The latest Nintendo Direct had plenty of great surprises – not least of all that amazing looking remake of Link’s Awakening – but no-one could have seen this one coming: the latest Battle Royale game hitting the scene is… Tetris?
Available immediately after the Direct for free to Nintendo Online subscribers (it’s an online-only game, so if you don’t have the sub you’re not missing out on any other action) the fairly simple game is primarily the Tetris you already know and love but with one simple twist. In this version of the game you’re playing simultaneously against 98 other players with a familiar goal: be the last one standing.
For anyone that perhaps hasn’t played a multiplayer Tetris match before, there’s one significant difference vs playing on your own. Whenever the other player makes a line (or four) the ‘garbage’ blocks that they’ve cleared can appear on your board, usually at the bottom, pushing your blocks up to the impending line of doom at the top of the screen. In Tetris 99 this feature is key to its nature as a Battle Royale as you target your garbage blocks on multiple other players in order to specifically knock them out of the game.
You have four options – controlled by a flick of the right analog stick – that determine who it is you’ll target with your garbage. The default is Randoms, which as implied simply randomly selects players regardless of any other parameters. K.O.s will focus your attacks on players that are already dangerously close to being knocked out so you can ensure their demise. Badges will select players that have racked up special points – depicted as ranking-style badges – by knocking other people out. In other words, the biggest threats still in the game. Finally, Attackers will focus counter attacks on those who are currently targeting you – something indicated by the lines coming from their board to a ‘watch out’ warning below yours.
These targeting options represent a surprising amount of strategy available and can potentially help to balance out the game somewhat. If a player is running away with the game by KOing loads of others, a pile on of people selecting Badges would be enough to nail even a Tetris world champion.
As the competitors whittle down, the game speeds up. It’s never to the rather insane point that higher levels of traditional Tetris can get to, but as ever in multiplayer Tetris it can absolutely catch you out at the worst possible time and can define the rest of your game. Often times, your inevitable loss.
The more you play and the better you do, the more experience you’ll earn in-game. So far this would potentially only seem to help match you against players of similar levels. As the game is entirely free to play and not subsidised by any existing micro transactions, though, it seems feasible that perhaps cosmetic items will be available for purchase later on – possibly even tied to your level.
Fortnite’s success as a Battle Royale was always just as much about its on-going support as the game itself. As much fun as the format when applied to Tetris is, if Nintendo is serious about it they’ll have to ensure they keep it active with plenty of incentive to keep coming back. Otherwise, finding those other 98 players a year from now could potentially be quite difficult.
In the meantime, though, thanks to the surprise launch and the cheap, cheap price of free, the game is more than active enough to find all the players you need to jump right in. Tetris 99 is unlikely to threaten Fortnite or even Apex but it is a solid demonstration that there’s a lot more to the Battle Royal concept than just online shooters and it’s unlikely we’ll see Tetris being the last quirky twist on the genre.