Tetris Effect: review

  • Format: PS4 (PSVR compatible)
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Enhance, Inc
  • Developer: Resonair
  • Players: 1
  • Site: https://www.tetriseffect.game/
  • Game purchased by reviewer

If Tetris Effect is just Tetris with special effects, then an aeroplane is just a car with decorative wings, because it has wheels and drives along the ground. Sure, this is a game that allows you to play Tetris. But it was designed as, and is, so much more.

Tetsuya Mizuguchi has a CV that many in the industry would kill for, with work on titles including Sega Rally, Space Channel 5, Lumines, Rez, and many more to his name. Tetris Effect has his fingerprints all over it, and it is his masterpiece. The central theme is synaesthesia. While it’s arguably not quite accurate to say that the experience is synaesthetic – all sights, sounds, and physical sensations are generated externally – it’s surely the closest that anybody without synaesthesia could ever hope to experience.

A Tetris board sits in the middle of the screen. We don’t need to explain Tetris to you, but Effect introduces two new mechanics. Firstly, if you don’t like the look of the shape descending from the top of the screen, you can tap a button to hold it in reserve (or swap it with the piece you’ve previously stored). Secondly, we now have the Zone mechanic. A gauge is slowly built up by clearing lines which, when triggered, temporarily freezes the board. Use this for breathing space in the middle of a hectic game to slowly drop pieces at your leisure, or take advantage of the bonuses to be had for clearing multiple lines before things return to normal. It’s up to you.

With relatively little of the screen taken up by gameplay (you can zoom in and out to an extent), Resonair has been given a large canvas on which to lavish the visual element of the experience. And oh, how it has been used. Each stage has a theme, and the landscape evolves through a few stages as you reach line-clearing milestones. We’re loath to spoil the wonder that comes with experiencing each evolution for the first time. Let’s just say that you’ll be treated to landscapes emerging from the dark, mesmerising dolphins and manta rays of multicoloured specks, firework displays, dioramas in outer space, and much, much more.

It’s at this point that we must point out VR, while optional, is absolutely the definitive way to experience Tetris Effect. This cannot be overstated. Not only because the 3D effect is stunning, particles swirling all around or even towards you as you play. It’s practically essential because, with headset on and earphones in, this becomes a beautiful, beautiful world that you sit in awe of every sumptuous minute.

We’ve established that the game looks incredible. Equally, or perhaps even more, important is the sound. Not just the music, although that too is amazing. Each song is fantastic. Many with vocals, they evolve alongside the level, and are integrated into the experience magically. Each time you spin a tetromino or clear a line, a sound effect or beat is produced. Of course, it’s impossible to second guess when or how many times a player will spin or clear during a song. All the more impressive, then, that each time it meets the soundtrack seamlessly. There will also be an effect, usually subtle, on the surrounding diorama. You don’t hear your interaction with the experience, nor do you see it. You feel it.

Speaking of feeling things in the game, it’s not just sights and sounds that play a part. In the best use of the DualShock’s rumble to date, the controller will gently, rhythmically vibrate in your hands as you play at certain points. This could be as simple as matching the background beat, or pulsing in time in a way that, you realise, is rather soothingly like a womb-like thrum. It all adds up to a wondrous mixture of visual, aural, and tactile input that is unlike anything else you have ever experienced.

Try to imagine this, if you can. One of the later, and therefore more difficult, stages. The speed has suddenly ramped up significantly mid-game; a beautiful, colourful display shimmers around the board as you work furiously to keep up. The almost ethereal music works urgently in the background, speckled with embellishments from your inputs (as are your surroundings). All the while, the controller thrums comfortingly in your hands. The board fills dangerously – and then, the reward for holding out so long. The pace slows back down, the music subtly changes tone, and beautifully sung vocals kick back in with words of encouragement and affirmation.

Visual art occupies a unique emotional space. Similarly, music can reach right into your soul and trigger something in a way that absolutely nothing else can. The unique interactive nature of videogames, too, offers a connection not available elsewhere. Tetris Effect weaves these three disparate elements together into something beautiful. Something new. Something better.

If you’re concerned on a practical level that the busy screens will distract from the act of playing Tetris, this is never a concern. It’s almost a shame, in fact, that the most intense moments of play will mean that you practically ignore the visual wonder around you. Don’t fear either that difficulty is sacrificed in the name of art. There are three difficulty levels, and Expert quickly becomes something only for those with superhuman Tetris skills.

Journey is a story mode of sorts, while Effect offers a few options to tailor the experience; a relaxing play session with no danger of Game Over perhaps, or a gauntlet that throws in a random effect every so often such as partial tetrominoes or an upside-down screen. Regular online Events meanwhile feature leaderboards, allowing the best of the best bragging rights until the next Event comes around. Yet ultimately, Tetris Effect isn’t about competition. Quite the opposite. It’s about challenging yourself in a positive way. It’s about growth, harmony, and elevation. Some stages are more impressive than others, but all are magical. Everybody should play this.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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