By Alex Irish / December 11th, 2018
|Release Date||November 9th, 2018|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone|
I absolutely love Tetris, having bought various forms of it on multiple platforms over the decades, including Game Boy, DS, Wii, PS3, PSP, and 3DS. It’s a perfectly designed puzzle game no matter what platform it’s hosted on. The timeless puzzle game from Russia (with love) has seen a multitude of highs and lows over the last 30-plus years. Now, acclaimed developer Tetsuya Mizuguchi has brought his special musical touch to the franchise with Tetris Effect, and it is definitely in the upmost echelon of Tetris-dom.
It’s fitting to see Tetris Effect coming from Mr. Miziguchi, given the games on his resume. His PSP block puzzler Lumines back in 2004 borrowed similar block-focused gameplay sensibilities from Tetris, and now a Tetris game under his direction is pulling inspiration from Lumines. They share the same principles in combining otherworldly presentation and hip, modern music together with addictive block-dropping gameplay, and it works so well, I had trouble blinking.
The journey in Tetris Effect starts with, well, Journey mode, where every level is its own living music video during which you play Tetris and clear a select number of lines before moving onward. It plays like the modern Tetris you’ve come to expect, but with several new twists of its own. Yes, you’ve still got your block T-spinning and piece holding in play, but the tempo of the action is ever-evolving.
The speed of the falling blocks can fluctuate on a dime as you clear more lines, and depending on the tempo of the music, multiple times within the same stage. Many levels may seem easy at first, but don’t be fooled. One minute you’re effortlessly stacking Tetris pieces and clearing rows with ease, the next you’re scrambling to keep up and keep the board from filling up. Some stages, in fact, start off difficult enough to give you only the illusion that you’re in control. But thanks to a special Zone meter, you can opt to slow the chaos down and chain line clears together until the meter runs out. This synchronization of Tetris play with the electronic symphony of music is Tetris Effect‘s defining trait, making for a zen experience uniquely different from past Tetris‘.
After finishing the surprisingly short Journey mode, that’s when the real fun begins. Orbit mode hosts the extra challenge modes, online leaderboards, and worldwide event matches with their own criterion. Some of these challenges allow you to marathon themed levels without great issue, but many of the modes seem designed only for high score chasing masochists, such is their seeming impossibility. At worst, I couldn’t achieve a rating above a B. Working away at such tasks as clearing away purple toxic blocks in a time limit, you’re not given enough time often to actually reach that goal. The stage will cycle and refresh the board in an attitude of “LOL, nope” before I can reach all those required blocks.
All the while no matter the mode, you’ll be leveling up to unlock more avatars, visual skins, and, especially, new songs. Under my watch, the experience gains seem totally gimped. Gaining levels seems fast at first, but the pace slows down glacially around level 7, making it take an interminable amount of time to reach new milestones. The net positive is that between the slow leveling up and the various Challenge modes, I’ll be coming back for a long time to unlock everything on offer. At $40 USD, which is higher than the typical Tetris game, this is ultimately a good value.
The visual design is transfixing and, dare I say, magical. Removed of the playing field set in the center, the artwork is most comparable to an interactive Fantasia, ever-evolving and emotionally evocative. The stage and the mood are set through a variety of glittering, sparkling particles, objects floating across realistic settings, and abstract figures in motion. The background art can only distract you from the play board so much, but the gameplay-less Theater mode lets you take in all the view in every level without pressure or worries.
As you’d expect from a Miziguchi game, the music is exquisite and accompanies the visual presentation perfectly. If you’re familiar with Lumines, you know what to expect here. The soundtrack for Effect pulls from worldwide musical genres and instrumentation, enchanting optimistic lyrical musings about worldly connection, or atmospheric tunes built on natural soundscapes. Your own control of the Tetris action adds further sound effects layered on top to enhance the musical score.
And then there’s the PlayStation VR mode, another key differentiation that sets Tetris Effect apart from its predecessors. Never before has a single game made me rush out to get my own PSVR device as this has. Tetris Effect‘s visual design lends itself astonishingly well to VR, with its copious 3D landscapes, flying objects, and fields of stars and particles sweeping towards the screen. Tetris has experimented with 3D effects before across V-Tetris, 3D Tetris, and Tetris Axis, but Effect takes it to a whole other level. When testing out PlayStation VR compatibility at first, the effect doesn’t seem like a big deal. In due time though, I found myself sucked away into a futuristic wonder world, immersed in the setting of the levels.
I can genuinely see Tetris Effect as the Wii Sports of PSVR, that singular game that will make VR converts out of newcomers, just as Wii Sports sold the Wii Remote’s motion controls. A puzzle game is an unlikely contender to sell VR, but Tetris Effect‘s soothing, intoxicating, trance-inducing nature is an absorbing fit for the technology. My only bugbear is I can’t adjust the size of the Tetris playfield; it forever stays small, but I guess to call attention to the surrounding background art, that was the point.
Update: Turns out you can adjust the size of the playing field, either with the left control stick or in the Options menu. Thanks to Enhance Games’ Mark MacDonald for the heads up.
Tetris Effect is the full realization of what Miziguchi set out to do when he first made Lumines all those years ago. In a word, Tetris Effect is transcendent: the perfect synchronization of puzzle game, art, and music. Beyond the sights and sounds, it’s got killer-app worthy PSVR compatibility. I’ve already spent a good five hours on Effect, and I’m not done yet thanks to its various extra modes. Who would have thought that a Tetris game would be considered as a Game of the Year contender? Videos and screenshots alone aren’t enough to explain its genius; you only have to experience it yourself to see it.
Review copy purchased by author
Enhance GamesMonstars Inc./ResonairoprainfallPlayStation 4Tetris Effect