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‘Tetris 99’ – An Exercise in Sensory Overload

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I got 99 problems and ‘Tetris’ is one…

It’s safe to assume that almost every video gamer has heard of Tetris, and most of us associate it with Nintendo, specifically their portable Game Boy system. Yes, Tetris had already existed in various incarnations since its creation in 1984 and was sold for both a range of home computer platforms and the arcades long before the Game Boy ever existed, but the hugely successful handheld version for the Game Boy — which was launched in 1989 — is arguably the ultimate version of the perfect puzzle game.

The famous puzzle game from creator Alexey Pajitnov is not only brilliant but extremely addictive thanks to its simplistic design –and thanks to the Game Boy version, Tetris came with a competitive two-player mode made possible with the link cable, as well as an instrumental version of the Russian folk song “Korobeiniki.”

Nintendo has made some of the best partnerships in the history of the gaming industry, and pairing Tetris with their greyscale portable system back in the day is one of their best decisions the company has ever made. Tetris was a phenomenon and literally laid the bricks for the foundation of the handheld gaming industry that Nintendo has continued to dominate ever since.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Tetris and I have gone on record hundreds of times stating it is one of the greatest games ever made. I remember when Electronic Gaming Monthly’s 100th issue listed Tetris as the “Greatest Game of All Time” – while all my friends were disappointed, I was defending its rightful place at the very top of that list. Tetris is the Godfather of video game puzzlers and despite its age, the game has been enjoying quite a renaissance lately. Last year, legendary designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi released Tetris Effect, a deeply immersive spin on the classic game that features 30-plus stages intricately woven with beautiful music and gorgeous visuals. Tetris Effect wasn’t the first Tetris game to reinvent the classic puzzler but it was such a success that most outlets including Goomba Stomp, listed it as one of the best games of 2018. A year later, Tetris is back in what is arguably its most revolutionary update yet and as it turns out, the latest version is also back on a Nintendo console.

Tetris Switch

One of the biggest surprises during last week’s Nintendo Direct was the reveal and launch of Tetris 99, which combines the tried-and-true puzzle gameplay with his own particular blend of mayhem. The game, which is free to download (provided you’re a Nintendo Switch Online subscriber), is perhaps the least expected take on the battle royale genre – but some would argue the best. Developed by Arika, known for Tetris: The Grand Master series, Tetris 99 pits you against 98 other players simultaneously, and the last surviving player wins. It’s ridiculous and mesmerizing — not to mention mind-blowing when you stop and admire how Tetris 99 demonstrates the true adaptability of the original Tetris.

At its core, the game is still the Tetris you remember. It involves tetrominoes, geometric shapes composed of four square blocks each. A random sequence of Tetriminos fall down the playing field and it’s your job to manipulate these Tetriminos, by moving each one sideways and/or rotating by quarter-turns, so that they form a solid horizontal line with no gaps. When such a line is formed, it disappears and any blocks above it fall down to fill the empty space. Anyone who remembers the original Tetris will also notice the blocks are the same colors, and the familiar Tetris theme plays along in the background. The difference, this time around is that your ultimate goal isn’t to get a high score but instead to be the last man standing.

Tetris 99 Review

Several Tetris games in the past have included multiplayer modes, and as mentioned above, even the original Game Boy version allowed you to compete with your friends – but Tetris 99 is a completely different beast. To be blunt, Tetris 99 is an exercise in sensory overload and trying to keep up with every tiny detail to the left and right of the screen is damn near impossible. Whereas Tetris Effect was a soothing love letter to the classic game, Tetris 99 is a fast, relentless and incredibly tense, and despite its critical acclaim, it’s sure to displease some fans of the original due to its increased difficulty. It doesn’t help either that the game offers no instructions or any sort of explanation of its inner workings. You’re simply thrown into an arena and left to figure things out. And regardless if the answers are available online (check this super helpful Reddit post), it’s disappointing that Tetris 99 is devoid of any instructions.

Luckily, I revel in the chaos and as of writing this, Tetris 99 is my second favorite game of 2019. The result is an incredibly tense experience and one that offers incredible replay value. Matches are quick; it’s easy to pick up, and playing handheld is actually the best way to play since you can use the Switch touchscreen to target players manually. If you, however, are playing in docked-mode, I recommend using the Joy-Con. As much as I love the Nintendo Switch Pro controller, the Joy-Con’s separate directional buttons are easier to use than the Pro Controller’s D-Pad which more often than not will have you accidentally activate the quick drop. Considering how fast, precise and chaotic Tetris 99 is, you’ll want to eliminate as many human errors as possible.

It’s hard to believe that three decades on, Tetris is still a worldwide phenomenon

Tetris 99 is also a great showcase of what Nintendo Switch Online can handle. I never ran into problems across any of my matches and considering that Nintendo Switch Online is currently 8 million players strong, you won’t have trouble finding a lobby of 98 other players to battle with. All that said, Tetris 99 does have some issues.

There’s no denying that the controls you are given can be used in strategic ways but being a battle royale game a default “random” attack pattern, the odds are always stacked against you. And no matter how good you think you are, anyone can knock you out at any given time. Playing Tetris 99 would be the equivalent of participating in a match of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, only you fight 98 players with 98 smash balls ready to activate. Tetris 99 is also missing many of the features that are now expected of Battle Royale games such as squads and leaderboards. Last but not least, it’s impossible to play without an internet connection making the Switch’s best feature useless.

It’s hard to believe that three decades on, Tetris is still a worldwide phenomenon. It’s also hard to believe that Tetris 99 was a joke someone apparently made on Twitter before Akira made it a reality. Even harder to believe, Tetris 99 is a contender for Game of the Year and is able to stand side by side on a stage with behemoths such as Fortnite and APEX Legends. I won’t dare say Tetris 99 is the best battle royale game on the market, but it sure is my favourite.

  • Ricky D

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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