Tetris Effect Review – Contemplate Love, Life, and Blocks (PSVR)
Tetris Effect is here, and it is going to completely alter your perception of Tetris. The basic concept is there, but all of these other layers are added on top of it. It plays with animation, light, music, sound, and even tactical feedback to bring you deeper into the puzzle game. Rather than just focusing on scores, it can be more about adaptability and survival. It is about being one with the game and knowing exactly what not only each tetromino, but also you, are capable of.
Tetris Effect is a new way to play Tetris. Just in case you haven’t played video games in the last five to thirty years, here is how it goes. Blocks of different shapes and sizes appear at the top of the field and drop to the bottom. Your task is to place them so they make lines, rotating them as necessary. When a full line is cleared, it disappears and you earn points. Ideally, you would like to clear four lines at a time each time, a Tetris, so you earn even more points. The longer you play, the faster the blocks drop. All caught up? Good.
As a modern Tetris title, Tetris Effect has all of the gameplay features you would expect. There is a window at the upper right side of the screen showing which block will drop next. You can “hold” a block for later use by pressing a button. The game will telegraph where the next piece will land at the bottom of the screen. If you press up on the directional pad, you can execute a quick “drop” that makes the piece immediately appear at the bottom. The game keeps track of how long you have been playing, your current score, and other lovely things.
What is interesting here is Zone. As you clear lines, you will fill up a Zone gauge. Once it is full, you can pull the trigger to enter a dreamlike state where multiple lines can all be cleared at once and counted as one. If you have held the correct pieces, perhaps saved up an I-Block and built things in such a way that you can head into the Zone when you see another I is on the way, then it is possible to clear as many as 20 lines at once. I have not had that honor yet, but have managed to get twelve lines wiped away in an instant. (I am just that powerful.)
You’re Alone in the Universe
This is going to shock you, but Tetris Effect is not a competitive game. While Effect Mode does have some leaderboards and ranking, the game as a whole is more about evoking a sense of ambiance or tasking you with a sort of mission. In Journey, you go through a series of stages on various difficulty levels, each with its musical scheme, sound effects, background animations, and gimmicks. For example, the theme with dolphins will suddenly speed up before the mammals swim through and burst out of the water, before slowing down again. Stages like Karma Drum or Spirit Canyon build in speed and momentum. You go through Journey in bursts of stages, barreling through three, four, or more stages in a row with the block setup carrying over between stages.
Effect Mode is about offering more varied experiences that fall into categories like Classic, Relax, Focus, and Adventurous, depending on the task at hand. For example, Marathon in this area is a Classic task where you play until 150 lines or you screw up, trying for a high score. Relax ones have less pressure and no limits, with some offering Playlist options that let you go through four stages in a row that share a theme. The Focus stages are briefer and require you to complete as many of a certain sort of objectives, like combos for example, before time runs out. But it is the Adventurous Effect Modes that really shine.
Adventurous will push you out of your comfort zone. Countdown makes it seem like I-Blocks are crashing from the sky like meteors. You know where one or two will land after a few blocks drop and need to do your best to prepare for these invaders for five minutes. Purify will have Infected Blocks appear on the field, and you need to clear as many lines as possible within three minutes to stop the spread and earn points. Mystery is the best/worst of them all, as anything can happen. As you play, bad things happen. Giant pieces that are four times the size of a normal piece can appear. You might not be able to use held pieces or see what is coming next. The whole stage can drastically zoom in and show the field from a different perspective.
But worst of all is Vertical Flip. Mystery’s Vertical Flip is so diabolical and ingenious that this shit deserves its own paragraph. The entire Tetris Effect field is flipped 180 degrees. You have no warning this is going to happen. The controls are flipped as well. It is the most disorienting and infuriating thing ever, but it is also brilliant because it does test you and force you to up your game. I hated when it happened to me, because every time the shift in controls and perspective would just get me. It got me. I have played the Mystery challenge in Effect Mode at least twice a day for about a week and every single time it happens. I can’t take it. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Let’s move on.
