Ever since it broke through to a worldwide audience via the iconic Game Boy version, Tetris has never really gone away in the ensuing thirty years. Still, there are periods when the classic puzzle game seems to be experiencing a renaissance, and this is one of those times— first, with last year's Tetris Effect for PlayStation 4, and now, with the battle royale-inspired Switch exclusive Tetris 99.
While rumors abound of eventual new modes being added some day, as it stands, Tetris 99— which is available now for the low, low price of zero dollars for Switch Online subscribers— contains only its main mode, pitting 99 players against each other in a last-man-standing version of the timeless game. On the surface, Tetris 99 feels mostly like simple, classic Tetris except with 98 other people playing against you, but there is a lot more going in with the game than a lot of players realize. Simply playing it as a standard game of Tetris might help you avoid elimination among the first ten or twenty players, but the key to consistently strong standings and ultimately finishing as the last player standing requires digging a little deeper and figuring out the higher-level tricks to being among the best Tetris 99 players.
First off, if for some reason you have a Switch and haven't downloaded Tetris 99, go do it now. And if you aren't a Switch Online subscriber, go ahead and sign up for a year— Tetris 99 alone is worth the cost, trust us on that. All that's left to do is check out these tips and you'll be clearing the field like a boss.
20 Manually Target Individual Opponents
One of the most remarkable things about Tetris 99 is that the game's servers can not only handle 99 games of Tetris happening simultaneously, but it shows all 99 of them on everyone's screen, with your grid in the middle and everyone else's playing out in real time on either side. But all of those fields aren't just on display so the developers can show off— you are able to specifically choose who you want to attack at any time.
While playing in TV mode, the left Joy-Con analog stick can be used to move a target around the other fields and let you choose which player will be on the receiving end of any garbage blocks you send out. In tablet mode, you can simply touch someone's field to put them in your crosshairs.
19 Perform A 10-Line Attack
This should go without saying, especially to players who are already familiar with previous Tetris game battle modes, but the more lines you clear at once the more powerful your attack. The classic Tetris— clearing four lines at once— is obviously one of the more powerful attacks, and the number of garbage blocks they produce goes up with subsequent consecutive Tetrises. But the most powerful single attack, not considering combos or badge level or any of that, is something that is, not surprisingly, very difficult to pull off.
Should you manage a Full Clear— which means completely clearing your grid at any point— instantly results in a whopping ten lines of garbage blocks to an unsuspecting opponent. It doesn't happen often, but boy is it worth the trouble if you can do it.
18 Hone Your Skills On A Lower-Stakes Version
Like a lot of online-only games, it's kind of all-or-nothing with Tetris 99. The only way to play the game is to jump in and play it with 98 other players— as of now, there are no offline modes or any ways to really practice at all other than simply playing regular matches.
However, there many, many different versions of Tetris available, and as long as it's not a version with any particularly quirky rule sets, just about any will do as far as playing them simply to hone your basic Tetris skills. That said, if you'd like to practice in a setting that is somewhat similar to Tetris 99, the free, official, browser-based Tetris Friends is a good option, as it even has a mode called Free-For-All that is similar to Tetris 99 but on a much smaller scale.
17 Increase Your Attack Power
The basic premise of battle-based Tetris is usually something along the lines of "clear lines to send garbage blocks to the other player(s)," with doubles, triples, and Tetrises obviously resulting in greater attacks. Tetris 99 is no different, with bigger moves and higher combos dealing bigger amounts of potential damage to opponents.
But Tetris 99 also has a new system in place in this regard: badges. As you play, you earn badges, up to four total, and this has a direct impact on how powerful your attacks are. One badge increases your attack power by 25%, two increases it by 50%, and so on until you've literally doubled your strength with four badges. You can see how many badges you have and the current state of your attack multiplayer in the lower right of your play area.
16 Steal Other Players' Badges
So now you know how badges work, but what is the quickest way to get more? It's not through normal play, though that'll get you there eventually— it's by KOing players with badges, which steals them from the knocked out player and gives them to you. In other words, finishing off a player with four badges gives you four badges, just like that.
In fact, you can even specifically target the players who are currently winning the badge game during a match by switching your attack method to "badges" (flicking right on the right stick). This focuses your attacks on whatever player currently has the most badges, which gives you the potential to take their place should you deliver their final blow. Just be careful— that'll make you become the prime target for other potential badge-stealers.
15 Know How Soon An Attack Is Coming
This particular version of Tetris is entirely based around battling— there isn't even a score displayed anywhere. All that matters is surviving for the longest, which means withstanding the attacks of as many as 98 other players. Luckily, the game at least clues you in on how soon an impending attack is going to hit and how much time you have to do things to reduce their impact.
