The Tetris Effect is a phenomenon in which people who had been exposed to Tetris for a prolonged period of time began to see the game everywhere. They’d find themselves thinking about how things in the real world, like boxes on a store shelf, would fit together. They’d see falling tetrominoes when they’d close their eyes. They’d even have dreams about the game.
Tetsuya Mizuguchi is a Japanese game designer known for creating puzzle games with entrancing sounds and mesmerizing visuals. His two most notable titles are the PSP puzzler Lumines and psychedelic rail-shooter Rez. So what do you get when one of the greatest puzzle game designers of our time puts his own unique spin on the most legendary puzzle game ever made? You get the best version of Tetris I’ve ever played.
Tetris Effect is, at its core, just Tetris. For the three of you who aren’t familiar with Tetris, blocks called tetrominoes fall down, and your job is to create lines of them so they disappear, because it’s game over if they reach the top of the screen.
What separates this version of the game from the hundreds of others are the sights and sounds. Tetris Effect is just as much a game as it is an audiovisual experience. While it may initially just seem like Tetris with a visualizer, you’ll quickly realize that Tetris Effect’s audio, graphics, and vibrations create a hypnotic experience that adds to an already addictive foundation. Bright colors, trippy visuals, catchy music, and a controller that vibrates to the beat really pull you into a truly unique space.
Tetris Effect has two core components: Journey Mode and Effects Modes. Journey Mode is the game’s campaign, a “voyage of emotion and discovery” as the game calls it. Now, there was definitely some emotion and definitely some discovery in my time with Journey Mode, and I’m still trying to process it all. Each of the campaign’s 7 areas are comprised of 4 or 5 loosely connected Tetris boards with a simliar theme. There’s no plot, but it is quite an experience though. It lasts maybe 2 hours, but that’s not necessarily a big deal here. The gameplay is what matters, and there’s enough replayability here because it’s Tetris (and there’s also a lot more gameplay in the Effects Modes, more on that later). Journey Mode is less of a campaign and more of an interactive album, and a really good one at that. The music gets stuck in your head and makes you want to replay certain boards. The particle effect heavy visuals are stunning, especially in 4K HDR. This is like staring at a Windows visualizer from 2007 but on crack.
Journey Mode also lets you activate the zone, a new mechanic introduced with this entry of the series. By clearing lines and chaining combos, you fill up a zone meter, which can be activated by pressing R2. Upon doing so, time freezes and you can clear as many lines as you want, even more than the four required for a traditional Tetris. With the help of the zone and some smart planning, you can clear 16+ lines, netting you a Decahextris and a huge score bonus. Sadly, zone is only available in Journey Mode.
The Effects Modes are where the meat of Tetris Effect’s content really is. This is where you’ll spend most of your time with the game, playing with various game modes and modifiers and earning unlocks through the game’s pretty basic progression system. You have your classic modes like marathon, but there are a lot of new fun and different game types to try out like Purify, a mode in which you have to clear lines to combat an infection. The main gimmick of the Effects Modes is that there are game types to match one of four moods: Adventurous, Classic, Relax, and Focus. Each mood offers a drastically different pace with objectives to match. Focus modes are timed and lightning quick, while chill modes go on for a while and let you soak in the atmosphere. There are also weekly events where players around the globe compete in one of the four moods and work together to fill a ridiculously large global point quota. Each mood provides enough variety for even the longest Tetris Effect play sessions to not get stale.
It’s hard to overstate just how impactful Tetris Effect’s visuals really are. They’re absolutely gorgeous and they look even better in motion. While they look fantastic on a 2D screen, they look phenomenal in VR. Yes, Tetris Effect features PSVR functionality. The full game is playable wearing the headset, and it adds so much to the experience. The PSVR headset in this case acts as headphones for your eyes. That, in combination with the actual headphones that you wear on your ears, completely sucks you into the action, and it’s a hallucinogenic trip that should be experienced by everyone.
There’s just something about Tetris Effect that has gripped me and refuses to let go. It takes what is essentially a perfect game that could already be played for hours on end and somehow makes it even better. It’s a love letter to a game so many of us cherish, and it compromises so little in terms of gameplay and presentation. It marries both of these so effectively, so elegantly that it’s almost impossible to put down once you start playing. It’s a masterpiece of the puzzle genre, and you should definitely not skip it because it’s “just Tetris”. It’s a celebration of Tetris. It’s fun, it’s addicting, and, both visually and mechanically, it’s captivatingly beautiful.
Final Score: 10