The free-to-play, Nintendo-published Tetris 99 was both announced and released for Switch during today’s Nintendo Direct. Its battle royale-inspired concept of 99 players going against each other in a single match immediately drew comparisons to Fortnite.
(Can we all agree to call Tetris 99 “Fortris” from this moment on? That’s actually the entire reason I’m writing this. I just needed a platform by which to coin the name “Fortris.” You can stop reading now.)
In all seriousness though, when I watched this jam-packed Direct today, Tetris 99 looked like great fun but was overshadowed by all the huge AAA Nintendo game announcements like Super Mario Maker 2 and the Link’s Awakening remake. My attention was smothered by all this bigger news. It wasn’t until I got home from work that I recalled that Tetris 99 was already available on the Switch eShop. As soon as I remembered, I grabbed it real quick like.
Within about one minute of gameplay, I knew I was in big trouble. I won’t say I’m the best Tetris player out there, but I’ve logged a ton of hours in my day. From the weird homebrew version on my junior high TI-85 calculator to 2018's excellent Tetris Effect on my PS4, it seems I’ve always had some version around to play. And it suddenly felt like all those culminated hours had been a sacred, decades-long hazing ritual... preparing me to F***ING ANNIHILATE ALL NINETY-EIGHT OF YOU.
Tetris has always been intense, and multiplayer editions have been even more so. But the rush I felt to know that my vaguely above-average Tetris skills were being tested in real time against so many people was wholly unlike any Tetris rush I had ever experienced. (Confession: I have never played a battle royale, so maybe this feeling is familiar to many of you.) The matches go by quickly, and you’ll likely want to launch directly into your next match straight away. Have a shoddy performance and go out early? No problem because you can be matched against another 98 opponents within less than a minute. (At least that’s been my experience so far.) Much like battle royale games, you can continue to watch others play after you lose. Unfortunately, you can’t zoom in to a particular player’s screen. Instead, you’ll have to watch tiny representations of your opponents’ screens via grids on either side of your own screen. Despite how tiny they are, it’s easy enough to follow what’s happening, especially if you’re playing on a TV.
Gameplay-wise, Tetris 99 is quite vanilla. In fact, it is nearly indistinguishable from the original Tetris. The differences lie not in your gameplay but in the competitive aspects. You are randomly paired up against other players with whom you’ll compete against short bursts. Your performance in these fleeting melees appears to dictate whether or not you receive extra blocks on the bottom of your stack or deliver them to your opponent. (I’m not totally clear on all the details here, but I think they’ll quickly become clearer the more I play.) I have no issue with this minimalist approach because Tetris simply doesn’t need gimmicks to feel competitive. Who knows what Tetris 99's gameplay will look like in a few years, but for now, I plan to enjoy the hell out of it as hardcore, vanilla Tetris.
So far the only truly off-putting thing I can name about Tetris 99 would be the art style... or rather the complete absence of an art style. I would liken this weirdly generic look to EA’s current mobile iteration of Tetris—the bright neon colors aren’t saving it from its dull sterility. Transitioning from the masterful psychedelic visuals of Tetris Effect to the inexplicably bland look of Tetris 99 seems like a step backward. But luckily the game’s devilishly fun appeal isn’t tarnished by what it lacks in the visuals department.
I now find myself feverishly trying to speed finish this post so that I can get back to my already-obsessive pursuit of ranking #1 in a match, so I’m going to stop writing now.