Just days ago, Nintendo surprise-announced Tetris 99 for the Nintendo Switch, which brings the Battle Royale concept to the Tetris universe. Tetris 99 is developed by Arika and published by Nintendo. The game pits you against 98 other Tetris players in a real-time fight to the death.
If you’re a Tetris nut like me, that sounds like a recipe for an amazing game. Best of all, the game is free, although it does require a Nintendo Switch online subscription to play. A subscription costs $20 per year, which is significantly less than pretty much any other competing gaming service.
A few notes on the overall experience outside of the gameplay: As of this writing, the game itself is pretty bare bones. You can view some stats but as far as I can see there are no real leaderboards. You can choose between two pre-programmed control schemes. But there’s no private games for you to set up between you and a limited number of players, nor can you party up and enter a Battle Royale game together with friends. You also can’t play against bots. Early reports have suggested that there will be updates to the game, so hopefully at least some of these options will be added in a future update, but we’ll see.
When you get into the game, it’s basically the Tetris we all know and love. The Tetriminos move the way you’d expect. You have the option to hold a piece to deploy later, plus to see a listing of six future pieces you have coming up.
However, there are some important tweaks to the gameplay you should understand. When you clear lines, you send what’s called garbage lines to other players that are currently still playing. You can use your right thumb stick to target four different types of players with your garbage:
- Random, which distributes your garbage randomly
- KO which distributes your garbage to those that are closest to being knocked out.
- Attackers which distributes your garbage to those that are attacking you
- Badges which distributes your garbage to those with the most kills, or badges
You can also target users by using the left stick and moving your reticle over an individual player on the screen, or if you’re using the Switch as a touchscreen, you can just tap on the player you want to target. I found targeting players individually to be a bit too much to manage, so I just generally went with one of the main four options.
When you KO a player, you get badges for doing so and you also collect any badges that that player had. Each KO gives you a certain percentage of a badge – two KOs gives you one badge, four KOs gives you a second badge, and so on all the way to 16 KOs for the fourth badge. The more badges you have, the more damage you inflict on your opponents.
Speaking of inflicting damage, the bar on the left side of the screen shows you what garbage is being sent your way. The garbage doesn’t appear on your board instantaneously – that’d be pretty overwhelming. Instead, it appears after a certain amount of time. It starts at gray and eventually turns yellow, red, and when it’s on fire, that’s when it’s about to deploy. Any lines you get during this process will go towards clearing the garbage that’s targeted at you.
As the game progresses, you may want to try keeping track of want to switch your targeting to KO the most amount of people, or the people with the most badges, or ideally both. A well placed KO late in the game can give you the badges you need to win the game.
A few other gameplay notes that may help you:
- Certain line clears will get you more garbage lines sent. For instance, a tetris will send four lines, but T-spins in particular sends out a bunch of garbage. A T-spin that results in three lines cleared can send six lines, plus any multiplier badges you may have.
- If you do an all-clear, which means clearing all lines off the board, you send out four garbage lines, plus any multipliers.
- If you are being attacked by many players at once, you get garbage line bonuses for each clear. For two opponents you get one line, and for three or more opponents, you basically get an extra garbage line sent out per player.
I found Tetris 99 to be incredibly addictive and polished. I don’t remember ever experiencing any lag, despite playing with 98 other players on a wireless connection. The classic Tetris gameplay is immensely enjoyable and satisfying. It’s an amazing feeling to KO a bunch of players in a row, or to find yourself in a challenging situation and need to build yourself out of it. Plus, I love the remix of the classic soundtrack, which manages to sound new while still obviously paying homage to its predecessors.
Overall, and I’ve already gotten $20 of value out of it, which is the amount I paid for Nintendo Switch Online for a year. I hope they continue to add to it as time goes on.
If you like the inventiveness of Tetris and you like the Battle Royale, you’re going to love Tetris 99. It’ll remind you why Tetris is so ridiculously addictive in the first place, and why this game is one that continues to stand the test of time.