It's 1990 and I'm nine years old. I'm sitting in a friend's kitchen after we get back from seeing the movie The Wizard. His dad made some weird soup that I'm nervous to eat. I think it has venison in it. It smells weird. Our group of friends takes turns passing around a couple of Game Boys to play this Tetris game, which I don't really understand how to play. They explain the rules to me and I get it now. I'm not good at it, but I get it.
It's 1993 and I'm twelve years old. I have to go into the hospital for some minor surgery. To comfort me beforehand, my mom brings our Game Boys and we play Tetris against each other while I'm in the hospital bed. Remember when you had to physically link video game systems together via a cable? As whatever is in the IV seeps into my bloodstream, I start to get drowsy. This day lives on in infamy as the only time my mom was ever able to beat me at Tetris.
It's 2003 and I'm twenty-three years old. I'm dating this girl who has several roommates, one of which is a guy who loved playing Tetris against me as he insisted I was the only player to ever give him a challenge. He owns a SNES and when he smokes he likes to play Tetris. I think it's the only game he owns. We have many Tetris marathon sessions that go on for hours. I think we'd bet money on them. I'd have too much to drink those nights.
It's 2012 and I'm thirty-one years old. After watching a documentary called The Ecstasy Of Order, my wife becomes infatuated with Tetris for the first time since she was a kid. We bond over Tetris World on Gamecube. I get too competitive, though. I can't help it. Tetris brings out this side of me.
It's 2017 and I'm thirty-six years old. I finally decide to put away Breath Of The Wild, and the Switch turns into a defacto Puyo Puyo Tetris machine. It becomes my go-to game to play while listening to reruns of The Office and Parks And Rec. It's total comfort food.
I recount all of these little anecdotes to illustrate just how ubiquitous Tetris is with my gaming life. It seems like even if Tetris is pushed aside for other things, there's always a version of Tetris that I need to have around for any phase I go through. The same way my mom bought Beatles albums on vinyl, then cassette, then CD, then... a Spotify subscription, you sometimes end up buying your favorite games over and over again just to continue to have convenient access to them.
It's 2019 and I'm (almost) thirty-eight. We're watching the Nintendo Direct when Tetris 99 is announced. There was something truly awesome about Nintendo announcing this game we knew nothing about. They were just like, "hey, this exists. And it's out right now. And it's free." So I went and downloaded it with glee. Two matches in, I had ranked #4 and felt like an absolute boss.
Tetris 99 is brilliant. It's a game that I didn't know I needed until it existed. It's such a perfect concept: Play Tetris against 98 people and the last player standing wins. There's strategy to be found. Like do you target the best player? The one closest to losing? The one(s) attacking you? There's a drama that comes with seeing that only fifty players remain. Or that ten remain! All the while the game speeds up as more players go out. It is such a blissful chaos.
I can't say that I'm GOOD at Tetris. I've watched videos of Tetris Masters playing, and I'm not one of them. There's a whole world of stuff I don't understand. T-Spins and all that? Yeah, I don't know. I just play. But I can at least say that I'm not BAD at Tetris. And the next night I got a 3rd place. Then next night a 2nd. I became hooked - compelled to constantly keep trying the same way I felt as a kid playing the original Game Boy cart. I wasn't so much playing against 98 other people as I was competing with myself to top my last attempt.
And that next night... I came in first. It was an amazing feeling. I took a screenshot and ran into the bedroom and whispered "are you asleep?" My wife rolled over and I showed her the screen. She was proud, haha.
I love that Nintendo is making plays like this - these weird surprise games that are totally leftfield. And for everyone who shrugs off the Switch Online service, this is proof that Nintendo does want to make some clear strides to make the service worth your money. I'm just thrilled that this weird game is even a thing, and I can see myself playing it a hell of a lot for years to come.
Seven months later, Tetris 99 remains my most played game of the year. It's crazy. This update of a thirty year old game that Nintendo gave away for free to Switch Online subscribers, and I just can't stop playing it.
What's amazing is the support that Nintendo has put into this game. Y'know the whole "games as service" thing? Yeah. They know what they're doing. The 7th Maximus Cup tournament has been announced for this month. And I've taken part in every one of them so far. I've unlocked all those tournament skins, baby.
And in the past month we've seen the big 2.0 update, which is the reason I'm writing about the game again now. I mean really I could write about it on a weekly basis, given how often I fire it up to play a couple rounds before bed. But the update added so much new content.
First of all, daily challenges are perfect for this game. Now that they're here, I'm not sure why they weren't from day one. Daily challenges are the kind of thing that kept me logging in to Dead Cells or other games of the ilk. And they earn you tokens that can unlock even more rando skins. Good stuff. Fun stuff.
The other huge thing is Invictus which is a special mode that plays just like the normal Tetris 99 mode, except it's only available if you've come in first place before. Since I've done this a bunch of times, I felt like I was part of an exclusive club. Not so much. Where I normally finish in the Top 5 or so in a vanilla Tetris 99 game, Invictus is the big time and these folks don't mess around. So now I'm struggling to finish in the sixties. It's crazy. But it's also rewarding. It feels like Nintendo was able to introduce a new challenge here, basically creating a paradigm where you can choose to play casual or competitive.
So far, I'd call Tetris 99 my game of 2019. There's still a few months left to dethrone it. But we'll see.
I finally won an Invictus. I don't really have a lot to say. I just wanted to say that cuz I was pretty proud. Big time stuff. As the year ends, Tetris 99 is by far my most played game of 2019. So it was cool to finally get a big win like that. Strangely, there's no achievement for winning just a single Invictus. Huh.