About a week ago, Nintendo dropped a pretty awesome bombshell on us when they revealed Tetris 99 for Nintendo Switch to play free on their service. Like pretty much everyone else reviewing this game, the first thought on our mind was “oh, they made a battle royale version of Tetris.” Which isn’t a bad idea, it’s actually a cool concept on the surface. But considering this is the first official “just Tetris” game to be released on a Nintendo console since Tetris Party for the Wii in 2008, there’s a lot of expectations for a game that used to be home only to Nintendo. So how does this one measure up? We literally downloaded it while traveling through Montreal at 3am to find out.
Tetris 99 is exactly what you think it is on the surface: it’s Tetris. There are no weird variations to the core gameplay, it’s still you playing on a 10-square surface with seven shapes of four blocks each. You rotate with the A and B buttons, throw a Hold piece off to the side with the Left bumper, drop things quickly by hitting Up, and you can still maneuver the T-shape with Tetris Spins if you’re fast enough. This was an instant relief as there are too many variations on the game out there that just abandon what the core gameplay is. And for myself having mastered Tetris Effect a few months prior, I felt right at home here playing something familiar and traditional.
Now, here’s where things get funky. The 99 in Tetris 99 comes from the fact that you’re facing off against 98 other opponents live on Nintendo Switch Online. You can see all of their screens simultaneous to yours with 49 on each side. This gives you an idea of who else is still in the game and what their status is. The second benefit is that it shows you who is attacking you. Like any four-player game in modern Tetris, when you delete lines, some of them go over to other players and theirs go to you. The benefit is that you can see exactly where the open line will appear, as well as how many lines you’re doomed to take along the left side, as you can see below. This can help you stay ahead of the game, but if you’re in a bad spot, it’s basically an alert to let you know you’ll be out of the game soon.
One of the truly evil parts to the game are the targeting options at the top of your playing space. Using the right stick, you can somewhat select who you send lines to. Randoms is exactly that, it will randomly target people. Attackers will send lines back to those who are going after you. K.O.’s will target people who are on the verge of being taken out as determined by the game. And finally, Badges will be sent to people who are earning badges in the game for their accomplishments. As you gain badges as you help K.O. people, and if you manage to get four Badges, your attack power doubles. So instead of four lines, you can send eight. So getting rid of people with power is just as important. Depending on how you want to play, this can be advantageous toward you getting into the Top 10, but as you go the speed picks up and people catch onto what others are doing. There is no reward without risk, and every choice leaves you open for other kinds of attacks, so choose your tactics wisely.
Overall, Tetris 99 is a badass Tetris game. What few complaints I have are minor and don’t totally impact the game as a whole, but they are enough to be noticeable. It would be nice to have a single-player mode, it would be nice to be able to edit our profile, it would be nice to choose a region, and it would be nice to change some of the visuals of the background and whatnot. That’s really all the issues we have. This is an amazing take on battle royale using a familiar game that any puzzle player would love. And when you score a first place victory over 98 other players, the joy of success is one that will take you back to your childhood. If you have Nintendo Switch Online, this is a must-own! But here’s hoping they add more modes down the line because, after a while, we can see regular Tetris getting monotonous.
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