Released on: February 13 2019
Available Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Price: Free (With Nintendo Online Subscription, Contains additional purchasable modes)
In recent years, the Battle Royal genre made a big splash with gamers and continues to do so today. While I do enjoy the sparse game of Fortnite, it wasn’t until some mad-person thought, “what if we made a Battle Royal… for Tetris” that the Battle Royale genre got my attention. Thus, Tetris 99 was born. Being in the puzzle game mood, and given that I love Tetris, I thought it would be an opportune time to review Tetris 99. Is this Battle Royal puzzle game all it’s cracked up to be?
Tetris 99 is a Battle Royal Tetris game, where ninety-nine people enter, but only one emerges victorious. My first reaction to its original announcement was, “how’s this going to work?” It turns out, it works well. All players need to get into Tetris 99 is a Nintendo Online subscription, which, if players play other games online, they are already eligible for Tetris 99.
While the visuals work well for Tetris 99, there are better looking Tetris games out there. Players can select what the background will look like and what music will play, but as for the blocks themselves, they look like they always do.
What impresses me the most with Tetris 99 is how well it plays. Being connected with ninety-eight other players, one would think there would be significant latency when playing. In actuality, Tetris 99 handles like it would sans internet connection. When I get into, what I like to call the “Tetris zone,” I tend to forget I’m competing against ninety-eight other people. That is until I get attacked and get a bunch of garbage lines.
For the uninitiated, garbage lines are what the opponent sends to the player when they clear multiple lines at once. In Tetris 99, players can select who they want to attack. The player can choose whether they want to get rid of the player closest to the top, the player with the most K.Os, the one everyone else is targeting, or counter everyone targeting the player. I tend to stick to counter mode, as it sends all garbage lines I clear to everyone that focuses me. Players can also choose precisely who they want to target, but that requires a lot more attention. If the player’s garbage line K.Os an opponent, they will get one badge for the K.O, but also all of that player’s badges too. The more badges the player has, the more garbage they will send to other players. The K.O system adds a lot of strategy and rewards players with situational awareness.
As mentioned earlier, Tetris 99 has a slew of unlockable themes for the player to use during gameplay. There are some generic ones, like space and desert themes, but there are also Nintendo based skins too, like Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, and Splatoon. These offer a fantastic incentive for the player to keep playing.
Tetris 99 has other modes other than the standard Battle Royal. Players get the standard Battle Royal, Team Battle for free, and they have the chance to unlock Invictus, which is the Battle Royal mode for those who came out on top during the Tetris 99 Maximus Cup, a reoccurring event that rewards winners with in-game skins. There are other modes, but those need to be purchased separately. Since there are other Tetris games on Switch (Puyo Puyo Tetris comes to mind), I feel there is little value in these extra purchasable modes.
One issue I do find with Tetris 99 is how shallow the package is as a whole. Sure, there’s achievements that unlock player icons, and there are tickets players can earn to unlock more skins, but at the end of the day, it’s still Tetris. I tend to lose my urge to play when I win a game. Granted, this doesn’t happen all the time, since there are some insanely good players out there. When I do win, I tend to wonder what else I am meant to do in Tetris 99.
I mentioned that the player could earn tickets to unlock skins. Even though to my knowledge, players cannot buy these tickets directly, I feel Tetris 99’s stinginess with these tickets reminds me of most mobile games. With how many tickets players earn, the skins are expensive, especially the Nintendo themed ones.
Since Tetris 99 is a Battle Royal, it is prone to the same issues as a Battle Royal. In Tetris 99’s case, players can be the target of several people at once, meaning they can get bombarded with garbage very quickly. The counter-attack option is the best solution to mitigate this issue, but if the player can’t send their own garbage out fast enough, they can lose very quickly. I do understand that this is part of the nature of Battle Royal games, but it is a frustrating issue nonetheless.
One piece of data I wish Tetris 99 gave to the player is their win percentage. There is a section that displays how many wins the player accrued during their time with Tetris 99, but it doesn’t calculate what percentage that is. In a semi-competitive game like Tetris 99, it’s strange that win percentage is omitted. I can calculate this myself (and have,) but it would be convenient (and more accurate) if Tetris 99 gave this information.
Tetris 99 is my personal Battle Royale game of choice. It has excellent gameplay, and the way it handles a connection to so many other players is noteworthy. When a game goes well, Tetris 99 is a blast. When it goes south, though, Tetris 99 can be frustrating. Despite having unlockable skins, reoccurring events, and extra modes that players can purchase, I find it challenging to enjoy prolonged sessions of Tetris 99. I would recommend Tetris 99 to those who have a Nintendo Online subscription, but it isn’t worth getting a subscription just for Tetris 99. It is a great Battle Royale game best enjoyed in short bursts.