By now it's probably pretty well known that Giant Bomb enjoys a match or twelve of Tetris Battle Gaiden, with various videos and discussions on the site devoted to its loopy lunatic brand of rival-baiting fun. It was during one of these videos (I forget which) that there was mention of another game (I forget who mentioned it) called SD Gundam Power Formation Puzzle. If memory serves, it was called out in the chat as something the crew might wanna look at next time they stream their SNES antics.
Well, I'm here to say I don't really think that's a good idea. And it's not because I don't like the game; I've only had it a few days and I think it's really cool and interesting. But it just doesn't have the immediate pick-up-and-play mechanics that would make great viewing for a casual audience.
The underlying beauty of watching the guys play Tetris Battle Gaiden is that everyone knows how to play Tetris, so all you've gotta do is drizzle some barmy power-ups all over it and you've yourself got a crowd pleaser. But SD Gundam Power Formation Puzzle is not Tetris. In fact, the base gameplay is so counterintuitive to what you know about falling block games that you might find it difficult to deprogram yourself straight away.
After hearing about it on the site, I looked up footage of the game being played. It appeared to be a straightforward, head-to-head SNES puzzle game. I watched for a while, and it seemed that the person playing was putting blocks in places that made no sense. Occasionally they'd match four blocks, and those blocks would explode and disappear from the board. But more often than not the blocks were piling up in an unchecked way I just couldn't understand. I just put this down to the player being rubbish at the game, and an annotation by the video's creator backed this notion up.
And that was all the research I did before paying someone in the Magical Land of Japan to send me a nice boxed copy of the game for my collection. I mean, it's a SNES puzzle game - what more convincing did I need? I got the game, slapped the cart in and pressed Start. So far, so good! Of course, the instruction booklet was Japanese (and my high school studies sure weren't gonna cover all the kanji) but I wasn't going to need any guidance. After all, this was just a Match 4 puzzle game...
WRONG. SO GUNDAM WRONG.
SD Gundam PFP wants you to do many things, but matching four blocks is something you actively want to avoid, at least for the most part. At first I thought I was owning the CPU player, making blocks match and disappear all over the place. But then I realised that the central meters were health bars and, every time I eliminated block groups, my meter was going down. Eventually it ran out. I had lost, and my opponent's meter had barely moved. It was time to consult the internet.
Without trying to turn this blog post into a guide, here are the basics:
- Blocks come in four colours: blue, green, red and yellow. Like Tetris Battle Gaiden, blocks are drawn from single shared chute.
- Lining up four or more of the same colour (horizontally, vertically or diagonally) or having four or more of the same colour touching in some way will cause them to explode and disappear. This will harm you.
- Similarly, if you have one of each of the four colours touching in a group, all of those blocks will explode and disappear. This also harms you.
- You're trying to make complete horizontal lines that don't disappear until you tell them to, and those lines are converted into Mobile Suits - these are one way you can attack your opponent.
- Depending on which button you press, Mobile Suits are either launched immediately or stored (up to five) to be launched at your discretion later on.
- The more lines that go into creating a Mobile Suit, the stronger it is. If Suits from either side are launched at the same time, the stronger one will win and carry on to its attack with its health depleted from the encounter. The side that launched the losing Suit in that scenario can then launch another to prevent the opposing Suit from completing its attack.
- Filling your board with blocks won't kill you. Instead, columns are pushed down as you place new blocks on top of them.
And that's pretty much it. That alone would probably serve up more strategy than you're used to from a run-of-the-mill puzzle game. But SD Gundam PFP doesn't stop there! Because Japan, there's a whole extra layer of shit to consider, namely in the form of Power blocks.
Lining up four Power blocks (black with a green P) will unleash a special ability. Just what this is depends on which column the last Power block of the group was placed in, with each of the board's six columns having various effects. On top of this, what each column does changes according to what team you pick to play with. Man, even after I've typed all of this out, I'm still not entirely sure I've got everything correct. Probably not.
Maybe it'll change the longer I play it, but right now even getting through one match against the CPU requires way more concentration than a game of Tetris Battle Gaiden. I'm sure my freshly-minted wife is sick of me swearing at our television after I've lost my focus for a second, resulting in a string of misplaced, self-harming blocks that decimate my health before my opponent finishes me off with a well timed Mobile Suit barrage or special ability. Bouts can also last a lot longer than something like Tetris Battle Gaiden, with a lot of back and forth battles between launched Suits, and the potential to heal yourself with specifically placed P blocks.
So, if you liked Tetris Battle Gaiden… I honestly can't tell if you'll also like SD Gundam Power Formation Puzzle or not. For what it's worth, as taxing as I may have made the whole affair sound, I'm really enjoying playing it. Like, a lot. Maybe it's because it's a different take on the falling block thing, or maybe it's just because I like having cool robots injected into my falling block games. Whatever the reason, I'm glad I bought the cartridge. Now I've just gotta get my puzzle-loving wife* to give it a chance.
*My wife is the fucking queen of Columns, which is a phenomenon deserving of its own blog entry.