Tetris 99 Has No Tutorial, So Here's What You Need To Know

Screenshot: Nintendo, Tetris 99

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 percent 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 the blocks in the left column start blinking you’re in trouble. (Screenshot: Nintendo, Tetris 99)

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 percent more for the first badge, 50 percent more for the second, 75 percent more for the third, and 100 percent 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 cancelling 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.


    Also the t-spin move gives a significant bonus, setting to attacker is a more valuable strat than random, and you can use the touch screen to target in handheld mode.

    It's a very good tetris game, possibly more fun than tetris attack.

      possibly more fun than tetris attack

      Ok, you got my attention but I swear that if you raised my hopes in vain, there will be words.

    That's actually a really clever way to turn a puzzle game into something close to what we see as a typical BR. It encourages you to focus fire, be strategic, go after the biggest threats, etc etc.

    What would be fun would be if you could do stuff to damage their pre-existing lines. Rather than add junk on top of their layers, maybe remove single cells from the bottom. Make it hard for them to finish the lines they need to defend.

      You can see those kind of powers in TetriNET: it had a "remove random blocks" power, as well as bombs (collect a bomb in your own field, and use it on an enemy to explode all the bombs in their field).

      Looking at the screenshots, it looks like the garbage lines in this game are a lot more dense, only missing one block per line, and possibly the same block for all lines added in one go? Perhaps harder garbage rows just didn't work so well in the battle royale context?

    I know it's only February but this looks like it has the replayability to be my game of the year for 2019 :D

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