Tetris 99

I was born twenty days before the Game Boy released in the United States. I missed the whole national Tetris craze. Older fans are sickened by the fact that I’d never played the Game Boy Tetris until right before I wrote this sentence. Apparently I’m supposed to be nostalgic for a game that was shat out into the world the same month I was. My first experience with Tetris was a Disney-themed N64 game that was.. alright. It wasn’t no Pokemon Puzzle League, that’s for sure. It wasn’t even a Super Puzzle Fighter. Hell, there was a $10 PS1 drug store budget rack game called Puzzle Star Sweep that nobody remembers or talks about that I put a lot more time into. Probably the best $10 I ever spent on a game before modern indies became a thing.

You can still get Puzzle Star Sweep on PSN for your PlayStation 3, PSP and Vita. It’s the best well-puzzler you’ve never heard of.

I never understood the Tetris obsession. It seemed to come and go like the gaming version of disco. The way people spoke of it, they might as well have been describing events from the bronze age for as far in the distant-past as it seemed. And then when I was seventeen and in the middle of a ten-month, twenty-hour-a-day World of Warcraft bender, I got Tetris DS. It was the sole interruption of probably my worst gaming addiction. Which was sort of like giving a heroine addict methadone, really. It had fun theming (based around Nintendo properties) and I ended up running out my DS’s battery a few dozen times. I’d probably make my DS top 10 if I did such a list. But then Tetris sort of faded away for me. I later got it for PS3, but the thrill was gone. And the recent comeback to relevancy via Tetris Effect meant nothing for me because it’s not epilepsy-compatible. Also, the whole battle royale fad has not been my thing. If Tetris 99 hadn’t been free with my Switch Online subscription, I’d probably never bought it for a variety of reasons. Among them, the special effects are just flashy enough that I can only play it in portable-mode with the back-lighting turned all the way down. It’s not exactly convenient for me. Had I not been insanely bored the night it came out, it might have sat on my Switch, unplayed and unloved.

Here I am, 1,000 games and over seventy-six hours of gameplay later, left in awe. And probably legitimately addicted. My family has, without hyperbole, staged two interventions on my use of this game. Finally, I made a deal with them: let me play my thousandth game, and then I’ll delete it permanently and finish up this review. This review that I’ve been in the process of writing for seventeen days. Really, all I need to say is this: Tetris 99 is the killer app for Switch Online, and the best game on Nintendo Switch. Yep, better than Breath of the Wild or Mario Odyssey. It’s absolutely incredible. And, unlike a lot of battle royale games, you really do need to be good to finish high in the standings. It took me around 60 games to grab my first victory, but when it happened, I literally screamed myself hoarse. It helps that the win came on the heels of the greatest come-from-behind victory in the history of gaming. Well, at least for me.

I won that game. By time I erased Tetris 99 from my Switch, I’d won forty-six more times to go with it. Maybe my love of Tetris 99 has to do with the fact that I’m finally good at one of these fucking BR games. But really, it’s because the idea is just so good. Basically, all 99 players try to throw garbage blocks at each other by stringing together combos while throwing down doubles, triples, and Tetrises. And also doing these things called T-Spins that I never fully got the hang of. Probably the biggest weakness out of the box with Tetris 99 is there’s no instructions and players are left to figure out what exactly everything means on their own. Perhaps this was a nod of the head to those NES era douchebags that never stop bitching about how games back in their days didn’t “hold hands.” Then again, those same players keep coming to me asking how to play the game. Heh.

There really should have been an option to remove the flashy special effects. Not just for epilepsy but because, satisfying as it is to see the shots hit other players, it’s distracting. The same goes for the targets pointed at you. The lines should have been transparent. If a lot of players are on you, you can’t see the bottom of the well.

In a nutshell, Tetris 99 is exactly the same Tetris you grew up with. The seven primary shapes are all back with no newcomers. You move the blocks with the left D-Pad while using the analog sticks to target players to receive whatever garbage blocks you earn. Using the left stick, you can target specific players. But there’s 98 besides yourself and that process will be slow and clunky and should only be used late in the game, if at all. Like, don’t even look at the left-stick until you’ve made at least the top 15. Instead, focus on the right stick. It does a focused-target on one of four groups. Flicking up targets those closest to being knocked out of the game. Flicking left will hit a random person and is only really useful if you’re trying to fly under the radar or trying to shake-off those who are targeting you only because you’re attacking them. Flicking down targets people attacking you. You’ll want to use this one the most if you’re taking a defensive stance. It was my primary play-style. And flicking right will target players who have badges. And my apologies to Blazing Saddles, but you’ll need some stinkin’ badges.

Badges by far seem to confuse players the most. Here’s how they work: you collect a badge every time you knock a player out. If multiple players contributed to knocking the player out, they receive a half-badge. The more badges you have, the stronger your attack power, and the more garbage you send to your opponents. When a player carrying a ton of badges gets knocked out, the player who did it gets all the badges they collected plus one. The badge system was created to assure a player can’t coast under the radar and have any chance at winning during the end-game if they’ve not been aggressive at all. Winning without a single badge, which requires you to win by only knocking out the final player, is the rarest of victories, one that the player would have to be a virtual God among OF COURSE I’VE DONE IT!!

