Review: Tetris 99 (Switch)

Tetris meets battle royale and the result is peanut butter and jelly.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 09/10/2019 20:45 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
Editor's Choice
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
The battle royale genre meshes incredibly well with one of the oldest, most classic puzzle games in the business; solid mix of offline and online content; themes add some nice visual variety to the proceedings
Poison Mushroom for...
The UI can get overly cluttered at times when a bunch of attacks are going on; more music would be a plus

Tetris 99 has been out since February of this year, and in the months that have followed its launch, the game has gotten a number of notable content drops. First was the Big Block DLC which added offline play to the game. The second, version 2.0 of Tetris 99, went live just a couple of days ago and has added even more modes. While Tetris 99 was solid from the outset, what it has transformed into is even better. Let’s look under the hood at what makes Tetris 99 tick.

“Battle royale” has rapidly become one of the most popular genres of video game in the business. Its roots arguably stretch back pretty far, all the way to the frantic multiplayer matches of series like Bomberman. In a nutshell, battle royale games are where players must scrounge for resources to be the “last man standing.” The genre really started becoming a force with the arrivals of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite. There’s something alluring about the chance to take on a large assemblage of other people and strive to be the one who comes out on top. It’s this undeniable appeal that has turned battle royales into some of the biggest money makers in the entire industry.

That Tetris would suddenly play host to a battle royale-styled experience was an utter surprise to most. Fascinatingly, the game technically doesn’t require anything more than a subscription to Nintendo Switch Online in order to be played. Subscribers can download the title free of charge, but for those willing to pay a little bit more, they can download the aforementioned Big Block DLC offline modes. Whether paying or not, Tetris 99 is a wonderful competitive multiplayer title.

Every match sees the player face off against 99 other living, breathing human beings. The gameplay is mostly traditional Tetris, with Tetrominos falling from the sky arranged by the player to form lines that disappear. However, where Tetris 99 differs is in its unique targeting system. There are four target types to choose from:

  1. K.O.s targets players close to being eliminated from the match
  2. Attackers targets those who are bombarding the player
  3. Badges targets players who have accumulated the most K.O.s in the match
  4. Randoms targets players without rhyme or reason

The brilliance of this setup is that it keeps the gameplay balanced. No one opponent can be singled out for too long, meaning players must employ a little more strategy beyond simply dog-piling whomever they think is the weakest link. With a mere flick of the right analogue stick players can set their flow of garbage blocks to one of the four target types and let the computer handle the rest. This means that while opponents are an ever-present threat, players are still able to give the focus that’s needed to successfully manage Tetrominos and win. If there’s one flaw to this setup, it’s that the screen can become overwhelmed with targeting lines and flashes of light as attacks are executed, but it rarely interrupts the gameplay.

There’s one thing to keep in mind for those who might be doubting Tetris as a multiplayer title: Tetris 99 is genuinely tough! Playing 99 other people simultaneously really hammers home how much skill it takes to come out victorious. I’ve been playing Tetris my whole life back to the NES iteration and I’m reminded every time I load up the game that I’m a very small fish in a very large pond. Yet, the reason that Tetris 99 works as well as it does is that it never feels hopeless. From match to match, it always comes across as though players have a shot to win. This isn’t necessarily the case in other battle royale titles where the competition isn’t necessarily fiercer, but is more chaotic.

Tetris 99’s offline modes are a blessing because it means that, even without an internet connection, players can continue to partake in the joys it has to offer. Whether engaging in local play with friends or tackling the computer, the experience is still very engaging. Admittedly, Tetris 99 is at its best online against almost 100 other people, but the core concept and gameplay loop is so sound that it continues to work offline. It’s just a little muted by comparison.

The ability to customize in Tetris 99 is a much-appreciated addition. I’ve been of the opinion that Tetris can sometimes be too plain and regimented in its presentation. I mentioned the NES version of Tetris from back in the day and one of the aspects of it I really liked was the beautiful color combinations that each level of the game offered. Now, Tetrominos are always the same old colors every time. Well, that’s not always the case thanks to the themes that can be unlocked. From Fire Emblem to Splatoon, Tetris 99 feels a lot like Tetris DS with its uncanny Nintendo fan service.

With online tournaments to partake in, new modes like Tetris Invictus where only the elite can compete, and a thriving community of fans logging in every day to play, Tetris 99 might very well represent the pinnacle of the series. It would be nice to have a better variety of tunes to listen to (although themes help alleviate this problem), and the issues with the UI can occasionally make it slightly hard to see what’s happening on-screen, but overall any Switch owner should consider giving Tetris 99 a whirl. This is brilliant game design that deserves the acclaim that has been lavished on it up to this point.

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