A few weeks ago I caved and signed up for the ‘Switch Online’ service. Sitting in a PC gaming chair for the past few years has meant that I’ve never paid for an online console subscription so the concept was pretty foreign to me. What finally won me over was access to the virtual console NES & SNES games and the vague idea that I might try a few couch online games…
… what my wife and I have actually done is sink a chunk of time into Tetris 99. Or more accurately many many small chunks because Tetris 99 is one of those games that’s delightfully easy to pick up in a spare ten minutes. For anyone not familiar with the concept, Tetris 99 is a Battle Royale version of that iconic soviet puzzle game where 99 players battle it out to be the last one standing. Clearing rows is necessary, not only to keep you in the game, but it also sends those garbage rows (missing one square) to the bottom of a target’s board, pushing them closer to failure. The whole thing comes together to form a satisfying experience that I found, despite not really being much of a Tetris player, is very rewarding even if I’ve yet to claim a victory (4th place being my best performance at time of writing).
One of the cool things about Tetris 99 is that there are no instructions, which means that in order to discover the subtleties of the game (for example how back-to-backs or combos work) involves playing it lots or finding an online guide. This bring me neatly on to T-spins (which, if you’re like me and have only a passing knowledge of Tetris, you’re unlikely to have heard of). I was having a pretty good game. One thing that I did know about Tetris is that a ‘Tetris’ is the clearance of four lines with a single piece and represents the best move in the game… right? In Tetris 99 this sends 4 lines of garbage (not considering other bonuses) to your opponent and I’d had a solid number of them by the time I was finally wiped out. Curious to know how many I’d racked up I checked out my game stats. I noticed an entire stats section devoted to ‘T-Spins’… and was compelled to go away and find out what exactly a T-Spin is, and why I’d want to start filling those columns with numbers.
What is a T-Spin?
Maybe this is common gaming knowledge, maybe it’s obscure; all I know is that I hadn’t come across the term prior to this. T-spins come in a number of different flavours, but they all use the property that the T-piece is two blocks wide in one dimension and three blocks wide in the other. They also use the fact that rotations in Tetris occur instantly with the piece being rotated changing from one orientation to the other without passing through any intermediate positions. In order to T-spin the player drops the T-piece through a gap that’s two blocks wide and as it lands rotate it into a gap that perfectly fits the T-piece in a horizontal orientation. Sure it looks like you can’t do the rotation physically, but when did physics and video games ever have a co-operative relationship.
The most common variety is the T-Spin double where you use this method to complete two rows. Check out this diagram:
First you need to create a horizontal T-shaped gap in otherwise complete rows and then add a one-block-wide overhang to the gap so you can’t just drop the piece straight in. Once that’s done just wait for your next T-piece, drop it in to the hole lengthways, and as it lands rotate it in to the gap to clear those two rows using a seemingly impossible rotation. Cool huh? There’s even a more impossible seeming version called the T-spin triple which clears three rows by creating a vertical T-gap off the horizontal one and by using two spins (and I swear some kind of witchcraft) complete three rows.… but I’ve yet to attempt that one…
… because a T-spin double sends four rows of garbage to your target, the same amount as a Tetris, but does this by clearing only two rows which means you can keep your own board lower and theoretically fire these off quicker than you can set up a Tetris. The T-spin triple is actually more powerful than the Tetris and sends six rows of garbage to your target (not as powerful as a full clearance, but that’s a challenge for another day).
Sometimes to Move Forward We Have to Move Backward
The problem I was facing was that I was hard wired not to play Tetris this way. Instinctively I want to keep the board neat, leave a single column down one side and go for the Tetris whenever I can. Even understanding which Tetriminos go together to form the setup was proving tricky, let alone making the spin itself and trying to cope with incoming attacks. Sure, I could have paid to unlock marathon mode, but I decided instead to go to the only other version of Tetris we had in the house to practice.
Oh yes, to learn T-spins I dusted off an old 2nd hand GameBoy and played Tetris ’89…. which is where this rabbit hole gets a bit deeper I’m afraid, so settle in. To start with, yes, it is entirely possible to T-spin in Tetris ’89 on GameBoy,/NES although at this point it wasn’t recognised as a ‘move’ so there’s no real reason to do it other than to get out of a tricky overhang situation. This didn’t concern me, I just wanted to practice the setup and execution. Having said that, there are three differences between this version of Tetris and modern version of the game that make it much trickier and I had to learn about the hard way.
First up modern versions use what’s known as the ‘bag-of-seven’ randomisation technique. This means that all seven pieces are delivered to the player in a random order, as if being pulled one by one out of a bag. Once the player has received that set of seven the ‘bag’ is refilled and another set of all seven pieces is delivered to the player. This means that although the ordering of the pieces is random there will never be more than twelve pieces delivered between two of the same type and in general you’ll get every type of piece fairly regularly. Tetris ’89 doesn’t do this; the pieces are entirely randomised. That’s why we all have memories of screaming for one of those long pieces and instead getting ‘S’ piece after ‘S’ piece. This made practising the setup much trickier because I couldn’t rely on a good selection of pieces coming my way.
Secondly Tetris ’89 doesn’t let you ‘wall-kick’; a wall kick is where you try and rotate a piece next to a wall such that the rotation would normally be constrained by the wall. In modern versions the game will (if possible) kick the piece away from the wall to allow the rotated orientation. Again, Tetris ’89 doesn’t do this; a wall will stop rotations even if the piece is free to move away from the wall. This means that you have to pay way more attention to the orientation of the piece when dropping it in for a T-spin as the game is much more rigid about which way you can preform the final rotation.
Finally, pieces in Tetris ’89 settle almost instantly. The modern game allows you to rotate pieces that have landed seemingly endlessly until you’re happy, but in ’89 they didn’t take that kind of nonsense; once it’s down, it’s down! Which means the timing for the T-spin needs to be perfect.
Despite all of this, I did manage to start setting up and performing T-Spins to the point that I was at least starting to recognise how I could stack things up to make the setup. Experience under my belt I headed back to Tetris 99 and…
.. there it is! my first T-spin double in Tetris 99… ok, so it took me too long to setup and the board is a mess, but within a few rounds I was pretty confident at making a few T-spins early on in the game.
Hand on heart I can say that… I’m still pretty terrible at slipping them seamlessly in to a game. Each time I pull one off it feels a bit better and I need to make less of a conscious effort to do it, and who knows, maybe my next challenge will be that illusive triple or the full clearance. What I have found is that it has kind of added different options to play. Knowing that it can inflict a heavy hit early on and with less prep than the Tetris I tend to focus on them during the early game or when my board is low, gradually as the board builds I end up switching to looking for the triples or the Tetris in an effort to score hits and get rid of some blocks… and of course it generally deteriorates in to a frantic dash just to clear lines as the enemies pile in….
The point is… if there needs to be a point?… should there be a point?… if there is a point I think it is… you should try playing Tetris 99 if you have Switch Online… There, is that a good note to finish on?