When I was a little boy, I use to spend a lot of time on the Nintendo Gameboy. You know the one, heavy, bulky and grey. Powered by four (FOUR!?) AA batteries and I am pretty sure you could knock someone out with it if you gave it a good go. Besides the bulk of the system in question, the game I would play the most unsurprisingly was Tetris. I would spend hours upon hours rotating all the tetriminos into place, lining them up just right and somehow still being laughably bad and failing after a short while. There was something always just right about the challenge, the music and just the “feel” that would make me play that game for hours on end. At least in my younger years.
When I was thirteen, I use to spend a lot of time on my Sony PlayStation Portable. You know the one, heavy, bulky and grey. Who knows what powered that battery as I can always remember being plugged into the wall. Besides the questionable battery (which is probably expanding and about to explode somewhere in a draw right now), the game I would play the most unsurprisingly was Lumines. I would spend hours upon hours rotating all the cubes into place, lining them up just right into the time of the music and somehow being laughably bad and failing after a surprisingly long amount of time. There was something always just right about the challenge, the music and just the “feel” that would make me play that game for hours on end. At least in my teen years.
What happens if you smash Lumines and Tetris together? I’m pretty sure you’d get something that looks like “Tetris Effect”. Not to say that Tetris Effect is a simple cash-in that someone has haphazardly thrown together. In terms of gameplay it is the usual Tetris that we all know and have come to love at this point. Make sure you don’t reach the top otherwise it’s game over.
It is important to note that this is a good feeling Tetris game at its core, and with this foundation they just build more and more on top of it. Much like a really good cake, which is made even better with cracking icing.
The icing in this case is the sound design. This is the real draw of Tetris Effect and where most of the Lumines comparisons come into consideration. Each stage has different themes, different sounds, different music and a different colour scheme that makes them all feel unique in their own way. The first stage The Deep sees you underwater and as you rotate a block an aquatic sound emits, merging perfectly with the song that is being played. It is truly a wondrous feeling when you are focused upon the screen, the music immensering you, fully paired with getting a “Tetris”. It’s like achieving the ultimate kind of video game zen.
I have felt the opposite of zen however when playing the main campaign, Journey Mode. Unrivalled seat of the pants sweating frantically rotating anything just to create a line. In this mode you have a series of stages one after another, usually a theme or concept linking all of them together. Once you have achieved 36 lines you progress to the next stage after a brief intermission. At first the intermission, I believed it was unnecessary, I wanted it to be a constant rollercoaster ride with no breaks. However, after some time in that mode a lot of the stages are linked in theme but vary in speed so much that a breather from time to time is very necessary.
Something band new to Tetris as a whole is the Zone mechanic. As you create lines in the corner a circle fills up, at anytime you can activate zone and unleash an always super helpful time freeze. Once activated, the music fades away to a distant distortion in the background, that manic feeling you just had goes with it and here is a short period for you to compose yourself and create lines that stack up on to one another. Activating zone is not just a button to guarantee you will get out of your impossible jam however, you still need to be focused to succeed. Use it too early and it’s a waste, but if you deploy it too late then you may find yourself in an even worse position because it is just “too late”. Mastering however will allow you to perform a “decahexatris” of 16 lines simultaneously, or even more! I tip my hat to you if you can achieve more.
Aside from the main campaign there is another mode, Effect Mode, where there are different playlists or gameplay mechanics to add to the base Tetris Effect experience. It could be a chill playlist where you play Tetris where there are no constraints, and if you fail you will continue with no penalty or reach 150 lines as quick as you can. A personal favourite is the Purify Mode which “infects” certain blocks and the player has to try and clear said blocks before the infection spreads.
They also have community events here and if enough people contribute enough lines, rotations or games everyone receives an in-game gift. At first glance this can seem like a tacked-on addition but significant use of this mode will enhance your Tetris skills overall and make you a better player all around. There is a levelling system tied to how much you play and how well you play, the better you do the more points you will get leading to more challenges meaning you will keep returning and getting better at the game.
The game is lacking in some respects, after Puyo Puyo Tetris showed us how entertaining it could be to play Tetris together, the lack of any type of local multiplayer is very disheartening. Of the same vein is the world map which allows you to fly around in your respective avatar (of which you can obtain different ones through playing the game) whether it be a manta ray, bird, etc. and see other players that are currently active. Whilst the experience of flying around the world fits in the motif that Tetris Effect has, it would have been nice if you could interact with other players more meaningfully.
One of the main reasons that this is such a strong entry to the series is Virtual Reality. The developer has previous experience in VR and using this knowledge they have made sure that it is a well polished experience. The look, sound and feel are the delicious meaty filling and the VR is the most satisfying bread you can imagine to keep it contained. Placing the headset on, plugging in the headphones and allowing yourself to be fully engulfed in this world of Tetriminos is one heck of a time. You are aware of all the stages changing and evolving around you, the sound reacting to every move you make and that zone mechanic mentioned earlier? It feels even sweeter when activated in VR. This game is good on a regular television but when when you add VR you just feel more connected to it, you have no distractions, no phone messages, no outside noises, it is just you and the Tetris. Just like how I used to play it when I was a child on my Game Boy.
If you don’t like Tetris and have not throughout your life, then this is not going to be for you. Tetris Effect, however, is a really good Tetris game. If you have a PlayStation VR headset then it is a great Tetris game. It plays to the game’s strength of this being a 1 to 1 experience beaming straight into your soul. If you wanted something you could share with other people I’d recommend sticking with Puyo Puyo Tetris.
4 stars out of 5.