The Drive to Be A Better Player

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I believe that I am good at Tetris. Nay, I am confident that I am good at Tetris. From the memorable day I first got to play the classic puzzler way back in the early ‘90s to the time I bought and played the heck out of Tetris DS during its release window, Tetris has always been special to me, as a subtle staple of my “gaming childhood”. It’s a puzzle game that’s simple and easy to play, yet surprisingly complex and hard to master. What’s even more surprising is how solidly Tetris has stood the test of time through countless iterations, and still plays wonderfully thanks to minor updates to the game’s mechanics, and the evolution of the two-player competitive mode.
Flash forward to 2019 - a close friend recently introduced me to the new Tetris game for the Nintendo Switch. Aptly titled Tetris 99, it was described by my friend (who added that I’d definitely like it) as “a Battle Royale online Tetris deathmatch against 99 other players”. Curious enough, I gave it a go to see if I’ve “still got it” - a fair query, given that I hadn’t touched a Tetris game for a long time. After finishing 5th place in my first game, I couldn’t let go of the controller and proceeded to play several more rounds. I was hooked. After a long hibernation, Tetris 99 had reignited my competitive spirit and thirst for Tetris supremacy.

The Battle Royale Game I Didn’t Know I Needed

The more I play Tetris 99, the more I’m realizing that this isn’t the Tetris I grew up on (I’m drawing comparisons mostly to the classic Tetris DS’s competitive mode). Several things stood out to me initially, such as the game’s slower pace - since Tetris 99’s battle royale nature means that, potentially, up to 99 people can target you at once, garbage blocks here tend to take more time before rearing their ugly heads.

What’s more, I discovered that by moving the left stick, I could choose which unfortunate players would be saddled with my garbage blocks. Lastly, (and I think this is the most important of Tetris 99’s newly introduced mechanics) you’ve got the auto-target function, activated via the right stick, which picks your targets based on either your preference, or your opponents’ behaviour. Pushing the right stick LEFT (Random) selects a random target, UP (K.O.) will seek players on the verge of being knocked out, and RIGHT (Badges) attacks players with Badges (acquirable power-ups that let you send more garbage blocks when you clear lines). Last but not least, pushing the right stick DOWN (Attackers) will automatically counter-target ALL players who are currently targeting you.

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During my first few Tetris 99 games, I wasn’t really paying attention to the auto-target feature. My style is usually to just play fast and play clean, and try to outplay my opponents by clearing lines and getting Tetrises faster than them. Tetris 99 basically changed the meta by introducing mind-games and the ability to bait out opponents, all thanks to the auto-target feature. As happy as I am with the additions and changes to the core game, Tetris 99 has unfortunately been my current frustration. As with every Battle Royale game I’ve played, actually winning at Tetris 99 is no joke. After placing fifth initially, I had trouble placing higher - let alone winning - the next set of games. In one game, I was performing really well, only to have five other players suddenly attack me at random. Being too aggressive also doesn’t help. During my first weekend with Tetris 99, I was in awe at the game and was completely hooked by it, while at the same time disappointed in myself, and in the knowledge that I wasn’t yet good enough to nab first place. I realized that my old knowledge of the game wasn’t enough to win at Tetris 99, so I decided to relearn and practice Tetris with the sole purpose of winning games online.

The Long, Blocky Road to Improvement



My obsession with Tetris reemerged as I finally took the time to research how to score higher and play more effectively. This led to some surprising (and sometimes hilarious) results. One example was that during my frantic search for Tetris 99 “advanced tech”, I discovered that T-Spins actually double (or triple!) the number of lines you send to your targets! In the past, I’d only use T-Spins when the right situations presented themselves. Using them as an offensive tool was something new for me, and to think that an old maneuver could be weaponized tenfold in this year’s iteration of Tetris made me giggle like a madman.

Another useful tip I found was to try baiting players using the game’s auto-target feature. You can do this by building your stack high enough that it’ll trick players into thinking you’re in danger, all the while holding a line piece (I-piece) Tetromino. This’ll make you the number one target for players selecting KO as their auto-targeting choice. Once you have enough attackers targeting you, quickly switch your auto-targeting to Attackers and drop that line piece you’ve been holding out to score a Tetris and flood everyone attacking you with garbage lines! If you’re lucky enough and time this trick with another incoming line piece in your queue, you can score double Tetris attacks, making it even more painful for everyone who trained their crosshairs onto you! There’s another version of this multi-attacking trick, where instead of building a high enough stack to make opponents think that you’re losing, you simply tap left on your right stick numerous times to bait out players into targeting you back. By rinsing and repeating this Dance of Death, you’ll eventually amass a huge legion of attackers ready to absorb a counter-attack with your readied line piece! Very sneaky indeed!


Practice and Execution… and Patience

However, knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice. Therefore, the most important factors when it comes to getting better at Tetris 99 (or Tetris in general) are practice and execution. In Tetris 99, having ten players left on the field means that it’s crunch time. The game’s speed suddenly shifts and continuously increases. The last ten players will have a clearer view of the field, for better threat assessment. And last, but not least, the soundtrack switches to a remix of Rimsky-Korsakov’s classic ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ to... I dunno... SPITE YOU AND STRESS YOU OUT FURTHER?! Talk about severe pressure that can end your run in a matter of seconds! Some of my friends actually turn off the volume when it comes down to these final minutes of the game just to get rid of the added stress factor. It’s during these final moments that Tetris 99 either breaks your spirit, or hardens you via its harsh lessons.

And so it all comes back full circle to Practice and Execution. I’d honed those traits via trial by line clear, way back when I vigorously played Tetris DS, but my block-droppin’ had grown rusty by the time I first picked up Tetris 99. There was new tech to learn, so it was back to the lab. Having better and more consistent execution on the board will definitely help you play cleaner Tetris, which in turn will net you more chances at getting a double T-spin, a Tetris, or an even bigger line clear. Patience and temperance are also essential, for this kind of execution can only be attained through constant practice, awareness, and playing a lot of games.

The Grind Continues

I’m in my second weekend of playing Tetris 99 and still haven’t won any games yet. The highest I’ve achieved is around 3rd place. It’s an improvement, but all of the grind will be for nothing if I still haven’t won a single damn game of Tetris 99! That’s probably the beauty of this free-to-play game. Tetris is just one of those timeless puzzle games that people still find enjoyable to play, whether it be by themselves or with others.

Starting from March 8 through March 10, Tetris 99 will have one of its first online events called The Maximus Cup Online, where players who participate during the event will be tasked with winning first place in as many Tetris 99 games as possible. After the event, the top 999 players with the most Tetris Maximus wins will each receive 999 My Nintendo Gold Points. I plan to be one of the 999. And the only thing that can stop me is my own ability… and my lack of owning an actual Nintendo Switch since I only borrow my friends’ whenever I play Tetris 99. This game has consumed my soul… and I am loving every second of it.

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