Bit Slap: This Ain’t Your Daddy’s Tetris. Unless he was Japanese. Then, yeah, it might have been.

battle gaiden

Welcome to Bit Slap, in which Joe Anderson brings you the latest in gaming news and bon mots.

Last week, I discovered a 16-bit gem with fellow Heave Columnist and Drone Pope Advocate Mike Haverty: Tetris Battle Gaiden. If you think that sounds like a very Japanese Tetris spin-off, you would be correct. However, it is not nearly as Japanese as Tentacle High School Tetris.

Originally released in ’93, Tetris Battle Gaiden never made it the USA. Fortunately, the internet is a thing and after 20 seconds with Google you’ll be able to locate a ROM of the original Japanese version. Since the game isn’t particularly text-rich, the language barrier isn’t much of an issue. Because you’re reading this and therefore a living, breathing person, you’ve played Tetris. You know the drill: get lines, make them disappear, and hope the Tetris god doesn’t punish you for your hubris.

Unlike vanilla Tetris, Gaiden pits you against either a buddy or a calculating and unfeeling robot buddy in a battle to be the last man standing. Tetriminos randomly possess crystals that, when removed with a line, give you a power up that is used to help yourself or hinder your opponent. Power ups can be hoarded—to a maximum of four—for greater effect and are triggered by pressing up on the D-pad.

What the power ups actually do depends on your character. Gaiden boasts 8 characters, each with unique offensive and support abilities. I don’t speak Japanese—with the exception of key phrases from the Mr. Sparkle episode of the Simpsons—so here are some characters and their backstories as I understand them from context clues and wild speculation.

Jackie O’Blastis

Jackie is a pumpkin wizard. Like most pumpkin wizards, his pyromancy skills are renowned and all his special moves involve melting your own blocks or blowing up your opponent’s blocks in frustrating ways. I’ve seen this pumpkin guy

in several other Japanese games (he appears regularly in the Megami Tensei series) and I’m pretty sure this is what Japanese people celebrate instead of Christmas. Naturally, Jackie has entered the Tetris Gaiden to save Japanese Christmas.

Teen Wolf Samurai

This guy wanders town to town looking to test his skills (like a samurai!) by helping high schools win basketball games (like Teen Wolf!)

Roving Band of Street Urchin Youths

This is just a gang of five kids who are dicks. Their level three move involves mugging your opponent of all his or her crystal blocks. Also one of the five always seems to have a nosebleed which in anime/manga usually denotes sexual arousal. So one of them has a constant erection, I guess.

Additionally, you and your opponent share forthcoming blocks. Although a much more subtle mechanic than, say, unleashing a power up that keeps your opponent from rotating blocks, I was impressed with how much this simple concept added a layer of complexity to the competition. For example, if you know your opponent needs that much-coveted line piece to pull off a Tetris, you can keep them from getting it by timing your block placements and ensuring you get to it first.

For those that are interested in emulating older game consoles and playing some titles they may have missed, be warned: old graphics look weird on LCD screens. For the longest time, I couldn’t quite place why so many games from my childhood looked off when I emulated them. In reality, it’s because CRT displays possessed visual artifacts like scan lines and RF signal noise that, when removed, actually makes the game look worse. Fortunately, there are shader packs out there that help capture the original look of playing in a CRT. There isn’t a shader that can reproduce a CRT perfectly but it’s a lot better than keeping an old tube display around just for emulation.