The depth of Tetris 99’s mechanics do the impossible, improve a perfect game

Where we hard dropping boys?

When Tetris 99 was announced this past week during the Nintendo Direct, it was the first time I’m sure anyone, outside of the developers and Nintendo, had thought to combine the battle royale genre with what is arguably the greatest game of all time. Now, only a few days later I can’t believe how well it works. I’ve long contended that Tetris is one of the only perfect games out there, because outside of introducing holds, how has the base formula changed in its 35 years of life? That’s the mark of something great.

I guess I should amend my stance by saying that specifically single player Tetris was perfect, because I now see that even the great multiplayer mode in Tetris DS could be improved upon. With Tetris 99, I think we’re dealing with the ultimate multiplayer format for the game.

Because the game did not launch with a manual, the mechanics outside of the usual controls were left up to the community at large to figure out. Quickly after the launch, a thread on Reddit began to break these mechanics down and from it some strategies began to form.

Let’s start with the basics. This is still Tetris, you need to clear lines. But since this is multiplayer you want to hinder your opponents by sending garbage lines of tetrominoes to their board. Single line clears won’t do much other than to clear them off of your board. To send out garbage lines to opponents, you need to clear two or more lines at a time. For a double and a triple line break, you send out one and two garbage lines respectively to your target. For a Tetris (four-line clear), you send out four lines. These can be supplemented by combos or a special placement called a T-Spin.

Since you can send garbage lines to your target, it’s only fair that people can target you and fill your board as well. The lines that you have been sent will show up on the left-hand side of your screen and over time they will be added to your board. While you have garbage lines in your queue, you can only break them with multiple line clears. Once you have cleared your queue, you can begin your attacks again. The delay that your queue gets put onto your board shrinks as more players are eliminated from the game. It starts out around four seconds and works its way down to one.

As is the case with any other battle royale title, you are credited with kills in Tetris 99. As of now, how a kill is determined is still up in the air. The going theory is that the last person to get an attack through gets the credit. As you get kills you gain fragments of badges. These are so important that it’s a wonder there was no explanation about these.

There is a possibility of getting four badges, to get them you will need to amass two, six, 16, and 30 badge bits respectively. With each badge that you get, you’ll gain garbage line bonuses. The bonus is a 25% increase with each badge, eventually doubling your garbage line output. Getting those badges is pretty important as the attached bonuses help your defense against strong attacks from others in your game who are badged up. The good news is that whenever you KO someone, you take all of their badges as a trophy. More on that in a minute.

To get the badges you need to strategically target players. If you have four sets of eyes and hands you can target people manually using the right stick in default controls. For those of us cursed with only two sets each, we’re better off using the preferred targeting of the right stick. There are four different targeting schemes, one of which is practically useless. Flicking left on the stick will make you target a random screen after each garbage line you send out. Don’t flick left.

The more useful and strategic options are badges, KOs, and attackers. Flicking the control stick to the right will target the player with the highest number of badges. While this may seem like a good way to get badges as prizes, it’s also a surefire way to piss off the person who is the strongest in the game. So it’s not advised to do this unless you have a nice board set up with at least one badge under your belt.

Moving the stick down will attack the players who are in turn attacking you. While this isn’t that great if you are only being targeted by one person, this targeting scheme is amazing when you have multiple targets. The reason for this is because the number of people attacking you actually gives you bonus garbage line output.

Once you are attacked by two people, you start to gain an extra garbage line. Then, for every person after that attacks you, you gain an extra two garbage lines, capping at nine extra lines when six people target you. This bonus applies no matter which targeting scheme you have but it’s most useful in the attackers scheme. I’ve seen a lot of memes about being targeted a lot and how it’s scary, but in actuality, it’s a great advantage.

Finally, moving the stick up will activate KO targeting. Now the exact mechanics aren’t yet worked out but the theory as of now is that it targets those closest to dying. It’s the Machiavelli of Tetris 99 and it’s glorious in the early and mid-game, at least for now. While it is seemingly the most used targeting scheme, it offers you the best possible chance for getting KOs, which are good to get early to build a nice badge base.

The key thing to take away from the targeting part is that you can’t expect to win using only one targeting scheme. There is an ebb and flow of how the battle plays out and while there are some similar patterns, you need to be able to adjust on the fly. If you see you’re getting targeted a lot, flick down to attack your attackers and go on an offensive while you have the bonus lines. Think you have a good base of badges? Go for the throat of the highest badge holder when you have a good board set up. The choice is yours, just be prepared to fail, learn from your mistakes, and most of all keep that well clean!

Tetris 99 is so young and yet it feels like there’s so much depth to it. I really can’t wait to see how this game grows with new modes such as the rumored team battles, and also how the meta-game and possible e-sport side evolves. Who would have thought that a quasi-F2P rehash of a 35-year-old game could be so much fun?

Anthony Marzano
Contributor for Dtoid and news editor of Flixist. Lover of all things strategic and independent.