I don’t usually curse my lack of a Nintendo Switch console. Yes, my heart fluttered for Breath of the Wild, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate did elicit several cups of uncontrollable drooling, but I’ve always stayed my hand (and credit card).
But now I weep my Switch-less existence, because the game I never knew I needed has just been released for the console. That game is Tetris 99.
Announced during the recent Nintendo Direct, Tetris 99 – which is out now – is basically Tetris meets Fortnite. It’s you and 98 other players, stacking and clearing lines and praying for the coveted long bar. You attack other players with “garbage” that fill their screen and mess up their line-clearing strategies. The last player standing will get their Winner Winner Tetris Dinner.
I want it because it’s seems like the inevitable extension to my current obsession: competitive Tetris. Traditionally, Tetris is a game of you overcoming yourself. But, as I’ve discovered a few years back, it’s also a game about besting others with masterful stacking, sublime block rotations and godlike reactions.
It appears in many forms, the most prestigious being the Classic Tetris World Championship, an annual tournament where experts gather to compete using the original 1989 release on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), hooked to CRT TVs. Not exactly the most prominent of eSporting events, but nonetheless exciting to watch, if only to savour each time the commentators say “BOOM!” whenever someone lands a Tetris (that is, clearing four lines at a go).
As it turns out, there’s a “Boom! Tetris for Jeff” T-shirt
What I’m truly entranced with, however, is “Battle2P” mode – a fast-paced, merciless, intense game of Tetris that’s likely the basis of Tetris 99. The more lines you clear in one go, the more “garbage” you send to your opponent. Fill their screens and you earn a KO. The more KOs you get within 2 minutes, you win.
It’s aggressive and relentless, where one bad block placement would spell defeat. It’s addictive and satisfying and the worst way to play Tetris, because I feel that it builds bad stacking habits that’s hard to shake off when playing the classic mode, and also because it’s highly stressful. Victory, however, can be satisfying.
As a noble person, I sacrificed a victory in order to get this screenshot
Tetris wasn’t a quintessential game of my childhood, and I’ve never viewed it beyond a simple puzzle game that is ingeniously designed and a timeless classic. Playing competitively has blown off a wall obscuring elements of the game I never knew, from types of “wells” you can build to the way blocks can be “tucked” to fill bad gaps, and advanced moves like the T-spin.
Now you get the equivalent of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds in Tetris form, and I can’t help but get excited over how it could change the way a 35-year old game can be played.
Also published on Medium.