I have such mixed feelings about Tetris 99.

Tetris 99 launched as a Nintendo Switch Online exclusive. Since it was an online-only battle royale, you needed the online subscription to play anyway, so this didn’t really hurt anyone - and making it free to subscribers was a win for Nintendo’s somewhat-maligned online service. It got even cooler when they started doing periodic tournaments that rewarded My Nintendo coins.

But then things got confusing. The game received a DLC expansion called the “Big Block DLC” which added two offline modes. Naturally it didn’t make sense for these to only be available to online subscribers, so the base Tetris 99 game download was no longer exclusive and could be downloaded by anyone for free - though if you didn’t have an online sub, it was useless to you unless you also shelled out ten bucks for the DLC. And if you did have the sub, this game that had initially been a special gift now had additions and improvements you wouldn’t get without spending more money.

This is a weird structure that damages the positioning of Tetris 99 as a nice bonus for getting an online sub, and Nintendo hasn’t really offered anything to replace it (even the NES releases have been getting rather anemic). To me it reads like the initial Tetris 99 release was a low-confidence experiment, and once the game was a hit the developer is now trying to make more money off of it in ways that the original setup didn’t cleanly enable.

Now another wedge is being driven between Nintendo Switch Online and Tetris 99 - and this one’s even more confusing. The game is receiving a physical release that includes the DLC and a one-year online subscription and (at least in the US) is priced the same as those two things put together (the DLC is ten dollars, a year of online is twenty, the physical Tetris 99 that includes both of these is thirty).

One hopes that the DLC content is included on the game card and it isn’t just bundled with a code - otherwise, the card itself is basically just a dongle and the internet is required for it to be any use at all. But even if it is on the card, it feels weird to me that the game forces you to buy an online subscription. If you wanted to play this game online anyway, why attach it to a piece of plastic that makes the game harder to play because it needs to be in the game slot? And if you didn’t, why would you pay triple the cost of the offline modes for it?

At this point it would make so much more sense for Tetris 99 to just be a ten dollar game with all its content, including an online mode that naturally requires the online subscription to play. And I suspect that the main reason this isn’t how it’s structured is due to the legacy of how the game launched - as a free Nintendo Switch Online bonus. The unusual and high-profile nature of that launch surely got the game a lot more attention than it otherwise would have - it seems entirely possible to me that it would have failed without that early boost, given how many simultaneous online players it needs to have to be successful. But it’s made things weird now that it’s trying to monetize further.