Yesterday Nintendo announced and released Tetris 99, a battle royale-style multiplayer Tetris game for the Switch in which you play against, wait for it, 98 other players in a merciless puzzle-off. It’s out now and free to download. There’s just one problem: the game doesn’t tell you how it works.
If you’ve ever played any Tetris game, you’ll instantly understand 70% of what you do in Tetris 99. Tetris pieces fall and collect at the bottom of the screen; you slowly fill in all of the gaps and try to complete full lines of blocks, which will then disappear. However, as a battle royale game, there’s also a whole other layer to Tetris 99, one that the game does nothing to explain but which is important to be aware of if you want to actually enjoy what makes it different.
Every time you clear a two or more lines at once in Tetris 99, you automatically send “garbage” to your opponents: extra lines of pieces with gaps in them that will fill up their screen. Clearing a single line at once won’t send any garbage, clearing two will send one line, clearing three will send two lines, and clearing four lines, a tetris, will send four lines. Just like in the traditional Tetris, then, the key is to try to stack up pieces so you can clear them all at once rather than little by little.
There are two ways to target who this garbage gets sent to. You can either manually select other players’ screens with the left Joy-Con stick or automatically target people based on certain criteria, like whether they’re targeting you, whether they’re close to losing, or who has the most badges, which is another new element that I’ll explain in a moment. If you don’t want to think about it at all, you can also just select “random” and have the game choose for you.
When your garbage blocks are the ones that push another player over the edge and into the game over screen, you’ll get credit for the kill with a “KO.” This is where Tetris 99 gets really interesting. Every KO counts as one “bit” of a badge. The first two bits gives you one full badge. After that, the number keeps going up: four bits for the second badge, eight bits for the third badge, and 16 bits for the fourth badge, which is the maximum number of badges that you can have.
These badges are crucial because each one increases how much garbage you can send to opponents: 25% more for the first badge, 50% more for the second, 75% more for the third, and 100% more for the fourth. You can get pretty far without them, but at some point when there are only a few players left, you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle if your opponents are dumping twice as much garbage on you as they’re getting in return.
While you earn a badge bit for each KO, you also get all the badges of the player you just defeated. As a result, you’ll want to target players who are either near death, or who have a lot of badges, or ideally both. Just like in a traditional battle royale like Fortnite or PUBG, you can pull off come-from-behind victories by taking out the right person at the right time and stealing all their power ups.
Finally, the garbage you send to other players and that they send to you doesn’t go into effect immediately. Instead, it’s on a timer and will show up on the left side of the screen, giving you a rough idea of how much is about to hit you. During these periods, any garbage you generate will just go toward canceling the incoming attacks. While it can be fun to try to play offensively, there’s also value in keeping your pieces stacked well enough that you can always pull out a tetris to defend if need be.
Like any other battle royale game, you’ll rarely get into perfectly even 1v1 matchups. Instead, you might spend one minute going under the radar and then the next be targeted by half a dozen players all at once, and when that happens, it’ll be up to you to spin those tetris pieces like your life depends on it because, well, it does.