Tetris Beat unlocks the rhythm of gaming’s most enduring classic

Tetris has gone through many permutations throughout its 37-year history. It’s been a Facebook game designed for social interaction between friends. Tetris Effect turned the puzzle format into a trippy, calming VR experience. Nintendo Switch owners even have Tetris 99, a battle royale variant that works surprisingly well. The tetromino format continues to keep us entertained no matter how developers T-spin it.

The storied franchise has evolved once again with the release of Tetris Beat, a new Apple Arcade exclusive available today. This time, the twist is that Tetris has been turned into a full-on rhythm game where players need to turn and drop pieces to the beat of music. The game features 18 original songs at launch and plans to add one new track every week beginning in October. It’s a light service game that’s giving long-time fans a good reason to keep coming back to the addictive puzzler.

What makes Tetris Beat special is the way it continues a game design conversation that’s been going on for decades. Its fresh mechanics are in dialogue with previous Tetris titles, reminding us of how much of the video game industry is built on collaborative iteration.

Drop the beat

Tetris Beat twists the tried-and-true tetromino puzzle formula by honing in on the game’s hidden rhythms. While Tetris games let players drop pieces freely, there’s often a certain flow state that players can get into, subconsciously pushing them to play along to the music. Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov once described the sensation, saying “Playing is a very specific rhythmic and visual pleasure. For me, Tetris is some song which you sing inside yourself and can’t stop.”

The latest game was born out of that experience. Executive Producer Lawrence Clark says that quote was a guiding inspiration for the game. More specifically, Clark visualized the idea after seeing how the Tetris community was interacting with music. He recalls seeing a modded PAX build of Tetris Effect that allowed a pro player named Green Tea to specifically play along to the beat.

“I actually got really into these videos on YouTube of people playing Tetris games intentionally in time to music,” Lawrence tells Digital Trends. “The game doesn’t reward you for doing that, but people play Tetris 99 where they try to hard drop in time to the beat. There’s some amazing videos of people doing it.”

Clark’s team took that idea and made a very deliberate kind of game around it. In Tetris Beat’s standard Drop mode, players start by picking a music track, each of which has a specific visual backdrop made in collaboration with the musicians. Players have the length of the song to rack up as many points as possible. Rotating and dropping blocks in time with the music grants more points. Leaderboards allow players to compete with their friends and try to perfect their ranking on a specific track.

A Las Vegas-themed level in Tetris Beat.

Visually, the game shares a lot in common with Tetris Effect. Initially released as a PS VR game produced by rhythm game legend Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the trippy game has since expanded out to PC and Xbox with a Switch port on the way. Clark says that the game, along with Mitzuguchi’s work in the rhythm genre, was another direct point of reference for the team.

“Tetsuya Mizuguchi is one of my heroes,” says Clark. “I had the first version of Lumines on the PSP, Rez on the Dreamcast, and of course Tetris Effect. The idea that he’s probably going to look at this is pretty amazing to me.”

Taking cues

In chatting with the team, it became clear that Tetris Beat wasn’t created in a vacuum. It’s a culmination of decades of ideas, both from other games and the community itself. The game’s Tap mode, for instance, takes cues from EA’s Tetris Blitz, a mobile game that shut down last year. In that game, “ghost pieces” appear on the board. Players tap one to select where the next piece will fall, rather than controlling it directly. Tetris Beat uses the same idea, but layers on its unique rhythm mechanics to keep players tapping on the beat.

In thinking about all the little tweaks and innovations to the game over the years, I couldn’t help but wonder why people are still so drawn to Tetris — both players and developers alike. Tetris brand President and CEO Maya Rogers believes it’s because the game taps into our innate human desire to organize.

“Tetris is the perfect game,” Rogers tells Digital Trends. “It’s one of those things where we have an inherent desire to create order out of chaos and it plays into that. It’s a simple game, but it has so much depth. Any iteration you play, you kind of get hooked into that Tetris zone. That’s the reason it’s been around this long.”

A pastel colored Tetris board in Tetris Beat.

It’s wild to think that there’s still so much creativity left in the tank for a franchise as old as this. Developers keep stacking new ideas on top of one another, keeping a timeless series alive. That won’t stop with Tetris Beat, either. According to Tetris brand Vice President Casey Pelkey, the latest game is just another perfectly placed drop in an ever-expanding well of ideas.

“Much like Lawrence looked at Tetris Effect and saw things as a fan of that, other developers are going to look at this game and see things that are equally as impressive,” Pelkey tells Digital Trends.

Tetris Beat is available now on Apple Arcade.

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