Saturday, December 28, 2019

Tetris 99

Over the last few years, the battle royale style of game has gotten increasingly popular, with arguably the best-known examples of this type of game being PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite Battle Royale. When Tetris 99 was announced and released earlier this year for the Nintendo Switch, I found the concept of the battle royale style crossed with a puzzle game such as Tetris to be intriguing, especially when it proved to be successful, however I was initially turned off a little by the lack of any offline capabilities and that playing it required subscribing to another service, that being Nintendo Switch Online. That said, I was more interested when a physical edition of the game was announced later in the year, as the cartridge not only came with the paid Big Block DLC that introduced offline functionality, it also included a voucher for a free year of Nintendo Switch Online. After getting a chance to play the game for a while, I can safely say this is a very interesting Tetris variant and one of the more unique versions to come out in the last few years along with Tetris Effect and Puyo Puyo Tetris.

The basic core Tetris gameplay hasn’t changed, however, as mentioned previously, what makes this version stand out is the introduction of a battle royale mode, in which 99 players from around the world play a game of Tetris at the same time to see who can survive the longest. Players can also disrupt each other by completing lines to throw junk blocks at random opponents, leaving only a short window to eliminate the junk blocks, or at least soften the blow, by completing lines of their own. You can also choose what type of opponents you are targeting via the right stick, the options being either those who are attacking you, those who are about to be KO'd or players with more KO Badges. When a player KOs another during a battle, they are awarded with a KO Badge for that battle, though this has no actual effect on gameplay. I'm not normally an "online" type of gamer, however I found the battle royale gameplay to be surprisingly fun and it's easy to end up playing multiple rounds due to how quick matches can be.

Another variant of the battle royale mode is Team Battles, in which players choose from one of four teams to play in with the goal of being the last team remaining. If a player gets KO’d, they have the option to spectate on other players, including the ability to give their teammates Likes as a means of morale boosting. You are also awarded EXP following a battle, however Team Battles award you EXP depending on how your team did by the end, encouraging you to continue watching the match even after you are eliminated.

As of the Big Block update, offline functions have been introduced, including offline versions of the aforementioned online modes designed for local multiplayer. Among these is CPU Battle, which is essentially Tetris 99 mode except you are playing against 98 Bots, which is good for getting a hang of how online play works as well as an alternative for those unable to access the online component. There is also these are Local Arena, which allows for up to 8 players, and 2P Share Battle, which is similar to CPU Battle except with 2 local players instead of a solo affair.

The game also features a very brightly-colored and cleanly-designed UI.
(Pictured: Tetris 99 mode)

Another offline mode introduced in the Big Block update that I was more excited for was the classic Marathon mode, in which you can play Tetris at your own leisure. The two versions of marathon on offer are 150 Lines and the new 999 Lines Mode, in which you have to clear 150 or 999 lines respectively as fast as possible. 999 Lines Mode is especially difficult since, even though it only took me two attempts to conquer it, it can easily take at least an hour to do so. While this a fun option for those looking for a classic Tetris experience, I will say I was disappointed at the lack of an Endless version that you could play indefinitely until you lose; though 999 Lines Mode is the closest you can get to that, it seems like a perfect option to include in a future update.

In addition to the number of gameplay modes, the game has some extra features of its own. Completing certain tasks within the game earns you an Icon for doing so, allowing you to further customize your avatar during online play. Completing any of four Daily Missions also earns you Tickets, which can be redeemed for themes that change the appearance of your Matrix, including a few based on Nintendo properties such as Mario and The Legend of Zelda, at 15 Tickets each. Some themes are only made available through online events, however recent updates have begun making them available for everyone else at a rate of 30 Tickets each, including one heavily inspired by the fondly-remembered Game Boy edition of Tetris, down to changing the appearance of the Tetrominos to match.

The game also features a very upbeat soundtrack, including a highly catchy rendition of the song “Korobeiniki”. The soundtrack complements the gameplay perfectly, particularly when it changes to faster beats to highlight the tension of sped-up drop speeds or when 50 or 10 players remain in a match. In addition to some really good sound design, the only voice in the game is from an announcer that mainly counts down to when a game begins or signals when a player is KO’d, though its robotic-sounding voice is done in just the right way that it’s oddly satisfying to hear.

Tetris 99 is a highly enjoyable version of Tetris and one I would easily recommend to both existing Tetris fans and those unfamiliar or looking for something different in the battle royale space. The more electronic take on the soundtrack works well with this new style of play, which itself has solid controls that function well whether the Switch is docked or not. Though I can’t say much about the Nintendo Switch Online service itself, I would definitely say that Tetris 99 is one reason to invest in it for a while, primarily if you can acquire a new boxed copy of the game to get a free year of the service, though there’s still some good offline offerings if online play isn’t your thing.

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