Tetris 99 Guide: How To Win Nintendo's Free-To-Play Battle Royale (UPDATED)

Update: We've included some more information in this guide as we've learned more about the game's mechanics.

One of the biggest video game publishers in the world just dropped a free-to-play battle royale, and everyone's talking about it. It's a vicious contest of skill and wits, filled with frustrations and triumphs. We are, of course, referring to Nintendo's Tetris 99 - a 99-player battle royale game where your weapons are the tetrominos you foist on your opponents, and the shrinking circle is the speed at which those damn Z-blocks start coming down on your carefully manicured tower.

Tetris 99 is classic Tetris multiplayer like you've never seen it before, and there is a lot to keep track of. We're going to try and make sense of it for you.

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The Basics

Once you start a game of Tetris 99, you'll have your own board in the middle of the screen, with 98 other games of Tetris going on simultaneously around you. Your game will begin like any other round of Tetris: tetrominos (shapes made up of four square blocks) will appear from the top of the screen and fall gently down. You guide each shape into the place you want with the D-pad, and rotate with the A, B, Y, and X buttons. Press down to make them drop faster. Fill up a row, and it will disappear! Fill up two rows or more, though, and the real game begins.

See, every player in a Tetris 99 match is trying to send their junk - the lines they've completed - to their opponents, in an effort to force those opponents' Tetris towers to rise to the top of the screen and knock them out. When you clear two rows of blocks, you'll send one line of garbage to an opponent; clear three lines and send two; clear four (a Tetris) and you'll send four.

With your left joystick, you can pinpoint the players you want to target with your junk. You won't know their names, but you will be able to see how well their game is going, so the choice is whether you want to target the people doing really well, or the ones close to death.

With you right joystick, though, you can let the game have some say in who you target. Selecting Random will mark a random opponent as the target of your discarded lines of blocks; Killshots (or K.O.s) will mark opponents close to being knocked out so you can try to get the KO yourself; Attackers (or Counter, depending on your region) will target opponents targeting you; selecting Badges targets the players who are doing the best in the game right now - we'll get to that in a moment.

Dealing With Attacks

Luckily, when those opponents are sending their lines over to you, you have some time to prepare. You'll be able to see blocks filling up the vertical space to the left of your board. It will look something like this:

As you can see, opponents aren't sending you complete lines - after all, those would just disappear. These lines will often be relatively easy to complete, especially if you've got an I-block in reserve. So here's your first real tip: keep an I-block in reserve.

Keep an I block in your Hold to deal with your opponents' attacks.

When you see one starting to drop, hit the left shoulder button to preserve it (unless you need it right that moment). It will wait for you in the top-left box of your board, and you can later hit the left shoulder again to swap it in, and deal with a pesky line of grey junk.

Update: In addition, while you can see that junk about to hit you in the bar on the left, every bit of junk you would send to your attackers in this period is instead used to remove the garbage lines on their way. So if you clear two lines, you'll remove one line of junk about to hit you.

Every time you KO an opponent (your junk lines are what pushed them over the edge), you'll earn a piece of a badge. With each badge you've earned, your weapons become more powerful, sending 25% more junk to your targeted opponent.

Game Theory FTW

So how do you win at Tetris 99? Well, you are going to have to get good at the fundamental game of Tetris, of course, but until then, you may be able to get by just by laying low and learning a little bit of game theory. You can see who is targeting you, just as your opponents can see when you're targeting them. If anyone targets you, you might as well target them right back. Everyone knows this. Use this to your advantage. Let your attackers know you won't take their junk lines lying down - you fight back.

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Target the people everyone is going after: the people close to losing anyway (because everyone wants KOs). They'll have so many attacks coming they probably won't be able to retaliate against you in particular. Unless you want to try to knock out the competition, don't target the highest-level players, either - they will crush you if your target reticule so much as brushes up against them.

Tetris 99 has a rhythm to it, and a language that all its players quickly understand. Attackers get attacked back. Everyone gangs up on the losers. Of course, if everyone chose their targets randomly, the game would be a lot fairer - but then you may as well be playing on your own. What it comes down to is this:

Don't beat your opponents at Tetris. Beat them at Diplomacy.

There are layers to this game yet to be uncovered completely, and we're going to keep playing until we've figured it all out. We'll see you on the battlefield, so remember: if you don't attack us, we won't attack you.

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