Back in the ’90s, if someone told me that a new Tetris game would be the most addictive virtual reality game around in 2018, I would probably actually believe them. Tetris is the simplest, most addictive, and greatest puzzle game of all time, but it’s been done. How do you spice it up? If you’re Sony, hire the creator of Rez and get him to make Tetris Effect, one of the coolest games coming to PSVR.
Tetris Effect Preview: Forget Korobeiniki
Tetris Effect is being designed by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the man behind games such as Lumines, Rez, and Space Channel 5. They are all very different games, but the main things they have in common are a focus on sound design and, shall we say, rather trippy design. Rez in particular is a game where the music and sound slowly build up as you play through the levels, and the graphics are made of colorful wireframes and dots, with a lot of black space.
Tetris Effect very much follows this kind of design, and it is truly glorious to behold, especially in VR. The music is deeply relaxing at first, before soon building in intensity and volume as your score racks up or as you reach the edge of defeat. While it never uses the classic Tetris theme tune (based on a Russian opera), the soundtrack remains catchy and changes constantly, depending on the level you’re on.
Tetris Effect Preview: Keep Calm and Play Tetris
The interesting thing about Tetris Effect is that it assumes you’ve played Tetris before, because of course you have. Everyone has. Heck, it’s probably on your phone already. The new game starts with just you, playing Tetris, with just a faint pulse effect for company. It has the familiar column and blocks and there’s a score to the side with a note of how many lines you’ve got left. Calm, simple, relaxing, and a few blocks in you’ll be beginning to wonder what the fuss is all about.
Then your line count starts to build, and shapes start to form in the foreground. Dots start to swirl. The music picks up in beat. Both sound and background starts to take form, and it drives you to get more lines, more Tetris blocks. I even started deliberately screwing myself up so I could fix it, to see if the music got more intense. It did, and it almost seemed happy when I slowly started fixing things. Then I hit 24 lines, the maximum on the counter, and the room exploded. It was shocking.
Tetris Effect Preview: Praise the Blocks
As you max out the line counter, whether you do it slowly or with loads of cool line combos, the whole level flips. The column, your score and all the blocks you placed stay the same, but everything else changes: the color of the grid, the music, the shapes appearing in the background, and even the intensity. On one level whales made of blue dots would swim by me, then the next a scary fiery mask would burst to life as the music plays traditional Japanese songs that increase in pitch.
One particularly memorable level had chanting as its soundtrack, which kept on building in pitch and adding chanters every time I got a line. Quickly the forms of praying monks appeared in bright dots appeared around me, until I was surrounded on all sides by hundreds of chanting, bowing figures praising the Tetris column. It was incredible, frankly.
The main real gameplay addition Tetris Effect adds to the classic formula is a Focus button. You can click this at any time to slow down the game down and basically make a “combo attack” mode, where every line you get while Focus is active nets you extra points. The music picks up a lot too, and that’s the bigger reward.
As for what VR adds to the game, I admit I was skeptical, but as fun as I can imagine Tetris Effect being in front of a TV I can’t imagine it being anywhere near as good as what I experienced in PSVR. Having the entire world swirling around you as you focus on this intense game of Tetris is a feeling I have never felt before and it was truly incredible and oddly peaceful. Who would’ve thought Tetris of all things would be PSVR’s killer app? Well, it worked for Game Boy…