It’s Tetris 99 – New(ish) and improved(ish)!
Tetris is one of those games I love, but always have trouble explaining why I enjoy it. For that reason, I have been trying to write this review for a long time. How long? Long enough that a significant update was released! How significant? Tetris 99 has officially entered version 2!
This review is more of a journey as to what I like and don’t like about Tetris 99. So apologies if I start rambling or seem vague below – I just kind of assume everyone knows Tetris and how to play it.
OK, so what is Tetris?
Tetris began in 1984, the brainchild of Alexey Leonidovich Pajitnov. Yep, it’s a Russian game from the 80s that has nothing to do with the cold war. The idea is incredibly simple – a variety of shapes made up of 4 squares (tetrominoes) fall within a set play area. The player’s job is to create horizontal lines from these shapes, that then clear giving you more room to play. You lose when the tetrominoes reach the top. Simple.
This simplicity is the key to Tetris. You have one particular and repetitive task to do, but the satisfaction of clearing rows is addictive. Incredibly addictive.
The story behind Tetris is also one I find interesting. It’s way too much for this review, but YouTuber The Gaming Historian has a great video explaining it all if you are interested. Even if you just put it on as background noise for an hour (yep, it’s a big story), check it out. I have posted it below, but you can also save the link here.
That’s all? Where is the game?
Like so many simple games, Tetris sounds too simple to be a challenge. That is so completely far from the truth. For one, what I didn’t mention is as you play the drop speed of the pieces increase, giving you less time to plan and react.
For a lot of solo games, the challenge is usually to beat your previous score, and that is the same for Tetris. But there is something else with Tetris that hooks me.
Have you ever meditated? Just being able to let everything go and relax. Tetris does this for me. It doesn’t matter what is on my mind or what is happening. I can usually turn it all off to play a game or three.
Why does this work? I don’t know. All I can say is it does for me. Like meditation, different people have different paths to get there. When I get into that state though, my scores soar. My row clears are three or four lines time after time instead of one or two.
Like in chess, I can see the next pieces coming up and know where I have to put them. You play three or four moves ahead, but without concentrating on it.
There is also another benefit to playing Tetris. So much so, another game was named after it. If you guessed Tetris Effect – you’re right! Long story short, playing Tetris for 30 minutes a day can help your cognitive ability. You can read more about the effect here.
So what is Tetris 99?
When I first heard about Tetris 99, I eye-rolled and groaned loudly. Battle Royale Tetris. The game mode already jumped the shark, in my opinion. Involving Tetris in the format – it was too much.
But it was free with Nintendo Online, so I gave it a go. One game in, I was hooked.
I have played Vs. style Tetris games in the past, and there is a familiar mechanic amongst a lot of them. When you clear rows, you send garbage lines to your opponent, making it harder on them. Tetris 99 uses this same technique, but instead of playing against one player you play against 99 others. And it works well.
The right stick lets you target different sort of opponents. You can target people targeting you, random people, people with the most badges or people in danger of being knocked out. The left stick lets you focus on specific players, but honestly, I am usually to overwhelmed to use it.
And then you play Tetris. You get on-screen warnings when people are attacking you, and you can see a stack of garbage that is coming for you. Clear lines yourself, and can remove rows from the queue.
When you knock out more players, you collect badges. The more complete symbols you have, the more garbage you send and clear when you clear rows. You can also chain row clears which add multipliers as well.
There is a science to playing Tetris well, but like all simple games, you will become aware of them as your skills increase. One such technique is called T-spins. When you rotate a piece to fit in where it can’t merely drop-in, that is called a T-spin. It takes practice, but what skill doesn’t?
So I can’t win a game without hours of practice?
Probably not. Not win. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do well and enjoy the game. Think of it like any other Battle Royale game – you don’t expect to win your first game, but because you can drop into another match, you still have fun.
Getting beaten over and over is frustrating. But you don’t need to win to make progress. The higher up the ladder you finish, the more points are awarded. These points go towards a level system. The levels themselves are purely aesthetic, allowing you to get new avatars shown in ladders. Now there are a few other things to let you do this, but more on that later.
The Grand Prix events
Where this point system can be seen working is the roughly monthly Grand Prix events. I completely missed the first, but I have joined every one since.
