Tetris Attack is the North American version of Panel de Pon (Paneru de Pon), initially a Japanese game which was one of the founders of the now commonly found "tile swapping" mechanic of puzzle gameplay. The core gameplay consists of a well partially filled with either 5 or 6 distinct types of tiles, depending on the difficulty level. Adjacent tiles may be swapped horizontally with the cursor, and matching three or more tiles vertically or horizontally will result in the tiles clearing after a short delay animation, during which they become immovable. Additional points may be earned with either "combos," which involve clearing more than 3 tiles simultaneously, or "chains," which require that the tiles above a clearing set fall into another clear. During play, the stack of tiles will slowly rise to the top of the screen, though clearing tiles will pause this advance. After a grace period after the stack reaches the top of the well, the game will end.
The version of Panel de Pon included in the Japan-only Nintendo Puzzle Collection has more differences from the original game than any other game included on the disc. The game is essentially the same as Pokémon Puzzle League, as it is a version of the game skinned as "Panel de Pon 64." Thus, it features many of the same things as Pokémon Puzzle League (such as a 3D mode, new characters, updated graphics, and a new four-player mode, which wasn't in Pokémon Puzzle League). Despite these changes, gameplay-wise it is nothing more than an enhanced version of Panel de Pon.
There are 5 major game modes in Tetris Attack. In most modes, a difficulty level may be selected, and in some modes an initial speed may be selected; this may be confusing to new players, but while the difficulty level affects the rate at which death occurs, the number of tile types in play, and the rate at which tiles fall upon finding themselves in mid-air, the initial speed merely controls the speed at which the stack rises.
This mode allows the player to select a difficulty level and speed, and allows nearly limitless play. The name of the mode is misleading, however, as gameplay will necessarily end: either the player will die, or reach 99,999 points, upon which the game will end. Should the player reach this maximum point score, credits will be rolled.
This mode provides a 2 minute length of time in which to earn as many points as possible. The difficulty and speed may be set prior to the game. This mode may be played with either 1 or 2 players.
The Stage Clear mode requires that players clear the stack down to a particular "clear line" to pass each stage, of which there are several per character in the game. In addition, there are certain "boss battles," in which the player must earn points as quickly as possible to reduce the boss's HP level to zero.
This mode involves a collection of designed puzzles, of which there are ten per character in the game, as well as many "special" levels, totaling 120 levels. Each involves a set of tiles that must be cleared completely within the predetermined number of tile swaps.
The VS mode is the only game mode to feature the Garbage mechanic, as well as the only mode which features a computer-controlled AI. In it, each player attempts to stay alive and force the other player to lose first. This may be done by dumping "garbage blocks" upon the other player, by creating either combos or chains. Increasingly large combos will result in larger-width as well as multiple single slabs of garbage to be dropped on the player's opponent, while increasingly large chains will result in thicker single blocks of garbage. Clearing garbage may be done by matching three or more tiles adjacent to the garbage, upon which all the garbage in contact in the stack will flash and begin transforming into normal tiles, starting from the very bottom and progressing to the top of the garbage stack. These tiles, though revealed, are not in play until the entire stack has transformed, upon which it will fall onto the existing stack; this lag time is in turn an excellent time to anticipate and create large combos and chains. However, garbage created with chains consists of single multilayer blocks; these blocks will not completely transform with each attempt - instead, only the bottom layer will become normal tiles, while the rest will transform back into a single block.
In addition, there are special tiles in the VS mode which are gray and marked with exclamation points. These appear only sporadically, and, when matched, create special "steel" garbage blocks to be dropped on the player's opponent. These are unique because they do not clear when in contact with regular clearing garbage - they must be cleared separately. This effectively limits the clearing ability of one's opponent, and is particularly useful when sandwiched between two large segments of regular garbage.
As mentioned above, tiles may be cleared in either "combos" or "chains" for additional points.
Combos are achieved by clearing more than three tiles simultaneously. This can be done either through clever tile manipulation, or by matching tiles to inactive rows as they appear on screen. A more advanced method, called "garbage chaining," involves matching tiles in play with clearing rows of garbage from above. This is particularly useful for dealing with single blocks of thick garbage.
The scoring details of combos are as follows:
- 4 tiles: 20 points
- 5 tiles: 30 points
- 6 tiles: 50 points
- 7 tiles: 60 points
- 8 tiles: 70 points
- 9 tiles: 80 points
- 10 tiles: 100 points
- 11 tiles: 140 points
- 12 tiles: 170 points
Chains are much more difficult to plan and execute than combos, and are thus worth substantially more points. Tiles must fall from above a clear into another clear to create a chain; once this condition is failed, the chain ends and a new one must be initiated. There are several advanced techniques involving chains, many of which are detailed in Advanced Gameplay Mechanics below. Noteworthy, however, is the fact that Tetris Attack does not in fact recognize chains of longer than 13 - rather than the standard x14 or x15 icon which would be the expected result of further chaining, players are presented with a x? icon and rewarded no points whatsoever for their continued efforts.
Another nuance in the scoring system involving chains, however, is that of "bonuses." When a normal clear is made alongside a chain, that clear is awarded the same number of points as the current chain clear, instead of the standard clear amount. Thus, a standard strategy when trying to score points quickly is to quickly build out to a x13 chain, then instantly initiating as many standard three tile clears on the side as possible to maximize the number of points earned on the chain.
The scoring details of chains are as follows:
- x2 chain: 50 points
- x3 chain: 80 points
- x4 chain: 150 points
- x5 chain: 300 points
- x6 chain: 400 points
- x7 chain: 500 points
- x8 chain: 700 points
- x9 chain: 900 points
- x10 chain: 1100 points
- x11 chain: 1300 points
- x12 chain: 1500 points
- x13 chain: 1800 points
- x14 chain: 0 points
Advanced Gameplay Mechanics
Several nuances in Tetris Attack's engine allow for unique techniques while playing Tetris Attack. Since most rules are calculated on a frame-by-frame basis, some of the basic physical rules of the game can be bent - others may be broken. For instance, it is possible for a single tile to very briefly, while in the process of shifting between two columns, support two sets of falling tiles above it, just long enough to register the above tiles as a clear should they be positioned as such. This is particularly useful as a last-resort when attempted to keep chains alive. It is also possible, though vastly more difficult, to swap tiles in midair as they fall, and to swap tiles "through" clear arrangements such as they do not trigger the clear.
Story and Multiple Endings
Tetris Attack's story is rather loose: there appears to be some sort of curse which has befallen all the major characters (who were enemies from Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, but are apparently now friends) except for Yoshi, and Yoshi must therefore battle each character in a VS mode match to free them. Upon freeing Lakitu, Bumpty, Poochy, Flying Wiggler, Froggy, Blargg, Lunge Fish, and Rafael the Raven, the gang continues on to defeat Hookbill the Koopa, Naval Piranha, Kamek, and finally Bowser (in difficulty levels above easy) in the Cave of Darkness to win the day. Upon completion on hard, a code is given to the player to unlock "hardest" mode, and upon completion of hardest mode without dying, another code is given which allows the selection of characters prior to each match rather than only matches in the Cave of Darkness; the point is to choose characters other than Yoshi, as hinted at in the dialogue. Each level of completion involves a different set of dialogue at the end. However, this final step to achieving the VS mode "perfect" ending is rather superfluous, as it is no more difficult than beating the game on hardest without dying without the character selection.