Tetris Effect on PlayStation 4/PlayStation VR
Being from the mind of Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the mastermind director behind the likes of Rez Infinite and Lumines, Tetris Effect was always going to be more than the basic puzzle game that’s become the best-selling game of all time.
While Tetris Effect follows the same idea as his previous titles, adding psychedelic visuals and interactive music as a backdrop to the puzzles, the level to which it pushes the genre and amazes with its combination of elements is staggering, creating what is as close as you’re going to get to both the perfect puzzle game and the perfect VR title.
For the most part, Tetris Effect’s gameplay is exactly how you know it to be. A variety of shapes drop from above, at ever-increasing speeds, as you attempt to form lines with them below. The more lines you clear, the more points you get and the closer you get to clearing the stage. It’s all about learning to understand how the shapes fit together, and honing your ability to notice patterns quickly, so that you can hold shapes when needed and play quickly to rack up a high score.
A mechanic called The Zone has been added to Tetris Effect though, granting you a way of maximizing your points total. Once the Zone bar is full, you can pause time, slowing the blocks down so that you can create lines with ease. Those completed lines then drop to the bottom of the play area and count as one set of lines once the Zone meter runs out. It doesn’t help you complete the stage itself, aside from helping you calm down and refocus in the more hectic moments, but rather it’s an additional way of boosting your score. It’s a fun way of providing you with additional tactics to the score chasing of Tetris, on top of the standard aim of completion.
The element of Tetris Effect that makes it such a different experience is the visuals. For the most part, it’s the psychedelic shapes and patterns that you’d expect from a Mizuguchi game, but they’re more beautiful and involved than ever before.
Each level has its own theme, whether it be simple patterns that rotate and move to the music, or stunning backdrops of rolling desert hills, and they change as you play. Clearing lines will see the blocks explode in a flash and drift off into the scenery while the surroundings show some additional flair, and the stage evolves as you progress, moving the scene or adding to it in some way. The way they change keeps you looking for each and every stunning detail as you play, making you anxious to meet the next checkpoint to see what’s next.
Tetris Effect’s music is its most impressive and important aspect, though. There’s just as much variety in it as there is in the visuals. There are sitars, pulsating techno beats, calming pianos, and breezy synths, and each style is matched by how the level’s visuals move around you. Fast music is accompanied by flashing patterns and explosions of color, while the quieter moments sees the partials float around you as you drift through the landscape.
There’s more than just the quirky techno music you’d expect from games like Lumines, too. Some of the original tracks are complete songs, and they’ll stay in your head long after you’ve taken the headset off or put the controller down. From the first stage (which is one of the best in the game) through to the incredible penultimate set of levels, the music is phenomenal, often putting you in a trance as you play.
Certain levels combine quieter music and slowly drifting visuals to calm you, while others ramp up the speed of the music and gameplay to get your heart beating. It can be incredibly visceral at times. The way you play even plays into the music. The rotation and placing of Tetrominoes, as well as the clearing of lines, add little tones to the music that makes you feel even more a part of it.
The exact details of the most powerful songs and staggering backdrops are best kept a surprise. One level, in particular, shows you glimpses of its beauty before launching you into it after clearing a few lines and it’s a sight to behold. The scale, colours, and music wash over you as one, your jaw dropping and your eyes widening as you take in every little detail. Almost every level, no matter their tone or visual theme, has that effect in VR, and the variety makes each one feel special.
Playing on a TV, the colors pop, particles envelop the screen, and shapes drift around elegantly, but playing in VR is a magical experience. VR compatibility is there as an optional extra, but it should be far from optional for anyone with Sony’s headset. Due to the fidelity of PSVR’s screen, the colors aren’t as vibrant, but that’s more than made up for by how they overcome you.
Tetris Effect uses space magnificently in VR. It’s not just the fact that there are stages that are small, enclosed affairs and others that show you the world, but how the visuals move in the space that’s available. It takes advantage of the depth of each level with sweeping animations and small movements that make you feel present. Alongside the music and gripping gameplay, the visuals simply wash over you in VR and it’s like nothing else on the system.
Tetris Effect doesn’t ignore content in favor of spectacle, though. On top of the excellent twenty-stage Journey Mode that takes you through all the levels, getting progressively harder, there’s a selection of mini-game type modes that add a quirk to the standard Tetris gameplay. There’s modes like Quickplay, which lets you pick your favorite stage and play through it without the fear of a Game Over, or playlists for particular themes, but most of the fun comes from ones like All Clear, where you’re led through some pre-set stages, and need to clear as many entire boards as you can in the set time.
There are plenty of others too that offer great replay value. There are score chasing and leaderboards for each mode, and many of them introduce new songs to stages you’ve already seen, which often alters how they feel to play.
Whether you’re playing in VR or not, Tetris Effect is an incredible achievement. The familiar gameplay, stunning visuals, and beautiful music all come together to evoke a variety of different emotions. For a couple of minutes, you’re captured by what’s happening around you and it’s magical. It’s a near perfect puzzle game, but it’s even closer to perfection in VR.