I can’t review Tetris 99. I mean, what would be the point? No matter what version you have of Tetris it is almost a guaranteed ten out of ten for one of the best designed video games on the planet. I can, however, tell you how Tetris 99 instantly makes Nintendo Online a purchase for those still on the fence.
Of all of the myriad of announcements during the Nintendo Direct yesterday I did not expect myself to be excited by Tetris. Don’t get me wrong, I love Tetris, but it isn’t exactly exciting stuff for a new version to come out–especially since I already own the fantastic Puyo Puyo Tetris on Switch.
What I couldn’t have possibly expected from Nintendo, without having an uncle working there, is a Battle Royale Tetris game.
Now of course many people have already made jokes about the fact there is a proliferation of the popular game type releasing nowadays, and they found it even more funny that Tetris was getting in on the action. There is a very simple reason why Battle Royale games are huge right now–they can be incredibly fun. Whether you are inherently competitive or not (I’m typically not), there is something to the idea of being tossed in with 99 other people and proving your worth in any game type. Each time you get a little closer to victory you think to yourself, ‘I could do better.’.
Fortnite is obvious the best example of this and they leverage that constant sense of progression, that constant press of “one more game”, and they turn it into an addictive experience. To do this it is imperative that a Battle Royale have low load times, the faster you get back into the action the lower the barrier to re-entry and the more likely you will have time for that “one more game”.
Now apply all of this to one of the most well loved games of all time–a game so addictive that it has its very own psychological term called the Tetris Effect–and you have a recipe for a winning experience.
Tetris 99 is a very simple game. There are no real bells and whistles, there is no single player experience, and you can’t play against anyone locally. Instead this is an online only game in which you and 98 other people link up to see who is the best at droppin’ dem blocks. Loading into a match is incredibly quick, I never found myself waiting more than 30 to 45 seconds before a new one began. You’ll stack blocks to form even lines, each time you complete a line you’ll get points and destroying enough lines at once lets you send a whole mess of blocks to a competitor’s screen. Get a few Tetris (Tetri?) in a row and you can bury someone easily.
During the game there is some slight strategy involved in which you can focus on others randomly, focus on people who are currently attacking you, go for badges, or pile on the woeful individuals that are near to being KO’d. These tactics only take you so far though, and you’ll have to be level headed and quick in order to make it to the top 30 of the pack.
One of the best parts of Tetris is the constant increase in skill one naturally finds while playing. There is no barrier to entry, we’ve been playing a version of this game since we were toddlers–you simply put the matching block in the corresponding space. Simple. As you continue to play you’ll find time melting away as the patterns of which block go where become more intertwined with your thought patterns, eventually reaching a place where you are moving on pure skill and instinct.
This works perfectly with the Battle Royale formula, as you find yourself always feeling like you could do one spot better. It is utterly thrilling in a way I’ve seldom found in games facing off against 98 other Tetris players, and there is a unique tension in the design of the game as the music speeds up and you find yourself moving slowly up the leaderboards.
I didn’t expect to play Tetris 99 for two and a half hours last night, but it is just that dang good.
Even better? It is free right now if you have a subscription to Nintendo Online. While the mobile app is garbage, there is a steady increase of NES games you can play online with others or alone on the go with your Switch that makes the subscription service already worth the low cost of $20 per year in the US.
The real value to Nintendo Online now? Having exclusive access to Tetris 99 and being able to prove you have what it takes to hang with the best, even while learning the ropes yourself. Do yourself a favor and play this game, whether you love Tetris or you’ve never touched it before I can’t imagine many people not enjoying it.