If you’ve been around gaming in 2019, you’ve probably seen the battle royale craze reaching a new highpoint with Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and Apex Legends being 3 of the largest names in gaming right now.
However, a weird announcement that would fit today’s date very well was made early in the year – the launch of a free-to-play Tetris title in the Battle Royale genre (?!) called Tetris 99.
The idea is simple – you play online, and are playing a round of Tetris with 98 other people all at once. The UI shows you your game, centered, with 98 other frames around showing the status of every other player.
So what’s the hook? It’s just Tetris…right?
Oh how wrong can one be?
Ultimately, yes, it is Tetris. You get a random stream of block combinations, with the goal to rotate them in 90 degree increments and place them to fill the horizontal space of the field, clearing out the lines that are full. You just need to keep the field from filling over the top line, easy enough.
Where Tetris 99 differs is that you are also under attack.
The game allows you to make simple targeting decisions – choosing a random target, choosing the players attacking you, etc, or you can manually flip through the screen, picking a target that might be close to losing. As you clear lines, you launch attacks at your targets, filling their fields with gray lines that are mostly full but offer small gaps. You can fill these gaps in to clear the lines, just like normal, but as the field narrows down, it becomes more and more hectic, with you being more and more likely to be targeted and errors in play becoming decidedly more costly. It takes something that can be fairly low-key and relaxing and amplifies the tension, taking the normal pace of Tetris gameplay and ratcheting it up to a point where it changes the game completely.
Matchmaking happens relatively quickly as well, so you might jump in, as I did, expecting to play a round or two, but end up playing 20-30 rounds in just under two hours, challenging yourself to figure out the right way to play while being ready to weather any attacks.
It blew me away, not because it offered any huge world or scope, but because the simple scope it offers gives you a large possibility space to shape solely through gameplay, and I really enjoyed it. I had to force myself to stop after 2 hours because I could see spending all weekend just playing a bunch of rounds in rapid succession.
It is also a thing that is relatively rare in modern gaming – a large release that offers simple gameplay with few forced hooks and only one buzzword – and while the term “battle royale” was tied to it, I’d argue that it feels like something completely different, only really related through the large number of players and the ability to attack.
Within that are lessons I think a lot of our favorite games can take to heart!