Tetris 99 is Battle Royale for the Rest of Us

Battle royale games have shown an outrageous ability to draw in players over the last year, and I’ve been keeping a close eye on them. I’m not much for shooters, though, so Nintendo’s Tetris 99 is my first direct exposure to the mode. It’s a hell of an experience.

Tetris itself is an inspired choice for a large-scale multiplayer game. It’s a nearly perfect game, with millions of players and a well-established multiplayer mode. It’s also a simple game, with low system and network requirements. All Nintendo had to do was figure out the most essential aspects of battle royale.

tetris 99 watch out
Getting wild in the middle of a Tetris 99 match.

What’s the Key to Battle Royale?

When you take away the guns, the essentials of battle royale are controlled chaos, attrition, and visibility.

As with any good game, you have to have some control over your fate. But part of what makes a battle royale feel “big” is the sense that you can’t control everything. A lot of the excitement comes from the sense of action happening all around you.

Attrition is important because it raises the value of each moment of the game. As the game gets tighter, just staying alive becomes more and more of an achievement. Tetris has always played into this feeling; Tetris 99 amplifies it.

All this would be nothing without visibility, though. If you can’t see the chaos in progress, if you can’t see the numbers dwindle, you won’t feel the emotional engagement of the game. Putting all the boards on the screen is Tetris 99’s stroke of genius. All the information is there (if you can take it in which you probably can’t), giving an abstract game all the excitement of a military firefight.

Taking Tetris 99 to the Next Level

Tetris 99 is so simple that it seems like something a small team put together in a couple of weeks. (Which may not be true. I don’t know server code, and it could have been a nightmare.) I love seeing quick projects done well, but it also makes me eager to see improvements and refinements.

I’d love to see better targeting of enemies. (This is one area where there seems to be too much chaos — maybe other players control their attacks, but I feel like I’m firing wild shots in the darkness.) It would be fun to build up squads and teams that can coordinate attacks on each other. Most of all, I’d like a better view of the boards when the match gets down to the last few battlers.

Even if Nintendo does nothing else with the game, though, Tetris 99 works as a fast and furious multiplayer experience. It adds a huge amount of value to the Nintendo Online game subscription, and I think it’s going to be around for years to come.