by Tanner Kinney
Even a person who has never played a video game before has heard of Tetris. The player is tasked to line up falling blocks in a horizontal row, and once a row is cleared, they get points. The goal of older Tetris games is simply to survive while getting as many points as possible, but newer entries all try to put their own spin on Tetris. At the end of the day though, Tetris is Tetris, and can’t help feeling a little stale even with new mechanics. The game has literally been released on every single game console, even the freaking Philips CD-i had Tetris (complete with an unironically good soundtrack). Games like Puyo Puyo Tetris or Tetris Effect add enough bells and whistles to overpower the Tetris-ness of the experience and end up being pretty amazing games as a result. It’s clear that there’s still potential for Tetris to be more than just another puzzle game with falling blocks.
Tetris 99, lovingly dubbed by the gaming community as Tetris: Battle Royale, amps up the survival aspect of the game by making a fully competitive Tetris game, but is missing too much in terms of everything else to make itself more than just another Tetris game.
Line them up and knock them down
The core gameplay of Tetris 99 is very much still Tetris. The player must stack falling blocks to clear lines and survive against 98 other players. The mechanics are unchanged from other Tetris titles: you can still T-spin and create some pretty crazy combos, and the best results typically come from long combos of twos and threes as opposed to getting a Tetris (similar to Puyo Puyo Tetris), but otherwise, it’s Tetris. If you have played any of the games in the series before, you know what to expect in terms of the regular gameplay.
The twist comes in the form of battle royale. As you clear your board, you are competing to attack and defend against 98 other players, who all have their boards appear on the sides of the screen. Through either quick auto-selections through the right analog stick or manual selection through the left analog stick, you can choose what person to specifically target with junk blocks that are created through clearing lines on your own screen. If your junk blocks push your target above the top of their screen, they are out of the game and you get a KO. And of course, if you get pushed over the top, you get KO’d yourself.
This plays on the already offensive and defensive nature of regular competitive Tetris battles on a massive scale, and can lead to some pretty close duels if you and another player stay targeted on each other for a long period of time. In the same vein, it can be pretty stressful to load into a game and instantly have five to ten people targeting you at once, but even that can be fun as you start racking up KO’s quickly by comboing faster and better than all of the people targeting you. As you get down to the final ten players, everything in the game speeds up to ludicrous levels, and it gets even more intense. All of this leads to a gameplay loop that is even more addictive than the average battle royale, as matches and queues are quick, and it’s just Tetris. Tetris is just still plain fun, regardless of how many games have been made with it.
Visually and musically simplistic, but no longer in a charming way
Tetris has always been a relatively simple game visually and musically. The iconic “Type-A” theme is something no Tetris game can escape, even though I was always personally more a fan of “Type-B,” and, of course, a remix of that theme is in this game. It’s also one of the three music tracks this game actually has. The music changes during both the top fifty and top ten portions of the game, and while the tracks are still good, they aren’t anything special. It would be an incredible addition to have some different types of soundtracks to select from in the options menu, rather than the barebones options you do have. In fact, all this game has is the regular game mode, with its one visual style and set of music tracks. It’s serviceable, especially since this game is free-to-play with the Switch Online service, but underwhelming.
Visually, Tetris 99 is just another Tetris game. It has a computerized, digital style to it, but that’s about it. Compared to the variety of visual options in games like Tetris Effect or Puyo Puyo Tetris, it’s amazing how little there is to actually choose from. Even just having a different tileset for the Tetriminos would be nice to have. I imagine, since this is a free-to-play game, microtransactions are likely in the works. Maybe they’ll even have a Fortnite-like “Battle Pass” for the game. I’d love to be able to have a little Tetrimino dancing on someone else’s screen when you KO them.
It sure is Tetris, alright
The biggest problem with Tetris 99 is its lack of options, settings, game modes, music and graphical styles to choose from. It feels like a half-baked experience, regardless of how much fun it is to just play Tetris again in a new way. If they add these things in future updates, the game will feel so much better to play just by having a little bit of customization in it. It’s definitely still worth checking out if you are already paying for Nintendo Switch Online, but it’s not something to go out of your way to play. If you just want Tetris, Puyo Puyo Tetris or Tetris Effect are much more well-rounded modern Tetris experiences. But if you really want to get that Tetris royale, this isn’t a game you’d regret trying out.
Featured Image: Nintendo