99% of failures comes from those who have a habit of making up excuses.
The best-selling video game concept of all time is back and just as addicting as ever. It’s a testament to the sheer power of Alexey Pajitnov’s creation that it’s not only lasted so long but thrived through the years. You’ll never hear people question whether Tetris holds up well or has aged poorly. It is the perennial game. Simple. Accessible. Captivating. Like a genre unto itself.
And it’s come a long way. From “Soviet Mind Game” to Game Boy sensation, through a billion iterations across multiple platforms, consoles, and mobile app stores, with clones, spin-offs, and rip-offs innumerable, and over 170,000,000 copies sold, now reimagined in the context of the modern Battle Royale trend, Tetris 99 is the latest rendition of the classic puzzle game. It became available for free on the Switch immediately following the February 13th, 2019 Nintendo Direct.
Creator of Tetris and co-owner of The Tetris Company
Tetris 99 is everything you remembered Tetris to be. Multicolored tetrominoes (shapes comprised of four squares each) fall from the sky. There are seven different types of tetromino and your task is to sort them as they fall to create lines along the bottom of the screen, without gaps, causing the lines to clear and preventing the screen from filling up with blocks, which will lead to a game over. The same, right?
Well, perhaps you’ve played Tetris in any of its many competitive editions in the past. You may recall that opponents could send over to your screen some of their own lines once they’ve cleared a couple on their end. Now imagine that happening with 99 random players of various skill levels all at the same time. Rather than chaos, beauty emerges from the collective mental powers of so many brains crying out in agony.
In Tetris 99, your cleared lines are sent over to other players when you clear at least 2 or more at a time, so a double, triple, or “tetris” (clearing four lines at once), and you’ll have to be quick. You can have a ton of lines sent over. Half of your well filling up at once can demolish your carefully laid plans. These are two things I never thought would go together, not nearly so well, but the scale of this Tetris is the joy of Battle Royale.
Now, being a sulky thirty-something rapidly becoming a relic to marketing demographics means that I’m automatically skeptical of anything new that I deem “these kids” are getting into, including Battle Royale. I know that games like Fortnite and Apex Legends simply aren’t for me. And that’s ok, as long as I don’t go out of my way to insult someone who likes those games. Contrariwise, I am still free to criticize things, provided I have some basis for an informed opinion. Tetris 99, I think, represents my first foray into the Battle Royale field with its huge last-man-standing skirmishes. It just so happens to be a Battle Royale that features one of the best games ever made.
Only one can win. Will it be you?
I am not a fan of Tetris games where the blocks change colors (I’m frowning at you, Tetris & Dr. Mario). How disorienting! Speaking of… the less visual distractions the better when it comes to Tetris, which was why its most rudimentary forms were the most successful, in part.
Tetris 99 has some elements of visual distraction but it’s easy enough to focus on your own matrix and your own tetrominoes, thank you very much. So we’re talking high utility, though the cost of that is a background that’s not very interesting. It’s dull, in fact. I didn’t play the recent Tetris Effect for suspicion of its flashiness, but here with Tetris 99 there’s little need to worry about that. It’s clear that this Tetris is about promoting the core concept, which it does effectively.
Sometimes, simplest is best. We’ve all heard the Tetris “A-Type” theme. It has frolicked in our daydreams, our reveries, and our anxiety-filled nightmares a thousand times over for decades now. Its one of the most recognizable pieces of video game music ever, iconic, and so it’s not surprising that, firstly, Tetris 99 puts “A-Type” front and center, and secondly, it remixes the classic track for an upbeat techno world. It’s predictable, of course, but why fix what ain’t broken.
Where the audio design really shines is (and you’ll know this if you’ve played it) when you’re halfway there and only 50 players are left. The music hits overdrive and the climactic final battle to the number 1 spot is truly on. The adrenaline rush is off the hook.
What I really like about this one is there aren’t a ton of bells and whistles, it’s really just the core game but played with so many random players. There are no color swaps, no fancy glowing pieces, no invisible or underwater modes, no 3D perspectives, no mascots, no puyos or bobbles or pills in sight, not even a two-player mode. It’s just Tetris. Clean. Sharp. Enthralling. Still as tough to put down as it is to master.
Only hard drop (which you can turn off) and holding an extra block with your shoulder button are here for a little extra flavor, but those features are hardly new. There is a level up system based on the experience points you gain when completing matches; something a little extra to show off how much you’ve played.
Online Play: 9/10
One could wish that you could set it up to play your friends, or that it included local multiplayer, for that matter, or featured a host of interesting modes of play, but that’s all been done before with varying success. If you want those things, it’s easy enough to seek out a version of Tetris that is built around them.
Tetris 99 isn’t designed to be the ultimate, all-inclusive version of Tetris. It is designed to be a Battle Royale Tetris game. And it does this exceptionally. My average wait time for setting up a match and pairing with other players has been between 10-20 seconds, short enough to make it even harder to put the game down. Rematching or leaving a match after losing without having to watch everyone else makes the gameplay quick.
This title is ideal for the Switch. Equipped with the hybrid console, you can throw-down with 98 other players on Tetris anywhere. Only a Switch Online subscription and that WIFI will be necessary.
It’s Tetris. This game concept would never have become so widely popular had it not been accessible to people of all sorts. It is one of the most accessible games out there, playing upon the human yearning for order.
The game does give you a ghost tetromino at the bottom of your well to show you where a piece will drop, and you can see the next 6 tetrominoes coming up next in the upper right. You can also spin a tetromino many times before it’ll lock in place, making those technical drops much easier.
There’s no filter that you can tinker with to account for matching up player skill, so the game with set up all matches for you. I’ve yet to reach the triumphal #1 over all other 98 players in a match… It can be quite difficult. I can typically reach the 11th or 10th spot, and I reached the 9th spot exactly once, but not further. Not yet! I’ve been playing Tetris for as long as I can remember, and this one is just as challenging as ever, especially when the pace starts ramping up when there are only a two dozen remaining players or so.
C’mon. Can’t I rate this 11/10? How many times have we played Tetris? How many billions of Tetris games are there out there? And yet, here we are and here we’ll stay if we don’t keep an eye on the clock… You can sink hours into this thing without a second thought.
My Personal Grade: 9/10
Even with all that’s out right now, I still had to spend time playing Tetris. It seemed like everybody else did, too. Because even with all the HD graphics, the open worlds, the FPS’s, and MMO’s, when a new version of this genius game comes out and creates mass hysterical delight, you play it. Tetris 99 beckons like a sea calls to its sailors, before burying them. It’s powerful, challenging, addicting, everything essential to fun.
Tetris is the Holy Grail, the Sword in the Stone, the Fount of Eternal Youth, the One Ring all wrapped up in the same old package that never shows its age. I’ve held for a while now that Tetris is a perfect game, in its cleanest forms, of course. Tetris 99 is singularly designed for the Battle Royale trend, and in taking on this new mantle, it adds complexities that may not be completely necessary or may distract from its nexus, but this is one version of the classic that both does something new without sacrificing the incorruptible. Did I mention it’s free?
99 players. Only one can emerge the victor. Are you a bad enough block dropper to drop the blocks?
Aggregated Score: 9.3
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