Here at Nintendo Times we’re very much accustomed to playing and studying the games that came out 30 years ago. Our Warp Zone section is dedicated to the world of Nintendo 30 years ago today. Of course, we prepare much of our work in advance, so it’s not lost on us that back in 1989 the gaming world was changed forever with the launch of the Game Boy handheld system. It wouldn’t release in America until August of that year, but the pack-in title would revolutionize puzzle games forever. Tetris became a cultural phenomenon and is still going strong today. Even though it’s not a Nintendo property, many gamers who grew up during that time associate it as one, especially since it came with every single Game Boy for the first several years on the market and also because the NES version was a smash hit in its own right. It’s only fitting then, that Nintendo would spin the puzzler on it head and blend the hottest thing in games (Battle Royale) with a beloved classic and come up with the concept that is Tetris 99.
You probably think you’re good at Tetris. I used to be just like you. A good amount of my childhood was spent pouring hours into the Game Boy version of Tetris. I played it so much and even to this day I periodically dust off my old handheld to get my Tetris fix. So you can imagine my surprise when Nintendo shadow-dropped a brand new Tetris experience for Switch Online members. It’s just you against 98 others in a sprint to see who can complete the most lines fastest to knock out the competition in hectic Battle Royale fashion. Just like the original did all those years ago, Tetris 99 immediately hooked me and I haven’t been able to put it down since it released. It has that “just one more try” quality that magically disappears hours from my life.
I know now that I’m not so great at fitting Tetriminos into visually pleasing lines after playing Tetris 99. I lose a lot! I usually get knocked out when about 40 players are still left. But that’s what makes me want to keep playing! I know I can do just a little bit better the next time. And the next. And the cycle continues. Whoever thought this up is a mad genius.
It’s still Tetris at heart. You’re still lining up falling Tetriminos to make lines disappear. I usually play slow and plan my pieces and lines out in my head until I can get a few lines disappear at once, all while the familiar Tetris theme hums along in the background. That’s not the case with Tetris 99. I have to move and think quickly otherwise I’ll be knocked out right away. It’s a classic twist on an old game that makes it feel fresh and easily approachable.
As with many addicting games, there’s more here than meets the eye. On it surface Tetris 99 looks familiar with the standard playfield, the ability to hold a piece and the window showcasing the next few upcoming pieces. What’s new is that there are 98 other windows showing every other players’ status. As the competitors make lines they send garbage lines from their screen to an opponent’s. This is shown live so you always have a birds-eye view of what’s happening. While that’s great, I often found myself too engrossed in my own game to worry about everyone else.
If you’ve played some of the competitive versions of Tetris before, you’ll know that you usually have the option on who to target and send your garbage to. This is still the case here. You can target various groups of players. If you want to play defensively you can select “Attackers” as your target. This means that when you make lines you’ll send them to the players who are currently making your life difficult. This strategy can sometimes work, but it can also lead to a never-ending war of back and forth that you very well might lose. Another tactic is to target “Randoms” and just throw your garbage to anyone. This gives you a low profile and you might squeeze out a higher win.
The other two options are “K.O.s” and “Badges”. If you target the former that means your lines will go to the players who are closest to a game over. This is advantageous to thin out the competition. There’s also the added benefit of possibly being the one to fill their screen and earning you a badge. The more badges you earn, the stronger your garbage is via a multiplier of sorts. That means you’ll be better prepared for the end game. Targeting Badges is a risky way to earn a bunch yourself, if you manage to knock them out of the competition. This makes you stronger, but also puts a huge target on your back. There’s really no limit to the number of people who can target a single user, so you might be shining a big spotlight on yourself if you play too aggressively. I found it best to change up tactics mid-game and to experiment to see what works best.
The game does highlight those who are currently targeting you. You can use the left analog stick to move a cursor and highlight them to send garbage back, but the easier way to do this is if you are playing in handheld mode you can just tap the screen. This does give a slight advantage to those playing off the TV, and I should point out that my preferred way is using the Joy-Con controllers instead of the Pro Controller. That’s because the d-pad on the Pro is too imprecise and can lead to misplaced blocks. I had way better accuracy with the split d-pad on the Joy-Con.
If there’s a negative to be had here it’s that Tetris 99 is currently a one trick pony. There is only the single mode of play with no tutorial and no single player to practice up. Nintendo has already promised special events in the future and the game has been data mined to show more modes are most likely on the way, including team vs. team and a marathon option. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long for these enhancements to show up. Interestingly enough, I did notice that on the splash screen with the copyright information that the game calls out that additional characters and music is owned by Nintendo. This leads me to speculate that perhaps Nintendo could inject some of the modes found in the amazing Tetris DS, which featured Link, Mario, Donkey Kong and more. That would be really cool!
Overall Tetris 99 is an instant hit with plenty of hours of gameplay to be had for puzzle fans. The game plays fantastic online and I never encountered any problems. Getting into a game is usually fairly quick – maybe 30 seconds of waiting tops. The amount of time in each game ranges wildly depending on how lucky you get and how fast you get wiped out. The music is as addictive as ever, and I like the change once you get into the top 50 and then again when you get into the top 10. My heart rate went up significantly each time I managed to crack into the higher places and each time it was thrilling to see how long I could hang on. This is a fantastic free experience for Switch Online owners that shouldn’t be missed. Since Tetris 99 is an evolving piece of software with online updates, our scoring may be adjusted over time as more modes are added.
Tetris 99 Review
- Graphics - 7/107/10
- Sound - 8/108/10
- Gameplay - 10/1010/10
- Lasting Appeal - 9/109/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
Leave it to Nintendo to think of a new way to bring Battle Royale to the masses. Tetris 99 is a perfect mix of approachable gameplay and highly competitive stakes. The game is highly addicting, instantly fun, and a perfect fit for the Switch. The experience is limited with only one game mode, but even so expect to lose hours of your life to it.