Tetris 99 is a gorgeous version of the original Tetris puzzle game that has you competing against 99 other players. There are no further modes, bells or whistles, but what’s here is still incredibly addictive and exhilarating. There are a few tweaks to make it a better game than original version, such as you can hold a tetromino for later, and see the next upcoming five or so pieces.
ACTION PUZZLE GAME WITH STRATEGY
For the uninitiated, Tetris has been around since the 80s and it was a pack in game for the original GameBoy back in that era. It is widely considered to be one of the best games of its generation and possibly of all time. It is a near infinite game that drops blocks of different shapes in four cells either squares, lines, zigs, zags or L shapes. Each block falls one at a time and you can rotate them along with shifting their lanes. You then place them to fill up a line on the Tetris board that will eliminate the entire line. Trying to complete lines that are four lines deep is called a Tetris and garners you the most points.
For higher level strategy, you can see the next five blocks coming and hopefully plot a course in your head. You can hold a block for later by pressing the L or R bumpers. Keep in mind that when you take that block out of holding, it will replace it with whatever you currently have falling. You need to place it before you can hold another. It’s helpful to keep straight tetronimos for later. Other than that, you can press down to expedite a block’s descent or you can press up and it will automatically appear at the bottom. To help you out, you’ll always see where the block will land as its falling.
COMPETITIVE MULTIPLAYER, BUT NOT
If you fear playing online competitive games, this feels like you’re playing alone for the most part. You can see all the other game boards in the background. There’s no need to feel intimidated with a loss or head-to-head competition, it’s just you alone. It’s still so easy to pick up and play.
On the surface, this is the same fantastic game its ever been across the past thirty years. The big twist here is for every line you complete and make it disappear off your board, someone else gets one less grey line added to the bottom of their board with a single space missing. So if you score a triple, they get a double line. You can score combos by scoring two lines back-to-back. Clearing a double, then immediately clearing a single counts as a combo and will drop two grey rows on your opponent.
One of the biggest problems of the game is lack of a manual either online or otherwise. Plenty of Switch games have an online manual somewhere included with the game. This missing facet to the game makes it feel like they really kicked it out to the public.
Thanks to playing other versions of Tetris, I know the system. For anyone wondering, a T-spin is when there’s a gap that can fit your piece, but no way into the gap, so you wait until the piece is as far down as it can go, but before it’s settled, you spin it and somehow magically it fits through a gap too narrow to fill a space that would fit the piece exactly.
ALWAYS IN COMPETITION
You are always in direct competition with at least one other person. Using the right analog stick to move the cursor to a different mini board lets you select someone specific. This is useful when you see someone’s board is almost full, you can drop your lines of blocks on them. If you can’t focus on the other boards, there are quick settings to drop your lines on either a random competitor, your attackers, person with the most knockouts or the one with the most badges.
You can see who has put themselves into competition with you and you will see a line drawn from their mini board to yours. If you have a heap of lines attacking you, then it’s easy to just change things by pressing left on the right analog stick to random and suddenly far less people will be attacking you.
In terms of difficulty, it feels utterly random. I’d be #9 one match #71 in the next, only to be #39 afterward. Knowing Nintendo’s affinity to have ghosts of real players, I wonder if I’m actually playing against live human beings that just so happen to be playing Tetris 99 at 9:34 on a Thursday morning. When my Internet disconnects, I’m kicked back to the main menu.
Having skill from playing Tetris for 30 years doesn’t feel like an edge since, others are just as skilled as you and there’s always a speed runner somewhere that can play Tetris blindfolded to completion. Instead it feels like the nicer you play, the lower profile you get so the less amount of people gang up on you. Less attackers means less blocks waiting to get piled beneath you. Someone will always compete against you since you’ll put your competition focus on someone else. Then it’s like a tournament between the two of you. If you get close to being defeated others can gang up on you for that all important knock out. Well it’s unimportant, but people want those knock out stats.
There are plenty of questionable things that happen in Tetris 99. It feels bizarre to get giant rows of grey blocks from a single player, long before anyone has enough blocks to make a single line, let alone several. Other versions of Tetris have included a clear board reward, so that might have something to do with it. I’ve also been targeted by over sixty players at the start of the game and they stayed on me.
A LONE MODE IN A SEA OF PLAYERS
Since Tetris 99 is this lone mode, it is no replacement for the many other versions of Tetris on other consoles. There is no mode B, challenges or even a solo mode. For such a mutliplayer focused game, a two player mode was left out.
GAME OVERS AND LEVELS
At each game over, you can keep keep watching the remaining players play on their mini boards, or you can hope into another match. You can’t really spectate their boards, so much as see a ranking of how well you did. Waiting for a new game to join takes around 90 seconds and it feels like good downtime to rest and regain your sanity.
To keep you in the game longer, your statistics are kept and there’s even a level. The level feels meaningless, but its a good way at a glance to tell how long someone has been playing. Your level is marked by an icon that at a game over when people see a listing of participants, they see the level icon next to a player’s name. It’s a nice touch.
SWITCH ONLINE’S BEST GAME
For a free game thrown into Switch Online, this is fantastic. It’s super simple and yet so addictive. It wasn’t just the killer app for the GameBoy, but it’s the reason I play my Switch on the go.