Last week, with no warning, Tetris 99 was unleashed upon the world, and puzzle games will never be the same. Infusing the "me against the world" psychology of the battle royale genre and applying it to the highly accessible, generally non-violent action of the most successful game of all time may seem like a no-brainer in theory, but in practice, it's a work of genius. People who had never considered puzzlers as viable spectator sports are now marveling at high-level Tetris play in record numbers. The game's success could mark a tipping point for the genre, taking it from a leisurely, time-killing diversion to a cutthroat, prime-time main event.
Justin Wong knows all about those kinds of tipping points. He was the co-star of "EVO Moment 37," an event many cite as the exact point in time when watching high-level fighting gameplay went from something that was only for the FGC to a sport with much broader appeal. Since then he's gone on to rank #1 in countless tournaments, taking the top spot in a diverse range of games including Street Fighter V, Pokkén Tournament, Skullgirls, Mortal Kombat X, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Vampire Savior, and many others.
Justin also consults with game devs on roster balance and other areas that appeal to his particular expertise. Crystal Crisis, the massive crossover puzzle/fighting game, is the latest project he's pitched in on. It's set to launch this May, and given the popularity of Tetris 99, it could be poised for a huge success, but only if it's able to appeal to the FGC and puzzle fans in equal measure.
We talked to Justin about all that, what he thinks it will take to make the FGC take puzzle games more seriously, and maybe most important of all, which game he would add Smash Bros. Brawl-style tripping to if he had his druthers. His answer shocked and surprised me.