Ever since it officially launched, I’ve been fairly critical of Nintendo Switch Online, Nintendo’s answer to Microsoft’s Xbox Live and Sony’s PlayStation Plus. I find the NES lineup to be mostly lackluster, despite the inclusion of classic titles such as The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros., and Metroid. Even the ability to play multiplayer with your friends isn’t a major selling point for me, seeing as I prefer single-player experiences. Aside from the occasional friendly (or not-so-friendly) bouts of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the value of Nintendo’s online service just isn’t there for me. At least, it wasn’t until the launch of Tetris 99.
With Battle Royale games being all the rage right now, games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite, and Apex Legends are finding massive success. Whereas all of these games are shooters, the most recent entrant into the genre spins into a new style: puzzles. During the Nintendo Direct this past Wednesday, Nintendo announced Tetris 99 (a Battle Royale version of the timeless puzzle classic, Tetris), which launched shortly after the presentation concluded. As the name suggests, you’re dropped into a virtual colosseum along with 98 other players. In order to survive, you must outlast your opponents by, well… playing Tetris.
The core mechanics of the game remain the same. As Tetriminos fall from the top of your playing field, you can rotate them in order to lock them in place at the bottom of the screen. Making a line of blocks clears the line, causing the stack of pieces above it to fall down. Clearing lines is essential, as if your tower extends past the top of the field, you lose. To increase the challenge, the blocks start falling at increasing velocities over time, making it that much more critical to think on your feet and react to what the game throws at you.
Tetris 99 isn’t the first time Tetris has gone multiplayer. If you’ve ever participated in a Tetris battle, you’ll know that line clearing does more than just prolong your life. The act of clearing lines doubles as both an offensive and defensive tactic. At a basic level, the more lines you clear, the more garbage gets sent to the other player, thus pushing their tower closer to the death threshold. Defensively, if garbage is waiting to be placed on your playing field, clearing lines acts as an eraser, wiping out at least some of the impending doom hanging over your head.
These mechanics lie at the core of Tetris 99, with the extra ability to target specific players. If you’re good at multitasking, you can specifically target any player in the game (though you don’t know who they are—you only see their Tetris board) by using the left stick or touchscreen. For those focused more on the actual Tetris field, you can also tell the game to target one of four groups of players: those close to death, those who have killed off the most players, anybody attacking you, or any random player. Proficient use of this system can make or break your game. Without getting too far into the other mechanics, Tetris 99 has some additional aspects that aren’t made clear by the game (this is really the only major fault I have with it), but which can significantly boost your chances of winning as well.
Unfortunately, being an online, multiplayer-only title, Tetris 99 requires a subscription to Nintendo Switch Online. However, Tetris is one of my all time favorite games, so I absolutely had to bite the bullet and resubscribe to the service so I could check it out. I’m glad I did. I’ve only played a few hours’ worth of Tetris 99 so far, but I find it increasingly hard to put down. Two-player Tetris can already get intense, but the addition of 97 other players cranks it up to a level I’ve never before experienced. I tend to rank somewhere in the 30-40th place range, but once I tasted my first top 10 finish, I knew I had to keep going until I got that sweet, sweet victory.
And win I did. It was easily one of the most satisfying multiplayer moments I’ve ever experienced. After being slammed with garbage from my few remaining opponents, I found myself with a completely full playing field, barring the one square in each row I needed in order to clear that line. Thankfully, the game isn’t over until you lock a piece above the threshold, and with only one piece remaining until my demise, I avoided the only piece I couldn’t use. What happened next was 20 seconds of nothing short of pure magic as I miraculously cleared line after line, bumping up my combo meter with each clear. By the time I had cleared half of my tower, the game stopped. I had done it. I won.
I’m not afraid to admit that when I saw that 1st place ranking, I wept. For the briefest of moments, I was on top of the world. My thirst for victory was quenched, or so I thought. Quickly I realized something had changed. No longer was I satisfied with just one win. I wanted more. I needed more. And that’s where I find myself as I write this.
It’s surreal that I find myself speaking with such adoration for a multiplayer title, but Tetris 99 is definitely worth all the praise I can give it. Not in a very long time have I been this enthralled by a multiplayer game. It’s now the sole reason I plan on keeping my subscription to Nintendo Switch Online active. I’ve paid a lot more for games that I only wind up experiencing a fraction of, simply because I ignore the multiplayer component of them. But for half the price of a new game, I have access to one of the best multiplayer experiences I’ve ever had for a year. With more content planned for the future too, it’s well worth the price of admission to satiate my yearning for the thrill of one more kill. Just one question remains though—where am I dropping?