The release of Tetris 99 on the Nintendo Switch has brought the world’s favourite puzzle game back into the forefront. Despite the release of two big Tetris games in the past few years, Tetris as a series hasn’t seen this big of a resurgence in such a long time. What is it about Tetris 99 that has seen the series explode in popularity?

Battle Royale has dominated the last three years of gaming: PUBG, Fortnite and now Apex Legends have shown that this game mode isn’t a fad, it’s here to stay. Adding in Battle Royale to a game like Tetris seems almost like a joke. Where do you even begin to create something like this? Arika, the developers of Tetris 99, started off by taking an existing Tetris game mode, Battle mode, and increased the player count to 99.

There are some slight differences to Tetris 99’s Battle Royale mode compared to Battle mode, such as the Badge system that allows you to send more garbage lines if you K.O. people. You’ve also got the the new targeting system which helps to distribute your garbage lines effectively.

While the Battle Royale game mode puts a new spin on the traditional Battle mode, it still doesn’t differentiate itself in the same way that Puyo Puyo Tetris or Tetris Effect do. Puyo Puyo Tetris took two of the biggest puzzle games together and somehow managed to build an even better game, whereas Tetris Effect changed the Tetris formula completely, receiving critical acclaim from the games press. These two games add new layers to the Tetris formula, yet they have had nowhere near the impact that Tetris 99 has had.

There are several factors as to why Tetris 99’s single game mode has made a bigger impact than two full games, however, the one I want to focus on right now is the free-to-play aspect. We’ve seen how big games can become if they launch as free-to-play titles. An example of this is half the stuff you can play on mobile phones like Candy Crush, but the main one people will know all about is Fortnite. Before Fortnite Battle Royale came out, Fortnite Save The World existed, albeit quietly. As a free to play title, Fortnite became the most popular game of 2018 because the developers decided to let the game’s quality do all the talking.

Respawn Entertainment, the developers behind Titanfall, released Apex Legends with the same idea: we know this game is great and we want everyone to play it. Tetris 99 launched in a similar fashion, though, like Apex Legends, it had a lot of things going for it to help bring even more attention to it. Tetris 99 launched at the perfect time on the Nintendo Switch as there isn’t anything major coming out for quite a while.

Battle mode in other Tetris games has been a staple for years, but this is the first time where a Tetris game has been free-to-play on any console. By putting Tetris 99 into as many hands as possible, Nintendo not only guaranteed the game will have an active player-base, it also showed people what they’ve missing out on for so many years.

There’s something about Battle Royale that makes people want to watch on streaming platforms. Tetris 99 appears to be no exception to this as it has been performing extraordinarily well, especially when compared to every other Tetris game. With more and more people being introduced to Tetris, websites like Twitch are perfect for showcasing some of the world’s best Tetris players.

Some of you may have heard of the streamer named Wumbotize before Tetris 99, however, anyone that has tried to watch Tetris on Twitch now will know exactly who he is. In the past week, his followers have tripled, and his average viewer count has increased from 35 to over 700. This is just one example of how much the overall interest in Tetris has piqued with this latest release.

Tetris 99 is about as barebones as it gets, featuring just three menus: Battle Royale, Stats and Options. The game doesn’t even include a tutorial, making it difficult for people who are unfamiliar with Battle mode to get into this game quickly. Despite this, it looks like most people will persevere until they understand exactly what they need to do. Fortunately, the game is fairly straightforward meaning it doesn’t take very long to understand the mechanics.

So, if you want your game to do well, is there an argument for adding a Battle Royale mode and making it free-to-play? Well, there might be some truth to that… Jokes aside, being free-to-play is certainly the biggest factor in all of this. The Battle Royale mode helps to keep the game relevant on Twitch, but ultimately I believe being free-to-play is the key to making Tetris great again.

Think of all the games that may have survived if they launched with a business model focused on cosmetics instead of having a high price tag. The two games that come to mind are Onrush and Lawbreakers, two good games in their own right which didn’t stand a chance of surviving beyond its first month due to the lack of an active player-base.

If you enjoy Tetris 99 and you want to take your skills to another level, consider trying out Puyo Puyo Tetris and Tetris Effect, two excellent games that deserve more attention. Puyo Puyo Tetris in particular has a Battle mode that actually shows you your opponent’s screen, giving you a chance to react to what they have coming and also punish them for any mistakes they’ve made.