This Article Was Originally Published February 2019.


I’ve never been particularly good at shooters, whether first- or third-person. But I am persistent, and this is why I love the battle royale concept: a huge number of players dropped into the same game at once, with only one victor? There are opportunities. You can be cunning. Wins are rare in battle royale games, even for those skilled at the mechanics, but the way they operate means I’ve managed a few chicken dinners and victory royales.

The first time I won a round of Fortnite, I found a bush disguise, and hid myself among some actual bushes as I followed the storm. I killed a few people along the way when forced, and ended up winning because the only player left ran right past a rocket launcher-wielding bush. My most recent win came because I didn’t engage in combat at all until the final five, and a lucky boogie bomb did the rest.

So I tend to win at battle royale shooters by hiding until the right moment. And I’m proud! I accept that my stealthy hopping around is more of a factor than my skill at shooting things, and regardless of the specific game those tactics work.

That all changed today, when I tried a battle royale puzzler.

Tetris 99 was announced during a Nintendo Direct presentation last night, and released for free shortly afterwards to anyone with a Switch Online membership. The game is an online-only multiplayer version of Tetris, but with the added twist that you’re one of 99 people playing at the same time. By clearing lines you can add garbage lines to other players’ boards, either by manually selecting another player, or selecting players based on their proximity to death or how aggressively they are attacking. Crucially, you can constantly see who is doing well, who is targeting you for attacks, and attack anyone left alive.

Unlike other battle royale games, Tetris 99 has nowhere for players to hide. There are no convenient bushes here. As a result, victory feels far more dictated by skill than by a player’s ability to stay out of the way.

This isn’t about which players luck out early with drops and camp in huts. This isn’t about who can find the best hiding spot. This is about assessing who’s a threat, combating them, and defending yourself. The game is constantly speeding up: there’s no time to stop and breathe and let everyone else thin out the herd. The only strategy is to stay right in the thick of combat. Surviving feels like a matter of pure skill, and grace under pressure.

I’ve put several hours into Tetris 99 already and, so far, I haven’t managed to win out. I’m regularly hitting the top 15 though, with a few top 10 placements, and those scores feel exhilarating, and in a way more rewarding than a lucky Fortnite win. As soon as the match starts I’m absorbed by the game, working to survive the onslaught, and want to actually practice and improve and get involved, rather than flit about on the margins until the herd things out.

This is why, as unexpected and weird as the combination might seem, Tetris 99 feels like a pure form of battle royale. It makes you excited to think about how the idea would work in other genres: sign me up for the first 99-player turn-based strategy game, or 99-person dating sim. Most of all it takes a modern trend and, by carefully adapting its core appeal, uses it to refresh one of gaming’s real classics.


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