Second only to Link’s Awakening, Tetris 99 was a surprise to many when it was announced at last week’s Nintendo Direct.
Tetris 99 has been everywhere for the last week and has divided opinion since its launch. The game has some great aspects, mixed with the ‘Battle Royale’ variant which has dominated the gaming world lately, but that’s where it stops for me.
The game was made available right after the Direct finished, and soon after I had it downloaded and was playing, it felt like there was a flashback to Tetris on my old Game Boy, like it was 1995 all over again.
You have one choice and one choice only, and that’s to begin Tetris 99. You’re brought to a screen where the game matches you with 98 other players, and then you begin. The concept of Tetris has always remained the same, and it does here. You control a variety of blocks that you must fit into a straight line. If you do that, you gain points, but in this variant of the game especially, it keeps you in the game.
But when it comes to this ‘Battle Royale’ aspect, you are always against 98 other players, and so you feel this crushing sense of pressure. Pressure to make sure that you have the right block lined up and subsequent pressure for the other objects that you will be controlling soon. While other pressures are to quickly glance at the other remaining players with how they’re doing, an aspect soon to be explained.
There will be times where you think you’ll be on a roll, that you just need to line up the block you currently have, with the other three queued up, and then you’ll have just two lines to work with. But suddenly, a strike of terror will occur, as it did with me, where you will see this looming red and grey bar to the left grow, and grow, and grow. As soon as you land your latest object, you will instantly be faced with having to deal with 7 or so more lines. This can be incredibly frustrating, and it can mean game over in an instant, especially if you’ve had some blocks lined up like a tower in the centre and your latest block is just appearing, and because of this, it’s just about to land on said tower.
It is frustrating, but it’s not enough to throw down your Joy-Con and take it out on another game that you own. The sadist in you will want to keep playing, to keep levelling up (which, so far, I’ve found no justification for), ever wanting to climb up the ranks to reach that fabled #1 spot.
One last feature to mention of this is how you can use the analogue stick to land your combos and in effect, add lines to other players. This happens so fast you don’t have time to think of where to strategically place these lines. It’s either a sudden touch on the stick or you just leave it completely.
A tutorial would have been helpful here, as it took me a few days to understand just what everything meant. By all means, the concept of Tetris is there and you can pick up the aspects of being unfairly given 9 more lines to clear, but a first-time startup guide would have been welcome regardless.
And yet, there are other aspects which can chip away at the experience.
For instance, there’s no spectator mode, so when your turn ends, you can’t watch someone else at your choosing in full-screen, you just have to stare at the table as it fills up with players, or squint incredibly hard to watch someone else. There’s also no way of inviting friends. I can imagine a custom mode of just being against your friends, and even though it doesn’t have to add up to 99 for this, I’m sure there’s a way of friends adding their friends, and it’s all a mutual battle royale of blocks.
But the main underlying feeling I get is that Tetris Effect isn’t on Switch. This feels like a compromise, as PS4 owners have been enjoying this form of the tile-matching puzzle, and yet all Switch-owners now have is a basic multiplayer Tetris variant, which would have worked great as a multiplayer component to a Tetris Effect Switch port.
Lest we forget, this has only been out for a fortnight so far. Many of these glaring omissions can be improved with a software update, something that was impossible thirty years ago when Tetris arrived on a Game Boy cartridge.
It’s a great game to pass the time for the odd evening in handheld mode and although there’s next to no depth in this for something that’s free, it’s good enough.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*