Tetris has been a part of my life for as long as I care to remember. Well, since I was 9 years old anyway.
It is my all time number one game of all time (yes I used of all time twice), it is genius in its simplicity. No other game has come close to nailing that gameplay loop, for me it is perfection.
Like most people in the Western World, I grew up playing the Gameboy version and I played it to death on my Uncle’s Gameboy, which I played whenever I went to my Nan’s, before finally getting one of my own.
There have been so many versions some great some… well not so. The Grandmaster is a standout for sure but it was the introduction of Puyo Puyo Tetris that seemed to reinvigorate the game for the masses. It was worth buying that game for Tetris alone, even if you didn’t care for the also wonderful Puyo Puyo parts.
Then on 13th February 2019 everything was flipped on its head. Nintendo seemed to be doing April Fools very, very early. As they introduced their own take on Battle Royale. Not using Mario, or even the more suited Splatoon, but instead it was Tetris that would be the base for their attempt to crack the popular genre.
Even I as a massive Tetris fan had some concerns, there is no way this could be good, let alone become my most played game of 2019. However what Nintendo and The Tetris Company produced was something to behold.
What has any of this got to do with Mental Health and why is it the first thing I wanted to write about?
I went through a period where I played games just because I felt I had to, it was my hobby and I had to play. I was really just going through the motions, rather than actually enjoying those games as much as I should.
Don’t get me wrong, I played some wonderful games and I could appreciate them, but somehow I was missing something. But then playing Tetris 99 for the first time, everything changed!
From the very first seconds of playing Tetris 99, something just clicked. Sure I played it like it was a traditional Tetris game and finished something like 11th out of 99, as I and everyone else cane to terms with what the hell this new thing was. Yet I needed a fix, I needed to go again.
Within moments I was into a second game, a third, forth, fifth, sixth… fiftieth and so on. I lost countless hours to this game on the first day or so. It was so, so, good. It was also free… the fools, I would have paid real actual money for this game, it is digital crack (they did release paid DLC and I did get it, but that is for later in the story).
Yes, technically it wasn’t actually ‘free’ as you needed Nintendo Switch Online to get it, but I was already using it for the NES offerings. So it wasn’t costing me any extra.
That gameplay loop took me back to a time when I was actually happy, when I wasn’t being bullied, when I had no worries, when I felt normal.
Imagine that scene in Rateatoullie where the critic tastes the restaurant’s offering and is immediately taken back to his fondest memory. It was that except going back to the monochrome glory that was Tetris on the Gameboy.
Unlike other Battle Royale games, Tetris 99 doesn’t last for nigh on an hour per round, as you hide away in a bush, a bathroom or anywhere you can jus to stay around. Or try and get some action, get killed and have no fun.
In Tetris 99 you play Tetris, whether you win, get to the top 10, or get knocked out early, you are still playing the game as it should be played. Played as it was intended 30 years previously. (With some slight tweaks to the gameplay).
Games aren’t so long they outstay their welcome. but get even competent and you spend enough time in each round to work out some strategies to help you get better and finally get those wins.
Aside from the paid DLC, which adds some offline modes and some other nice bits, there is nothing to buy, no lootbox mechanics, no (as yet) paid season or battle passes, nor micro-transactions. Now that can change of course, but there is something pure.
You can now unlock themes by completing daily tasks to earn in game tickets to buy them with and there are achievements to unlock icons and such. Instead you can get special themes via events that are themed around other Nintendo IP and really are worth having.
That is the one dangerous hook I found with the game that hits me right were I have serious issues. Now I hate the term, but I do suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), so make sure I am free to do these events and make sure I clear a schedule to get the required 100 points to unlock them.
Luckily getting 100 points is easy and can get 100 with a single win (humble brag: I win often enough), but even if you suck at the game, getting 100 points isn’t a huge grind. In fact the balance to make the game accessible for hardcore players and casuals is something to behold.
I cannot quite put into words why this has such a positive effect on me (despite the tons of them above), but it does. I find that a few rounds in the morning can put me in a great mood for the day if I grab a win. Even if I have a few bad rounds, I helps me release something that would otherwise build up inside me.
Being able to forget my worries for a few moments cannot be underestimated. Such is the concentration needed for the game, there is no room for those little voices, or those dark thoughts. Tetris 99 can be better than any professional help at times… I kid of course, but it shows the power of games and how good they can be for those of us who struggle with ourselves.
I’ve never done drugs (I am an obsessive, so that would be a dark road for me), but they would need to be special to match that feeling of getting a Tetris Maximus on Invictus mode.
Now, back to it for my next fix.