Tetris is probably the most iconic video game of all time. Created in 1984 by Alexey Pajitnov, the enduring puzzler has appeared in many forms on nearly every gaming platform you can imagine. There’s not much one could do to make Tetris, an arguably flawless experience, any better. But it has magically happened with Tetris Effect, the latest game from the minds behind Lumines and Rez. Tetris Effect injects music and visual effects into the equation to create an entrancing and, at times, even moving experience.
If you’ve played Tetris before, you won’t be in for too many surprises. In Tetris Effect, seven different types of tetrominoes fall from the sky into a grid-based board. Your job is still to rotate the shapes and drop them into place en route to clearing full lines. You can still make use of the hold queue, which lets you stow a tetromino for later. The lone new mechanic is Zone, a special meter that builds over time. Once activated, time stops, giving you the opportunity to feverishly clear rows en masse.
Nothing special, right? Well, oddly enough, Tetris Effect excels because of what occurs outside of the grid. Best showed off in the single-player campaign, dubbed Journey, Tetris Effect has a stellar soundtrack and colorful animations surrounding the grid. As you rotate pieces, the music changes. As you clear lines, the animations react. The end result is a hypnotic visual and audio experience that is utterly captivating. The tetrominoes themselves change colors and shapes, reacting to the flavor of the music and the surrounding musical effects.
Journey mode’s soundtrack is wide-ranging, from jazz to techno to clean piano and even some environmental noise like the wind. Some of the tracks have vocal arrangements that fade in and out. All of the visual flourishes align with the current track. Throughout the campaign, I traveled from the depths of the ocean, where I witnessed dolphins, whales, and stingrays swimming through a particle-infused ocean, to a desert where I saw camels walk beneath the sun, and all the way to space, where I watched a rover drive across the moon’s surface. All the while a dazzling array of lights and particles bounced about the screen with each move, intensifying as I cleared lines.
The soundtrack works so well because it’s intrinsically linked to what’s happening on the board. Unlike classic Tetris, in Journey mode, the speed of falling blocks doesn’t always ramp up. When the music slows down, the pace of play lessens with it. When the music is moving at a breakneck pace, tetrominoes rain down quickly, even if it’s at the start of a new stage. Sometimes songs start fast, slow down, and then hasten at the conclusion. Other times, it’s the exact opposite, or somewhere in between. Every stage is different, unpredictable, and compelling in its own unique way.
Though Journey mode is over in a few short hours, it’s an astounding experience. While there’s no traditional story to speak of, I genuinely felt an emotional response while watching the credits. Journey mode was appropriately named. I immediately went back to the first stage on expert difficulty when I finished.
At first, you may get distracted by the music and animations. It took me a few stages to really find a groove. But once you’re in a rhythm, it feels like you’re doing much more than simply playing Tetris. Tetris Effect makes you feel like you’re orchestrating an elaborate performance, one euphoric piece at a time.
The journey isn’t over
Journey is worth the price of admission alone, but Tetris Effect also has a range of great Effects modes. If you want a soothing experience, you can slow down the pace with a traditional marathon mode that drops the game over screen. For more seasoned players, you can amp up the speed and see how long you can stay alive. The quirky mystery mode induces status effects such as three-piece tetrominoes to make things extra tricky. You can also revisit single stages from Journey mode or themed-playlists. All game modes have leaderboards, so you can see how you stack up against other players in each variant.
Tetris Effect is at its best when played in PSVR. Not only do the animations sizzle and pop better with the perceivably closer proximity afforded by the headset, but it’s simply more spellbinding. Make no mistake, though, it’s still phenomenal on a standard PS4.
Tetris Effect makes Tetris feel exciting and, dare I say, new again. That’s a mighty, improbable feat.