With everybody jumping on the battle royale bandwagon, Tetris being the latest contender might sound like a joke at first. But in reality it’s ingenious, giving the genre a much needed spin away from shooting, loot drops, or hiding in bushes, while also introducing a wider audience to the brutal brilliance of competitive Tetris, especially for those who had missed out on the excellent but pricey puzzle mash-up of Puyo Puyo Tetris. Tetris 99 is at once the most accessible and the purest battle royale, in that everyone knows how to play Tetris, yet in these matches against 98 other players, you will only survive on your skills alone.
After all, developer Arika is also behind an arcade series of Tetris subtitled The Grand Master, which as the name suggests, is dedicated to the highest-level of Tetris play where pieces can fall at instantaneous speed. That alone should tell you that Tetris 99 is far from the open casual experience it would lead you to believe, with not even a tutorial or any explanations in the bare-bones package other than some basics stats and the game itself.
For newcomers, Tetris 99 has all the mechanics of the drop-puzzler’s modern iteration – including the ability to hard-drop, hold a piece in reserve, or spin blocks into seemingly impossible configurations. Competitively, it’s all about clearing as many multiple lines as you can in order to send garbage over to other opponents in forcing them to top out, which will in turn award you with badges to increase your garbage-generating power. All the while, the game speed increases, which a souped-up electronic version of the original theme music brilliantly matches before changing into a frantic tune when/if you break into the last 10.
It’s a surprisingly busy game, not least because besides building your set-ups, you can also keep an eye on all 98 other players whose mini versions of their screens are displayed on either side of you in real-time, so you can tell who’s close to K.O., who’s targeting you, and more importantly how you can also target them back with a flick of a stick.
That’s essentially all there is to it, yet it couldn’t be a greater showcase for the Nintendo Switch Online service, where match-ups are instantaneous and lag-free. Like other Nintendo multiplayer games where a fun match need only ever go on for two or three minutes, these also aren’t long drawn out affairs with a lot of downtime. Each match is a snappy and fast-paced affair, which all the more compels you for one more go to drop harder, better, faster, stronger. It may be the most stressful game of Tetris you’ve ever played, but once the rhythms and the techniques take hold, this is a revolution of both Tetris and battle royale that no one saw coming.
A brutally singular and unexpectedly brilliant subversion of what you know about Tetris and battle royale, if you’re a Switch Online subscriber, you absolutely need to download it.