The event is just a weekend of regular Tetris 99 with a goal, usually a free theme. To win the prize, you don’t need to win a round of Tetris. It helps, but it’s not necessary.
All you have to do is earn 100 points during the weekend, and you ‘win’. So while it’s time-consuming, if you just entered 100 rounds, you will win whatever the prize is.
The one exception was a Grand Prix where the 99 best players over the weekend (read highest-scoring players) won 999 points in the Eshop – effectively a $10 discount. I spent a lot of time playing that weekend and was lucky enough to score in that top tier.
But here is the thing – during that event, I only won 3-4 matches tops. It’s not the fact of how many matches I won that mattered – it was points earned during the entire event that count. So don’t let being new to Tetris be a factor in not playing the game. Persistence is the key and will be rewarded.
So what is this Version 2 stuff?
Version 2 adds quite a few things, but also more of the same. There isn’t any change to the core gameplay, but how you play those games have gotten tweaked.
The most significant change is Tetris Invictus mode. It’s still Tetris 99 online, but this time you need to have won to join. That’s right – it’s Tetris 99 hard mode!
Because you know everyone you are playing in Invictus mode has already won, you are going in expecting a battle. What I wasn’t planning on was starting a match with faster drop speeds from the get-go.
So there isn’t the usual slow set yourself up like I find in a standard game of Tetris. You get thrown in the middle, and off you go. The only downside I have found is it takes longer to start a game. I am guessing it’s merely fewer people joining the Invictus games, but it was noticeable.
So, a hard mode. What’s the big deal?
Invictus mode is a new mode, but that’s not all. There have been a few other changes as well.
For one, daily missions have arrived. Yes, Tetris 99 is following the Battle Royale formula to the letter 🙂
So far, the missions I have seen have been relatively simple to achieve, but have forced me to play Online and against the CPU. This only way to do the second half is buy buying DLC, but I will talk about in a little bit.
Completing missions gets you tickets. Tickets let you buy new themes and avatar symbols, so the rewards are mainly cosmetic. So far there are a handful of items, but I have been sticking to the ones I have won from Grand Prix.
There is a legend of Zelda one that appeals to me. The background is the map of the original game, which puts a smile on my face. Just not enough to have actually ‘bought’ it yet 🙂
Did you mention DLC? I thought this was a free game!
Yes, Tetris 99 is free. But there is also DLC known as Big Block DLC. From memory, it was $15, but I can’t find the price as I have already bought it.
Big Block DLC primarily gives you the ability to play offline. I bought it as I was going to fly, and a couple of Tetris battles sounded great. You can play a CPU battle where all of the opponents are AI. You can set their difficulty level, and also give yourself a boost by starting with badges. It makes a pleasant diversion or practice mode, but that’s it.
The other version and the mode I play more often is Marathon mode. Marathon mode is closer to old school Tetris, where you keep playing as long as you can. For a quick challenge, I play the 150 line mode, where the game ends once you clear 150 rows.
Hang on this is a review – shouldn’t you play it and tell us about it?
Ordinarily, I would have gone out of my way to do that. But there is a catch with Tetris 99. The DLC and extra game modes are precisely that – extras. The main game is the Battle Royale, and that is what I spend the most time playing. Hence, for the review, I have spent the most time talking about the online battle.
Tetris is Tetris, and if you would like other ways to play offline, there are different versions around that may scratch that itch better than Tetris 99. Admittedly not so much on the Switch, with Puyo Puyo Tetris being the only real alternative. Puyo Puyo Tetris is an excellent game, but I had issues playing the Puyo Puyo sections due to colourblindness. There is the same drawback as Tetris 99 for offline play – the main game is different to what you are looking to play.
So if you want to play Tetris, stay away from Tetris 99?
That’s not what I am trying to say, but I can see how it can come across this way. I went into Tetris 99 as a solo Tetris player but converted quickly. I think most Tetris players will have the same experience.
If you are looking to learn how to play Tetris, playing on another console or playing the Big Block DLC will help. But I genuinely think that just jumping into the free online games will be fine. Just jump in and enjoy it.
Almost all Switch owners I know have Nintendo Online, so it’s a free game that at worst you delete. What I don’t recommend is buying Nintendo Online to play Tetris 99. Borrow someone else’s Switch and try it out before putting money down.
Until next time,