When it comes to the classics in this medium of video gaming, the line-up of usual suspects almost always include the likes of Mario, The Legend of Zelda and others of that kind. Despite being a sales and critical juggernaut, one that hardly gets a mention in the conversation is Tetris, the tile-matching phenomenon that is as addictive as it is basic in concept. Who knew that marrying the simple premise of Tetris with the genius of Tetsuya Mizuguchi would result in one of the year’s surprise packets?
Tetris Effect, named after the real-world syndrome that causes people to form patterns in their minds and even dreams after exposure to prolonged sessions of Tetris, exists as a cathartic blend of both traditional puzzle-solving, as seen in Tetris and its many iterations for over thirty years, and the unique rhythmic persona shared by titles like Lumines and Rez Infinite. Despite its modernised lick of paint, it’s still odd to revert back to such a primitive age, especially when you consider the year we’ve been lucky enough to have in this medium. And yet, there’s something akin to relief that washes over as you enter this uncomplicated and unappreciated realm of gaming. Tetris Effect is prepared to be whatever you need it to be, catering to both those prepared to be crushed under a seemingly insurmountable challenge and to those who long to unwind after the day’s labours.
Of course, helping tetrominoes find their perfect mates is still the beating heart of Tetris Effect, Resonair hasn’t been timid about attempting to improve on an industry icon. Putting the musical leanings to one side for the moment, the most notable departure from the normal recipe is the Zone mechanic. Like most special moves, you’re only able to enter said Zone once a meter is filled through regular play. Once you pull the trigger, time stops and each line you clear within the brief window begin to pile-up from the bottom and the more you clear, the higher your bonus will be. If you’re gunning for those high scores on the leaderboard—I’m not, my ass is riveted to the bottom rung of that ladder—mastering this mechanic is the way to boost rookie numbers. It’s a nice twist on the tried and true formula that adds a really deep strategic layer to Tetris Effect.
With Mizuguchi’s fingerprints all over it, there’s a lot of similarities to Lumines and Rez to be drawn here. The game’s backbone is a rich catalogue of reactive electronic and trance music that plays and escalates depending on player input, it’s a sweet tapestry that really creates the ultimate catharsis. In the strictest sense, Tetris Effect isn’t a rhythm game mainly due to the fact that the music responds to your input as opposed to it determining yours. In games like Thumper and Rez, the designers can craft the experience to match the beat, working within a predetermined timeframe. Because Tetris is so unpredictable, it was impossible for Resonair to give the music that same agency, instead, it’s the player bringing the music to life which, if you ask me, is arguably much cooler.
Tetris Effect has a lot of wonderful modes to work through but you’ll likely begin with the game’s attempt at a story mode in its Journey mode. Billed as an exhaustive dive into the mind and soul in pursuit of enlightenment, it amounts to little more than pretty lights and sounds. It never evokes any grand feelings of importance, though as it takes you from spot to spot at a seemingly breakneck speed you don’t ever yearn for something bigger because what Tetris Effect does do is enough. As a novice, I found even the easier difficulties of this quasi-campaign quite challenging toward the end. For a more chill time, there’s a lot to chew on in the Effects modes which include a great many more relaxing exercises, including no-fail play set to ambient swells and, of course, classic Tetris in its long-standing original form.
If you have your sea legs, Tetris Effect is an engrossing ride when tethered to the goggles of PlayStation VR. It’s a perfect match for the fast pace of Tetris and, having read of lower latency when using the peripheral, I’m glad to confirm that it’s true. My performance improved out of sight whilst inside the game as my heightened response time took my block-stacking to a new level. If you’ve got a headset, I encourage you to go through the pain of hooking it up because Tetris Effect is one of the more wonderful applications of the technology.
Whether it’s the eponymous effect at play or not, Tetris Effect consumes my thought, not only because I am determined to improve at the game but because there’s a certain level of escapism at play. In a time where games are hamstrung by innumerable objectives and menial tasks, the blessing of Tetris Effect is that it doesn’t overwhelm you.
THE PLAYSTATION 4 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Tetris is like an old shoe, it's comfortable and familiar. It's hard to believe that three decades on, Tetris is still making the splash it is. It's an evergreen sensation that constantly renews itself and its latest iteration, Tetris Effect might be its euphoric best. Were this rock and roll, Tetris would be held in as high esteem as The Beatles and this particular game would be its 'Revolver'.