The bar to the immediate left of your grid tells you how many attacks are coming your way, how powerful they are, and most importantly, when they are coming. Grey blocks are a ways off, yellow are a bit closer, and molten lava red means brace yourself. Also, it's worth noting that the further along a match is, the shorter the time it takes for attacks to reach opponents.
14 Perform Combos
While Tetris isn't typically as combo-based as other puzzle games, that isn't to say they aren't possible and haven't become a facet of the franchise as it has gone on. Because of the nature of most forms of Tetris, you can't really "combo" in the traditional way as there aren't the cascading pieces of games like Dr. Mario or Tetris Attack. Instead, the primary method of comboing in Tetris 99 is to clear one more lines with each subsequent dropped pieces without a non-clear drop in between.
In fact, combos can be an effective strategy for building up powerful attacks when you're in a position where you don't have the luxury of waiting for a Tetris, such as having a cluttered or almost-full grid. Plus, combos mean you are rapidly clearing lines, which is just a good idea in general.
13 Randomize Attacks To Avoid Making Enemies
When you first start playing Tetris 99, it seems like attacks are just wildly flying around the screen and there's no way to really know who is attacking or being attacked. This makes it seem as though the rage and revenge that comes with other online multiplayer games isn't there— but that's not the case. In fact, it's possible to get yourself enemies early on in a match and get eliminated quickly as a result.
If you want to fly under the radar in the early part of a match, keep your attack style on random. This ensures that you aren't focusing on any one player, which runs the risk of making an enemy out of them if they turn on the "attackers" attack style and decide to come back at you. Keep that target off your back.
12 Pick Off Weak Players Early
Tetris 99 isn't a game for sympathy. It's every player for themselves, and everyone is only looking out for themselves. There is absolutely no shame in doing whatever it takes to narrow the playing field as quickly as possible, even if that means kicking the struggling players while they are down.
Setting your attack style to "KOs" by flicking up on the right stick causes your attacks to find whichever players are the closest to going out, and sends them your garbage in order to hopefully knock them out for good. It's not the most honorable way to play, but again, Tetris 99 isn't about making friends. KOs is also the best attack style to choose for people who just want to pick one style and stick with it and never have to worry about changing it at all.
11 Know When Other Players Are About To Go Out
While we're on the subject of opponents who are on their last legs, there is actually a way to know who is in danger of losing at any given time. For those that really want to prey on the weak, you can even manually target said players if you want to go that route.
Players whose grids are close to filling up have their grid backgrounds shown in bright red to the other players, indicating that they are just a few mistakes or garbage lines from being out. Those that don't want to bother with manual targeting might not actually do anything about this information, but it's still helpful to be able to glance around and see just how many players might be exiting a match soon just for your own piece of mind.
10 Use The Hold Feature To Buy Yourself Time
One of the first real "additions" to the original Tetris formula was the ability to hold a piece for later use, and it's something that pretty much all versions of the game have used since that feature was first introduced. Tetris 99 is no different, and in fact, it can do more for you than just letting you hold onto a bar for that perfect Tetris opportunity.
When things are getting really intense toward the end of a match, the pieces fall super fast— almost too fast to even be able to place them properly. Once you get to that point, it can be helpful to "hold" basically every piece that you get, as it allows you to buy a precious extra second or two to figure out what to do.
9 Avoid The "Four Wide" Technique
There are some really high-level Tetris players out there who have play techniques that even players who have been playing the series for years haven't thought of. Those that are curious should research some of the communities out there whose sole purpose is detailing that level of Tetris play.
But some advanced techniques aren't one-size-fits-all, and in particular, aren't a great match for Tetris 99. A popular technique among advanced players is the "four-wide well" approach, which means keeping a space four squares wide to set up big combo opportunities. That trick doesn't lend itself well to Tetris 99, and will only serve to put you at risk of garbage pieces sending your stack to the top of the grid more quickly.
8 Make Quick Lines To Soften Incoming Attacks
We told you before how you can tell when an attack will reach you and how powerful it's going to be, but what can you do about it? Making big moves like Tetrises are certainly the most effective way to quickly reduce the power of an impending attack, but that isn't always the best approach as the attack can pummel you while you're still setting up that Tetris.
Oftentimes, it's best to just chip away at incoming attacks little by little by making quick lines in rapid succession. It doesn't power down attacks as dramatically, but it can mean the difference between a huge attack and a manageable one. Never be too proud to just fire off a bunch of quick, easy lines rather than always trying to go for that Tetris.