Also, just to be clear: badges do not carry over to the next match. But, I suspect that the auto-targeting at the start of each match might be in part based on how players did in the previous match. Perhaps the top-finishing person of the 99 gets all the targets. Over half my matches I finished in the top 10, and in a remarkably strange amount of matches, I would start with over 20 targets painted on me before the first block dropped. People on my timeline consistently said they’d never experienced anything like the sheer amount of targets I normally got. One time it was fifty-two bullseyes I had painted on me before the first block even started falling. Fifty-two! Usually when people want to throw that much garbage at me, I’m talking about Hollow Knight.

What I love most about Tetris 99 is that this relatively simple setup allows for diverse and complex strategies. You can play aggressively, but risk putting a target on yourself. You can fly under the radar until the herd thins out, but then you risk reaching the end game with no attack power (most of my 2nd – 4th place finishes were a result of this). Tetris was already a game that required quick-wits and improvisation, but Tetris 99 compounds that by having to train yourself to glance over at remaining opponents and quickly, accurately decide how to go about attacking or surviving. Games can swing wildly. I’ve gone from the bottom of my well and in firm control to dead in seconds just by one poorly timed mistake by myself that an opponent on their last rope capitalized on, and vice-versa. Now granted, I have a lot of friends and fans who put a lot of time and hundreds of rounds in Tetris 99 and couldn’t get a win, and I got 47 so I’m pretty proud of myself. But, I should have had a lot more, and I blew it. In 1,000 matches, I probably finished 2nd place over 100 times, easily. I was very much the Jerry West of Tetris 99.

I call this “getting Sarah Huckabeed.”

All is not well in Tetrisville. Besides the fact that the rules and attack patterns are not entirely clear, there some horrific glitches that stunt the game’s potential. One in particular can potentially block valid attacks. I preferred to take a defensive posture when I played, focusing on those attacking me. However, sometimes I’d knock-out players who were targeting me, only their target would remain painted on me for the remainder of the game. When using the “attackers” target, if nobody is attacking you, the game defaults to a random target if you manage to hit anything higher than a double. But, since the game believed I was still being targeted, those combos would go to waste since there wasn’t really a player to attack. This glitch has started happening constantly. Like, one out of every four matches. It forced me to move off my defensive stance and instead target random people, since taking an aggressive stance against badge-holders is a good way to get knocked out early. This glitch has been there from the start and there’s no word of a patch coming. It needs to be fixed. Like, now.

(Can you tell I focused on this just to have a Second Chance with the Chick excuse for Tetris 99 so I can play it more? Too obvious?)

Check the circled player who was KOed in 89th place on the right side of the screen. That target should have gone away. But, because of the glitch, the target stayed. If you don’t realize this is happening, you will waste a LOT of garbage blocks. This glitch is not a rarity. It constantly happens and it needs to be fixed.

Beyond that, my biggest complaint is the lack of advanced stats. Like, I’d really like an official number of how many times I finished in the top 10. I can’t tell you exactly how many games I finished 2nd place in, or how many games I won only holding three badges or whatever amount of badges. I would have liked more advanced stats on my scoring too. I had to do the math myself to figure out how many Tetrises I averaged per a match (I finished averaging eight Tetrises a match, off 73 total lines a match). But it would have been way neat if Tetris 99 told me how many lines I averaged per victory, along with how many doubles/triples/Tetrises I needed to achieve those. Besides seeing some absolutely bat shit videos of people who put my skills to shame, I have no clue where I really stood in the grand scheme of things. My ego could have been boosted (or severely wounded) with some online leaderboards. Or, maybe some extra modes. There’s no single-player options (though data-miners have allegedly found the spot for them), or an option to play “traditional” Tetris without the ability to hold blocks. As I neared the end of my time with Tetris 99, I wanted to see how good I really was at it by not holding blocks while the other 98 players presumably did. I did pretty good. I had one game where I finished 10th and another where I finished 2nd. Hell, now I regret the thousand-games promise. I really wanted to see if I could pull off winning without using the hold. This is going to eat at me.

Of all the pop-culture shit this effect could have reminded me of, the one that kept popping in my head was Mr. Destiny.

Anyway, Tetris 99 is awesome. It’s free if you have the subscription to Switch Online. If you don’t, Tetris 99 justifies the cost by itself so much better than the (very limited and not growing fast-enough) NES library you get does. A lot of people consider Tetris to be the best, more pure video game ever made. Tetris 99 is an imperfect spinoff of a perfect formula, but it’s also the most compelling online experience I’ve had since Rocket League. Above every other argument I can make, the best one is that I didn’t grow up with Tetris. It wasn’t important to gamers from my generation. And yet, here we are in 2019, and I’m telling the world that a Tetris game is the best reason to own a Nintendo platform. It’s one of the ten best games I’ve ever played. And, in all the years I’ve played online games, winning at Tetris 99 is by far the most exhilarating. That counts for something.

It might also be a Russian plot to destroy productivity. Let’s not rule this out.

Tetris 99 was developed by Arika
Free with a Nintendo Switch subscription

If you lost to, or beat, someone named Cathy, it was probably me.

Tetris 99 is Chick-Approved but is not an indie and ineligible for ranking on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Good thing probably. It’d be #1 if it were.

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

One Response to Tetris 99

  1. Pingback: Farm Together | Indie Gamer Chick

What do you think?

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: