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Tetris 99 (Switch) Review

by Matthew Zawodniak - February 23, 2019, 3:13 pm PST
Total comments: 3

Not Scored

Cutthroat falling-block puzzles.

When Tetris 99 was announced in a Nintendo Direct, it seemed like a joke. A “Tetris battle royale” was one of the weirder things announced at the presentation, but the fact that it was available for free only a couple hours later did a lot to quickly change its reputation; it went from a strange joke of a concept to a surprisingly solid entry into the battle royale genre. Tetris 99 is addicting and fun, but surprisingly, it also has a competitive metagame that players can learn and take advantage of to best the other 98 players in their match.

Tetris has always been one of my favorite puzzle games. This entry has all the mechanics of a modern multiplayer Tetris. Clearing single lines to keep your screen clear isn’t enough; the only way to send garbage blocks to attack another player is by clearing multiple lines at a time, building combos of consecutive line clears, or by pulling off a “T-spin” by rotating the purple T-block in place to fill an empty spot on your board. The bigger your combo is, the more garbage blocks get sent to your opponent. These rules have been around as long as multiplayer Tetris has, but the really interesting part is the combination of a badge system and the option to choose your target.

Every time you defeat a player, you gain a piece of a badge. Badges are like loot drops in traditional battle royales; they increase your strength by adding a multiplier to the amount of garbage blocks you’ll send to opponents. When you defeat a player who already has badges you’ll also gain every badge that they had before their death. This leads to a big risk versus reward question on who to target. Players with a lot of badges are more difficult to defeat since their multiplier also counts against your attacks. If you do manage to pull off a win against them, you’ll be in a much stronger position against the other players.

Eventually I found myself developing strategies that were very similar to the ones I would use in other battle royales like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Apex Legends. I could play aggressively from the start to build up my own power and also paint a target on my back for other players - just like dropping to a hot zone at the beginning of a match in Apex. Alternatively, I could hang back just focusing on surviving, while the other players whittled each other down at the cost of having a lower badge count in the endgame - just like holing up in the middle of the circle and waiting for the final few players in PUBG.

Despite its surprisingly deep and engaging gameplay, Tetris 99 is lacking quite a bit in features. The only mode available is the traditional battle royale. You can’t play with friends - even as opponents. You can only queue into a game with 98 other strangers and play solo against them. Additionally there’s no tutorial or training mode whatsoever. 99 does absolutely nothing to explain its mechanics to you - you simply have to figure them out on your own or look up how to play online. Even the options menu is underwhelming; I would’ve liked to remap my controls to something a bit more comfortable, but the only control setting available is to switch which analog stick you use to target other players.

Although Tetris 99 was likely conceived as a joke at the start, the badge mechanic helped it develop into a proper battle royale experience boiled down to its most basic core elements. The feature set is sadly lacking, but data miners that dug deep into the game’s code found evidence of new modes - team play and a traditional marathon mode - waiting to be added in the future. We’ll likely revisit Tetris 99 sometime later when these features get added, but for now I’d still recommend downloading it and giving it a try. “Free” is a pretty tough price to beat, and given how many hours I’ve already sunk into the world’s weirdest battle royale, I can still say there’s a lot of fun to be had in what little Tetris 99 has to offer.

Summary

Pros
  • Surprisingly legit battle royale gameplay
  • Tetris is as great as it’s ever been
Cons
  • Lacking in game modes
  • No tutorial of any kind

Talkback

Darth AsterixFebruary 23, 2019

("Ruin" is far too strong a word; I still play the game and still enjoy it.)

That it follows the same ruleset as PPT as opposed to TGM ruins this game for me. Not having a sonic drop when you're used to that being a thing is unspeakably irritating. I would trade the hold piece for having a sonic drop in a heartbeat.

SheckyFebruary 23, 2019

I do not get the mechanics of badges at all.  I manage to get my best scores with 0 badges, including 2nd place.

KDR_11kFebruary 24, 2019

You get +25% garbage generation for every fully upgraded badge, it looks like each badge slot requires more badges than the last to fill.

SRS rules are mandated by the Tetris Company. TGM's ARS is not standard anymore and likely wouldn't be allowed to be in a new Tetris game.

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Game Profile

Genre Puzzle
Developer Arika
Players1

Worldwide Releases

na: Tetris 99
Release Feb 13, 2019
RatingEveryone

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