7 Focus On Defense
The primary objective of Tetris 99 is to be the last player standing, but you often get there by actually KOing a relatively small number of opponents. Just before doing this list, our writer finished at #3 and had only actually finished off four total opponents himself. This means that Tetris 99 is a largely defensive affair rather than an offensive one.
With this in mind, you can just go all-out and play Tetris 99 with a specific focus on defense. By selecting the "Attackers" attack style (down on the right analog stick), your garbage blocks will focus on players who are specifically targeting you, allowing you to constantly be on the defensive against attacking players. Also, the game offers an attack bonus dependent on you being targeted by a large number of attackers, no matter your attack mode.
6 Know Exactly When You've Finished A Player Off
While you're playing Tetris 99, there are tons of audio and visual cues going off to inform you of various things. Truthfully, most of it kind of becomes white noise while you focus on just trying to stay alive. But there is one particular thing that the game tells you that is easy to miss: when you yourself actually finish a player off.
You might have noticed a robotic-sounding voice saying things as you play and weren't exactly sure what. If you listen carefully, that voice is saying "K.O." And it's not just announcing any old knockout, either, but ones that you were directly responsible for by being the person to send over the garbage blocks that delivered the final blow to someoen's time in the match. It doesn't serve any grand importance, but it is super satisfying to hear.
5 Rotate Pieces Indefinitely
A few years ago, the Tetris Company took full ownership of the Tetris brand and instituted a number of mandatory gameplay elements that all versions of the game have to adhere to. Among those required elements are one that has long proven controversial to Tetris fans: the ability to keep a piece "alive" as long as you continue to rotate it, rather than the piece being automatically placed after a few seconds as in early versions.
If you haven't played a Tetris game in awhile, you might simply be unaware that you can indefinitely spin pieces, but it's essentially in Tetris 99 and really helps you stay alive when your grid is almost fall and need to sort of dance pieces across the board to get them in just the right spot.
4 Turn Off The Vibration If It's Too Distracting
There isn't a ton in the way of customization in Tetris 99. In fact, you can't even customizes the controls beyond toggling which analog stick targets opponents and which one changes attack modes. But there is one thing you can turn on and off that might prove beneficial if that particular thing is distracting to you: the rumble.
Various things cause the controller to vibrate— being attacked, being threatened with attack, basically all things that are just going to make you more stressed out. And while some players will appreciate the warning that the rumble gives, it can also just make it hard to concentrate on trying to play the game effectively. If you find the rumble too off-putting, turn it off. It may actually help you play better. Now if only they'd add some more music options to the menu...
3 Constantly Switch Up Your Attack Style
One of the biggest rookie mistakes with Tetris 99 is not even bothering to select an attack mode at all, or picking one and sticking with it without really bothering to change it. But there is a reason why the game allows you to so easily change attack styles on the fly: because it's the most effective way to play the game.
Obviously, it can be tough to even think about switching attack modes when a match is getting hot and heavy, so don't do it unless you can do so without it distracting you too much. But, if nothing else, a good all-purpose strategy that isn't too tough to handle is to start off on "KOs" and then switch to "badges" at about the halfway point. Try that until you find a combination of styles that suits you.
2 Avoid Using The Pro Controller
Hardcore Switch players often swear by the Pro Controller for any games that don't specifically require Joy-Cons. It makes sense, since Switch Pro Controllers have comfortable grips and an actual d-pad. But that d-pad can actually be a detriment for Tetris 99.
A lot of players have complained that the d-pad makes it too easy to accidentally press two directions at once, such as trying to press left and also have the controller mistakenly register that you pressed up as well. With Tetris 99, pressing up performs a Hard Drop, instantly transporting a piece to the bottom of the grid and locking it in place. In other words, the last thing you'd want to do accidentally while playing the game. For this reason, it's best to just stick with the ol' Joy-Cons for Tetris 99.
1 Master The T-Spin For Powerful Attacks
One of the ways that Tetris has evolved over the years is developers seeing the fancy techniques that players were doing mostly just to show off and then actually instituting them into future games. One of the biggest examples of this is the "t-spin," where a player rotates a t-shaped block in tricky ways to make it fit into spaces that sometimes seem to defy all laws of physical space. Initially, this was just a fun trick move, but Tetris games often actually give bonuses for this— and Tetris 99 is no exception.
In fact, should you manage a difficult "t-spin triple," you can perform an attack that sends over more garbage lines than a Tetris. Make no mistake: it's one of the hardest moves to pull off in the game, but it's well worth learning to consistently do it.