One of the wonderful aspects of the modern-day video game era is this: stealth launching games. There are hundreds of games released every day, some better than others of course, but some gems seem to come out of nowhere and shine brighter than ever thought possible. EA and Respawn showed the power of quick launches when Apex Legends launched early last week and has since blown up to be a juggernaut in the Battle Royale genre. Then Nintendo went and had a Direct and launched a new game to enter the biggest genre in games, Tetris 99 – a Tetris battle royale game.
If you don’t know what Tetris 99 is, here’s a basic overview. You play against 98 other players in Tetris trying to outplay and outlast until you win and become the last player standing. Clear rows of blocks to send junk over to random players (you have some basic control over who you want to attack) while they do the same to you. Pretty simple concept overall, but one that is a unique and incredibly fun take on the genre.
Look, this is a smart play from Nintendo. The company isn’t known to venture into violent genres. Even when the company does, they look for a new twist. Take Splatoon for example, a third-person shooter where you shoot colored-ink instead of bullets. Not only was the company able to create a third-person shooter for their portfolio, they arguably filled a hole in the genre, something for kids/teenagers. Splatoon is a series filled with color (literally) and character that it’s hard not to fall in love with it.
So that leads me back to Tetris 99. What other property could Nintendo have done a Battle Royale with (other than Splatoon)? The company doesn’t own the IP, but they were able to get the best usage out of it this side of Tetris Effect.
Let’s just be frank here, why is this Tetris battle royale the best Battle Royale game? Well, because Tetris is a perfect game.
Yes, I said perfect.
That’s not a new take; it’s one that is pretty easy to agree upon. Tetris doesn’t need a story, it doesn’t need a gritty-reboot, and it doesn’t need flashy names posted in the credits. The core gameplay loop of Tetris has always been satisfying. It’s all about making your score higher. Over time you learn how to make that score bigger by utilizing combos. You learn to pay attention to what pieces are coming next, what piece you have stored, and how you can position each block on to the next. It’s easy to fall into a zen-like state when playing.
That’s part of the reason why Tetris 99 is so good, and good is putting it lightly. Again, the core gameplay is there (still perfect as ever), and the music is fun to listen to. And then you have the added fact you are playing with 98 rivals. It doesn’t matter what they look like, how much money they’ve spent (which as of this writing, there aren’t any microtransactions), or any of that. It’s all about sending blocks down.
Plus, when you lose — or win — it takes around two minutes or less to get into another game. During my few hours with the game (so far) I get sucked into that “one more game” mentality until I realized I’ve played three or four more. Most other Battle Royale games make me go to the main menu, load up a game mode, load, wait, load, and then decide where I want to drop in. The five-plus minute wait time works for Fortnite and Apex Legends, but this Tetris battle royale has me always itching to get into another game since I know I’ll be dropping blocks down in a matter of a few moments. I barely have time to get distracted by a text message or Twitter notification.
Adding 98 other players to the Tetris formula is not only a welcomed decision, but a downright evolution of the gameplay. This isn’t the first time multiplayer was featured in Tetris, so the idea isn’t inherently new, but facing that so many other players is a unique spin on the franchise. Slowly you’ll notice the player count going down. Yes, that intense feeling of being in the top 20, top 10, top 5 is there. My first win almost didn’t happen because of how hard my hands were shaking, let alone the marathon run that happened against my opponent.
Tetris 99 as a total package isn’t perfect. Yes, the gameplay is. But the lack of a basic tutorial will definitely turn people away, especially since it’s intimidating being attacked by 15 other players and not understanding why. I spent far too many games (and somewhat still do) not understanding why I’m being attacked and what I can do about it. Do you know what a T-Spin is? Because knowing what it is and how to execute it will lead to great success. Also, this is a pretty bare-bones release. You can choose between playing or viewing stats. Nintendo needs to add more modes to the game. Take a page out of other Battle Royales and add in Duo, Trio, or Group modes. Why not run weekly/monthly events where you can join a team of 20, 30 or 40 players? How about adding in more single-player content as well? Though we’re starting to stretch into a normal Tetris game at that point.
All of this and the price hasn’t even been mentioned. If you’re a Nintendo Online subscriber, the game is free. Yes, free. Nintendo pulled a Beyonce with Tetris 99 and made it free for 8 million potential people. That’s plenty of people willing to play. If anything, Tetris 99 is the best reason to subscribe to the service, we know there aren’t many reasons yet.
Here we are, in a time when games can release on any day on the calendar with little to no fanfare. We live in a world where Battle Royale is the biggest genre on the block. And we live in a world where Nintendo comes through with a unique spin on not only one of the best series in gaming but a new take on the hottest genre in gaming right now.