I am a Tetromino
Tetris Effect masterfully plays with light and sound. When you begin a stage, things are rather stark. You see the field of play. You will hear some sort of audio cue whenever you rotate a block, drop it, or clear a line. There will be a hint as to something lurking in the background. It is only as you successfully play the game that the world opens up. There are people performing some sort of sacred ritual, perhaps to the T-Block, around a drum while fire rages at pivotal moments. There are undersea animals seemingly swimming through the universe where I am achieving some sort of perfect order by dropping blocks. I become one with the game and with the song, due to my precise rotating and timing.
I am a puzzle god.
Oh, sorry. I got carried away there, but that is just the sort of power fantasy Tetris Effect can inspire. Especially since the use of force feedback is also great at helping to pull you into the game. There were times when I was so at one with Tetris Effect that I actually lost track of what was making the DualShock 4 vibrate or that it was some striking occurrence. I expected and anticipated these movements, which brought me deeper into a world were all that mattered were the blocks. So many blocks. The rumble is never superfluous or too much. It is the exact perfect dose of feedback.
The game is especially effective if you are playing Tetris Effect with all the bells and whistles. By which I mean, maybe you actually shelled out a couple hundred dollars just so you could play this game with a PlayStation VR and PlayStation 4 Pro? Both that peripheral and the upgraded system do this title a favor. Its various themes already do a great job of sucking you in while on a standard PlayStation 4. A PlayStation 4 Pro only refines things and makes things both clearer and maybe even feel like it is more precise. Meanwhile, using a PSVR with Tetris Effect makes you Tetris. That is your life now. You are every block, and every block is you.
Okay, Maybe It Isn’t 100% Perfect
There are some downsides to the various themes present in Tetris Effect. For example, one might just not “click” with you. I like how Da Vinci looks in screenshots! I am okay with watching other people play through stages where that effect is in play. I hate when I have to deal with it. Something about the imagery and sounds induces a full body cringe. I am physically uncomfortable with it and have no idea why, but that is okay. While it is unavoidable in the Journey Mode, as eventually you will have to just endure stages with themes you don’t care for, you can avoid this in Effect Mode, where the game will let you choose which style you prefer in each mode.
The more obvious issue is that the themes in Tetris Effect are distracting. Yes, sure, I love the manta rays, the lights, and the shapes. There comes a point when certain styles might make it near impossible for someone to ascertain where things are supposed to go, due to the animations in place. Karma Drum is one that probably was the worst offender. The way the fire licks at the blocks and the bursts that come up when you actually match things do a perfect job of hiding the predictive outline that shows where you can expect a block to fall. Granted, a lot of these issues do not come up until you hit a speed level of eleven or greater, by which point you probably are a proficient enough player to eventually learn how to mitigate these issues.
But above all else, I implore you to please take breaks while playing Tetris Effect. This is an intense game. You might not realize what it is doing to your eyes, body, and mind until you finally take the headset off or look away from the TV. Both with and without the PSVR, I noticed it might take a few minutes for my entire self to reset after playing for any period of time longer than thirty minutes, because this game gets in your head. The vibrations, the sounds, the lights, and the sensations are overwhelming, perhaps in both positive or negative ways depending on the person, and you should not try and sit and play for too long.
Very Good Tetris
Tetris Effect does incredible things with Tetris. The ambiance is unbelievable, and the array of modes make the puzzle game perfect for people whether they want an ordinary experience, something low key, or maybe one of the most brutal challenges like the unimaginably fast Classic Master mode. But, there are times when the atmosphere can get too distracting or overwhelming. It also is not for someone hoping for any sort of competitive affair, which is more of an advisory than an actual knock against it. Tetris Effect is a sort of instantly timeless puzzle game that is good about delivering the exact sort of single-player trial you need, when you need it.
Tetris Effect review code provided by Enhance, Inc. Version 1.00 reviewed on a PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.