, you want to be constantly clearing lines, while also watching what pieces are coming up and placing them to ensure you get as many pieces that will build up your powers as possible, if not all of them. It’s an element of strategy and multitasking that’s often absent in other competitive puzzle games.
Especially since you also need to be aware of what power to use and when. Each character’s skills have multiple functions. Every character’s initial ability, which needs one crystal, will improve their own position. It’ll remove some lines from the field. The second, which needs two, messes with the enemy’s screen. The third and fourth do massive damage, adding lines to the opposition’s field and generally screwing up absolutely everything for them. You have to know when it is and isn’t the right time to use these abilities, especially since using a power causes whatever blocks you had to be discarded. You could use these skills to genuinely improve your status or ruin your opponent’s moment, or to discard current pieces to make sure orbs are going to the right place. By which I mean, you.
Since each character’s abilities are slightly different and there are ten available, it’s possible to experiment and find a character and strategy that works with you. Every one is slightly different, with his or her own advantage. Halloween requires you to really watch your enemy, so you know if you need to steal their orbs and keep them from using spells. The same goes for Aladdin, who can copy his enemy’s screen. Mirurun, on the other hand, is a more general character that works well with any tactic, due to abilities that quickly fill the opposition’s screen or lower rows on your own. There’s going to be someone who’ll work for you, if you’re willing to take the time to experiment and try different people.
This focus on speed, multitasking and proper power deployment also results in a more level playing field. Tetris has always been a game where people with excellent spatial awareness have an edge. If you can visualize proper piece placement and have the patience to stick it out without panicking, you can excel. With Tetris Battle Gaiden allowing people to succeed by speedily placing parts to steal crystals, it’s possible for people who wouldn’t normally be the best at Tetris to find a good groove and win.
In general, Tetris Battle Gaiden is a very balanced game. It’s executed in such a way that any player can find an advantage. The way in which junk rows are added and powers can be used means people of any skill level can find something to enjoy. Anyone who plays the game has a chance of winning, which makes this Super Famicom game even more exceptional.