Tetris 99: The Best Battle Royale
Last Game Standing
Battle Royale has been one of the fastest growing trends of the past two years in gaming. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has been the main catalyst, wherein 100 players are pitted against each other on a large map with a single, simple objective: be the last person standing. An arsenal of weapons, equipment, and power-ups are scattered across the vast lands to help you achieve your goal. A lack of abilities and items that carry over from match to match help create a level playing field and a simple gameplay loop that doesn't require vast amounts of time investment or in-depth knowledge of intricate mechanics.
However, the explosive success of the genres has contributed to developers and gamers turning a blind eye to some of the factors that hinder the gameplay experience of most titles in the genre. Conflating this with the industry’s obsession to make everything a competitive eSport has resulted in a pattern of questionable design choices for both player and spectator alike.
There are a couple of random factors that come into play with many of the current Battle Royale games:
- The trajectory of the bus/plane/ship across the map at the start of the match,
- The distribution and variety of loot across the map, and
- The location of the safe area.
These design choices help give games a rogue-like feel: randomization across these features keep the feeling new between rounds. It also rewards players who improvise and understand the strengths and weaknesses of the different tools at their disposal. But since most of these are a factor of luck, it means that even the best of players can be caught off-guard and be stuck in an impossible situation.
Additionally, for spectators, it provides too much of an open-ended narrative and fails to create an engaging experience. Other competitive games that are watched by a broad audience have a rigid structure in how the game will be played that provide tension: League of Legends will always have a battle for towers, champions, and the Nexus. CS:GO always has players going for a bomb plant or a hostage rescue. However, the premise of Battle Royale games of “be the last one standing” is too simple and doesn’t create a narrative for the spectators. Yes, the safe area will get smaller eventually, and there will be a last player standing at the end, but there is no guarantee that something exciting will happen due to the complete randomness of some of the most critical factors of the game.
Sparse Player Interactions
This leads well into the second point that is problematic for most Battle Royale games: the amount of player interactions a single match is too low. Fights and interactions on average are heavily skewed to the beginning of the match when there are the most players, and at the end when players are forced into smaller areas to finish the match. However, the middle of the round is relatively calm in terms of player-to-player activity, and usually relegated for looting, strategy and trying to get a bearing on where people are either through vision or watching the kill feed.
Not only is this a weird change of pace for players throughout a game, but also the viewers. People who are spectating are met with a paradox: even with upwards of 100 players running around, there is sometimes nothing to watch.
For a viewer to understand what’s going on in what they’re watching, they need the context and status of the players and the teams. Some games make this simple to do by providing a high-level view of all players’ status.
In Battle Royale games, where each player has their inventory of roughly ten items, the amount of information that changes and needs to be retained in a viewer’s memory reaches the thousands, which is impossible. It’s rarely the case that spectators will know going into a skirmish in PUBG what type of weapons, armor, and items each side possesses to be able to enjoy the outcome. This splits a single match of Battle Royale games into short, distinct encounters that have little narrative that carries over from one fight to the next.
Tetris 99 is the Best Battle Royale
That brings us to the latest contender in the Battle Royale arena. Developed by Arika, known for its Tetris: The Grand Master series, not only does Tetris 99 bring a fresh perspective to the genre, it’s able to address the issues that many of its competitors have.
In its only available mode at the moment, Tetris 99 pits players against 99 other players similar to other Battle Royale games but removes all random factors. Every player plays with the same sequence of tetrominoes, there are no random loot drops, and every mechanic of the game is deterministic. The fact that every player is playing in the same environment, and has no advantage due to random factors makes this rendition of Battle Royale the fairest yet. As the base game is still Tetris, it still rewards high skill. This is balanced by the fact that players are able to be targeted by multiple people; you are free to "gang up" on players that are doing well if you feel that they are a threat. Be conscious in making this decision, as the more people that target a single player, the more potent their attacks will be.
The targeting system does provide a bit more depth by having multiple options: targeting by the ease of being able to KO, a random target, a player with the most badges, or retaliating against attackers. The targeting can be changed at any time and gives way for players to change up their strategy as needed. The limited number of choices given to the player not only keeps the game simple, but the pacing is continuous throughout the whole match: you're always attacking someone, no matter where you are in the match.
Finally, the amount of information you need while playing Tetris 99 is minimal. The only information most people will need to keep an eye on it the number of lines that are incoming, and the number of players attacking you. This will dictate your immediate strategy and playstyle. There’s not a real need to keep track of all 100 players during the match, although the option is provided to the player if needed. Every player viewport has easy to identify UI that signifies their field, along with the number of badges they possess. In a continuous, fast-paced game like Tetris 99, these are mandatory features to ensure that the player’s attention is at the place where it’s needed the most.
All the good qualities aside, Tetris 99 is still missing many of the features that are now expected of Battle Royale games in 2019: squads, spectating modes, and proper leaderboards. However, it’s a refreshing take on the genre that’s able to fix some of the fundamental issues of its competitors. It’s uncertain if the game will be able to maintain its momentum, but it hopefully has changed the way developers think about the genre.