In 1984, a Russian game designer by the name of Alexey Pajitnov released a simple video game that would go on to change the world. The game relied on geometrical shapes falling from the sky and fitting into place below. Players were tasked with creating lines from these blocks that would vanish when formed, creating space for new lines to form. The addictive gameplay loop crept into the conscience of gamers everywhere, from young children to adults alike. The name, derived from a combination of the Greek numerical prefix “tetra-” – a reference to every single shape in the game containing four blocks – and Pajitnov’s favourite sport, tennis, would come to be famously known as Tetris.
Tetris Effect marks the evolution of that renowned game; a passion project from Rez Infinite creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi. This time, the name actually derives from the psychological phenomenon, the “Tetris effect”, in which players, through extensive playtime of Tetris, would experience after-effects like visualizing falling blocks long after the game was over. They would dream it, hear it, and naturally, experience it throughout their daily lives away from the screen. Tetris Effect aimed to recreate that phenomenon through more psychedelic means, but it achieves that goal and goes well beyond our expectations.
From the depths of the ocean to a wormhole in the dark corners of the universe, there is no limit to where one can play Tetris.
The game’s short but impactful campaign throws players into a space odyssey, playing through various stages and levels that reflect landmark locations on Earth and in interstellar space. From the depths of the ocean to a wormhole in the dark corners of the universe, there is no limit to where one can play Tetris. By merging what is essentially rhythm and music mechanics into a simple game of Tetris, it elevates the gameplay to extraordinary sensory heights. It’s an assault on your senses as much as it is a game about merely fitting blocks into empty spaces, but it comes across as very innovative due to the mashing of these uncanny genres – puzzle and rhythm – that Mizuguchi has perfected through his trademark game design.
On a technical level, Tetris Effect is the most mesmerising game I’ve played since Rez Infinite. The visuals complement the gameplay and work in tandem with the pulsating soundtrack, but it all seamlessly melds together to create a memorable, cohesive package. There’s a psychedelic vibe to the game’s overall visuals, including dissipating whales in space, eagles soaring through a sprawling desert landscape, and neon-lit blackholes in the galaxy, taking you on the greatest unintentional LSD trip in gaming. Simply put, every piece of the game’s visuals are mind-blowing, and all greatly add to the immersion.
The soundtrack, comprising of chillwave, synth, trance, and insanely catchy dance tracks, pulsate your controller to the beat, forcing you to subconsciously synchronize the falling blocks in Tetris to the beat too.
For a semi-rhythm/music game, it’s important to nail the soundtrack. Mizuguchi has no trouble perfecting this aspect again, as he did with both Rez Infinite and Lumines; though, Tetris Effect‘s soundtrack is one of the best musical compilations, not only from the developer, but in gaming, period. The soundtrack, comprising of chillwave, synth, trance, and insanely catchy dance tracks, pulsate your controller to the beat, forcing you to subconsciously synchronize the falling blocks in Tetris to the tempo. It doesn’t push you towards doing this, but instinctively, music paired with Tetris equals a certain speed and ferocity that you subconsciously play at. Tetris Effect understands this well, which is why its tracks consist of songs of varying tempos and bpm’s that match the pacing of each stage.
Despite its commendable price point, the game offers a metric tonne of content to keep you busy. Apart from the main campaign, which will last you around 4-6 hours depending on your Tetris skills (mine are adequate at best), there’s additional online and offline modes that range from basic time attack to playing Tetris endlessly if you want a more relaxing experience. In total, there are 15 modes on top of the campaign, though I found myself drawn to more competitive modes as they incentivised getting the highest scores possible with certain constraints. Master Mode, which is essentially Tetris in fast forward, speeds up the pacing of the falling blocks until you’re hastily rushing to the end goal of forming lines. Mystery Mode, which introduces gameplay changes at the drop of a dime, keeps you on edge as Tetris now transforms into a game of wits and on-the-fly adjustment. Without spoiling anything, each mode guarantees that it has something there for everybody, from hardcore Tetris enthusiasts to those who want a laid-back experience.
…it breathes new life into PlayStation’s virtual reality, and has set a very high bar for all virtual reality games to come.
Playing Tetris Effect in virtual reality is where you can truly grasp the extent of the game’s superb immersion. Having recently played Astro Bot: Rescue Mission – a VR game which completely took me by surprise – I thought that might be the quintessential PSVR game, but that has now confidently been dethroned. Tetris Effect’s implementation of VR is a breath of fresh air for a peripheral that’s a bit too early to its own funeral. Basically, it breathes new life into PlayStation’s virtual reality, and has set a high bar for all virtual reality games to come. Due to my own motion sickness limitations, it was a bit jarring to glide through space infinitely while particle effects exploded around my eyes, but I appreciated just how well integrated VR was. It wasn’t an after-thought, but just another viable option to play the game in a completely different dimensional space.
In VR, you’re thankfully given the option to adjust the Tetris grid, meaning you’re not just looking at a flat overlay on a three-dimensional plane. The grid can be moved according to your own line of sight, and since I was sitting on my bed for most of my Tetris Effect VR experience, it was always slightly tilted so that I didn’t have to stretch my neck. This carries over to the non-VR mode, though is a bit pointless other than showing off that you can master Tetris with the vision of a drunken sailor.
Tetris Effect is Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s masterpiece; an experience that respectfully harkens back to the golden days of Tetris while infusing it with a modern coat of psychedelic visuals, unforgettable music, and trippy imagery that forever becomes ingrained in your mind – and to that, it achieves its primary goal. By taking the basic premise of Tetris, the developers have ensured that they could experiment with new and refreshing ways to revitalise the classic game in this modern age without alienating its older demographic. There’s a remarkable purity to Tetris Effect; a magnetic pull to the game’s masterful charm and vibe that I couldn’t get enough of. If there was a score higher than 10, Tetris Effect would get it.
Tetris Effect is Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s masterpiece, a striking blend of Tetris, psychedelic visuals and a terrific soundtrack that elevates this unassuming title into classic territory already.