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Tetris 99 might be the best battle royale yet

Spin doctors.

Really? Do I really, honestly, truthfully, hand on heart believe that Tetris 99, a free-to-play spin on an age-old classic that stealth dropped on Nintendo Switch last week, is the measure of established behemoths such as Fortnite and PUBG as well as the hyper-polished, brilliantly playable current darling Apex Legends? Well yes, I do - partly because I'm still in that honeymoon period, partly because, well, it's Tetris. And it's just as smart and exciting a spin on that beloved formula as last year's Tetris Effect.

Mostly, though, I love it for the sheer audacity of it all. Tetris 99 is like a joke someone made on Twitter - I'm not even sure it's a joke that banged all that much, and probably didn't get more than half-a-dozen likes - that Nintendo and developer Arika then ran with and made absolutely shine. Arika knows its stuff when it comes to tetrominoes, of course, having crafted hard-edged classics such as The Grand Master series for arcade (revered as some of the best Tetris games out there according to the scholar and expert John Linneman of Digital Foundry) - and that expertise shines throughout Tetris 99.

It's worth pointing out that the Joy-Cons aren't great for precision play, and the faults with the precision of the Switch Pro Controller are highlighted when things get intense.

So yes, it's just Tetris, but it's supplemented thoughtfully. The mechanics beneath the fundamentals are a little arcane, though I personally find that thrilling as specifics are slowly picked apart. The basics are easy enough - clear lines to send trash another players' way - with a few kinks of their own. Clearing a single line won't impact another player, and is more a way of tidying up - to do real damage, you'll have to clear multiple lines at once, with combos and t-spins helping you stack even more punishment up.

Then there's the business of incoming attacks, which sit impatiently on a timer to the left of your playspace, giving you a small window of opportunity to minimise the damage. It's a fairly typical versus Tetris game, but oh my that twist - there's so much fighting going on at once, the screen lighting up like a switchboard with all the damage being swapped between players.

And that's where it gets a little - okay, quite a lot - more complicated. My best advice would be to sit down and seriously study this super helpful Reddit post which summarises the key mechanics, as well as theorising on a handful more. Basically, though, you've got four options to automate who you're targeting at any one time, from those who are close to being knocked out, those attacking you and those who've acquired the most badges - badges being collected upon knocking out a set number of other players - and finally the default option of targeting random players. On top of that, there is also the option to manually target other players if you're phenomenally talented and adept, as well as having killer eyesight.

Datamining has revealed a handful of new modes coming soon, including traditional Marathon as well as Team Battle.

There's a lot to take in, in short, and I'm still not entirely on top of it - though I'm having a great time trying to figure it all out. What's fascinating is how well-suited this brand of Tetris seems to be to the battle royale formula, and how the nuances and joys of that particular genre soon begin to shine through in Tetris 99. There are the mismatched encounters, getting the rub of the green and managing to slip through to the final few players unnoticed or just the growing tension of coming across more and more skilled and powerful players.

And then there's the simple fact that battle royale games are so damned addictive, and it's not as if Tetris wasn't enough of a hook on its own. It's a phenomenal thing, pretty much justifying the cost of a Nintendo Online subscription in one fell swoop, and I dare think of the number of hours I'm going to end up putting in over the course of the year. The funny thing is, towards the end of last year when we were debating what the greatest game of 2018 was, there was a clean split between those who wanted a battle royale game in the shape of Fortnite to win and those who wanted Tetris Effect to champion. Tetris 99 might well be the game that could have appeased both camps. A Tetris game winning our game of the year twice in a row - why not?

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