Publisher: Enhance, Inc.
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Since its initial release in the early 1980s, Tetris has come in more flavors than your local ice cream shop keeps on hand. With releases on nearly every major platform, the addictive puzzle franchise has proven itself as a mainstay of our hobby. Now, Resonair is looking to cement its place as one of the greatest developers to touch the Tetris license, and they’re confident enough to name their game after the psychological phenomenon bearing the franchise’s name. Is it a deserved title or more like the small print on experimental medication?
Spiritual Content: There are some light zen elements in the Tetris Effect, but nothing to raise any notable flags.
Language/Crude Humor: None
Sexual Themes: None
Positive Themes: Problem-solving, focus, and relaxation.
With no modern Tetris game on most systems (save the hybrid Puyo Puyo Tetris on Switch), fans of the franchise have simply had to do without. Now, we have Tetris Effect and I’m confident it should satiate puzzle game fans. Combining classic Tetris gameplay with audiovisual augmentation a la Lumines, Effect may well be one of the greatest puzzle games ever created.
At its core, Tetris Effect is a tried-and-true Tetris game. You’ll be stacking, flipping, and eradicating rows of blocks to drive your score up. More than that, though, Effect has gorgeous, engrossing audiovisual integration that morphs as you play through a stage. Each time you move or rotate a tetromino, you have a hand in remixing the song. Each third of your line clear goal houses a different portion of the stage’s song and visuals, creating a dynamic, addictive feedback loop as you progress that I can only describe as “brain candy.” It’s as transcendent an experience for the senses as I’ve ever had with a game. My one complaint against the visuals would be that they can be a sensory overload at times with particle effects occasionally disrupting your view, but once you’re used to it, you’ll rarely even notice it.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s discuss the cogs driving the machine a bit more. There are two basic paths you can take. Tetris Effect has a Journey Mode that will take players through a few catered series of stages and the Effect Mode, which gives players a whole range of game modes to cater to their mood and goals.
First, let’s discuss Journey Mode. You’ll work your way through several series of varied levels, each offering a different audiovisual experience than the other stages in its set (for example, the first set goes from a dark underwater stage to a bright desert then onto a dark cityscape with traffic horns). You’re tasked with clearing 36 lines on each stage causing the board state to transition into the next level. At the end of each set, your score is logged. Should you fail at any point in the set, your set’s score is reset to zero. Journey offers a lot of audiovisual variety and a unique gameplay mechanic known as “the zone.” It all plays just like normal Tetris, but when you clear lines it builds up a “zone” meter. You can use this to get “in the zone,” freezing the falling blocks briefly and giving you the opportunity to score major points. When you’re in the zone, every line you clear will be thrown to the bottom of the stage, making way for more underneath. This allows you to keep pushing for more line clears. There are even trophies in the game for achieving a Dodecahedris (12 lines) and Ultimatris (18+ lines). When zone meter runs out or you have no valid moves left, it wipes the cleared lines away and resumes play like normal.
While Journey mode offers a single play style with a variety of stages, Effect mode was built to cater to particular gameplay goals. If you just want to have a nice, relaxing game, there are several “chill” modes built for that. If you want to chase leaderboard high scores in classic modes, that’s here too. Effect mode has some fascinating objective modes, too, like clearing infected bricks or playing a mode that constantly throws random challenges at you. These are each more focused modes, and they were well assembled to fit the game.
With such a fantastic, well-rounded package, I’m surprised there’s a complete absence of multiplayer Tetris here. You can chase leaderboards to your heart’s content, but there are no head-to-head options in the game. I suppose having two players battling back and forth would ruin the engrossing vibe of being part of the music and animations, but it seems like the option still should’ve been presented.
Tetris Effect feels like everything I’ve wanted from a Tetris game for years. With gameplay that incorporates gorgeous visuals and addictive tracks, I can’t get my mind off the game. When I’m not playing it, I want to be. I shut my eyes an see blocks. I’m constantly replaying the songs in my head. Thanks to Tetris Effect, I now know what digital euphoria feels like. If you’re interested in puzzle games at all and have a PlayStation 4, it’s worth every penny of the $40 asking price. I genuinely hope they plan to bring this to other platforms. Tetris helped bridge a gap during the Cold War. Once again, the whole world deserves to experience what a great Tetris game can offer.
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The Bottom Line
Tetris Effect proves an old dog can do new tricks. The classic puzzle franchise is as alive as ever, offering a top-tier puzzle experience for everywhere, whether looking for a focused challenge or serene way to unwind.