Tetris‘ addictive pull is so intense that a certain brand of hallucinations was named after it. TETRIS EFFECT is both the umbrella name for those hallucinations and the title of the newest Tetris game. Tetsuya Mizuguchi, creator of Rez and Lumines, is also behind this entry and has brought his signature music-driven style to the classic block dropper. While still Tetris at its core, Tetris Effect marries audio and visuals together for the most entrancing iteration of the game even if its sharp difficulty sometimes tries its best to thwart that rhythm.
Music is at the center of Tetris Effect and one of the key differentiation factors from the dozens of other versions of the game. Tracks range from calm, ambient tunes to thumping club jams that make it impossible to sit still. Solid pacing ensures that it alternates between those two extremes as it jumps from earworm to earworm. While there are a couple of unexciting songs that serve as the necessary downtime, there is an album’s worth of absolutely fantastic compositions that will stick with you long after you turn the game off. “Connected (Yours Forever)” from the debut trailer is only the beginning as these original compositions compete for the most infectious beat. There’s even a Theater mode where you can listen to the songs with their associated visualizers, which is good to, say, write a review to and have on in the background.
Tetris Effect Review – An Interactive Soundtrack
But it’s not just a soundtrack that passively plays in the background; a Spotify playlist could achieve that. Instead, it’s integral to the actual gameplay and both augment each other in a way that is mutually beneficial. Each builds up accordingly in waves and is separated by three separate stages: the buildup, middle, and finale. Heavy beat drops signal these glitter-filled transitions and appropriately ratchet up the action and rhythm. Rotating the tetrominos even gives off a little sound bite that matches the beat of the music and are thoughtful additive inclusions that further bond your actions to the soundtrack.
The environments also evolve to match those stages, sparkling and exploding in a way that justifies the aggressive epilepsy warning at the beginning of the game. Although they could have been playing hardcore pornography half the time and I probably wouldn’t have noticed because it is admittedly hard to concentrate on anything besides the falling blocks. It speaks less to the visuals and more to how spellbinding Tetris is at its core.
All of these systems align to create this cohesive experience where the beat, visuals, gameplay, and you all become one as each stage ramps up and reaches its climax. It’s an arc that’s repeated through each song and gives the player a ride in a way that Tetris has never done before. This journey is slightly enhanced by PSVR where its immersive qualities take over your entire periphery.
Submerging you into its LSD-inspired hellscape doesn’t necessarily add much per se, but the enclosed nature of virtual reality puts up the necessary blinders to truly direct your attention on the audiovisual overload. Looking around the virtual space is neat but not encouraged since you’ll lose points, which is odd for a VR game and proves that it’s just more of an immersive tool.
Tetris typically immersed players through its core gameplay, which is essentially untouched. Stacking blocks and clearing rows is as good as you remember from your days playing it on the Game Boy or NES. It’s as addictive as it ever was and only enhanced by Mizuguchi’s touch.
Tetris Effect Review – Blocking Progress
But that doesn’t mean Tetris Effect is a perfect iteration of the classic formula. Fast songs are great for getting your blood pumping but the difficulty often peaks too quickly to match the beats per minute. Connecting with a song and getting in the zone is often abruptly halted when the game decides to suddenly amp it up and put too much of your focus on survival and not achieving a meditative state. For a game so into creating an all-encompassing mesmerizing experience, its sudden and frequent difficulty spikes slam on the brakes and quickly pull you out of whatever trance the music had you in.
Ratcheting up the challenge also makes the game more unforgiving. In classic Tetris fashion, you’ll eventually goof and drop a block in the wrong spot. Tetris Effect makes you live with that decision and in most cases, it’s almost impossible to completely recover from. Challenging areas often compound this issue as you’ll accidentally put a tetromino in the middle and get buried under the increasingly quick rush of new blocks.
The new Zone meter is meant to offset these issues but it isn’t as useful as it initially seems. A bar fills as you clear rows and gives you access to an ability that stops time and halts you from progressing. In theory, it is supposed to give new players a chance to breathe and let veterans bank huge point combos without advancing in the level.
In reality, it usually only helps skilled block droppers as stopping time doesn’t always get you out of a bind. Sometimes, it even makes the situation worse as you can get unlucky with a constant string of unhelpful S and Z blocks. Tetris Effect should have had multiple different powers so average players and score chasers could pick the ability that suited their needs. Having a couple other power-ups to save doomed players would add more compelling dramatic tension and keep everyone under the game’s spell for even longer periods of time.
Tetris Effect Review – Off Its Groove
All of these hiccups can lead to some bumps that make the game punishing in ways that are thematically inconsistent with the flow and tone of its presentation. A puzzle game like this has to be challenging at points to continually hook players. However, there are ways to achieve the perfect nexus of difficulty, satisfaction, and fairness that this game doesn’t quite hit as consistently as it should. The arcade-like Effects mode and three difficulties offer some ways to customize your experience for both extremes but they don’t completely solve the aforementioned fundamental issues.
It should have looked at Lumines, Tetris Effect’s closest cousin, for guidelines on how to be a little fairer without becoming a walk in the park. Lumines derives its challenge from repeatedly going through the stages in one long session while also giving players the tools to get out of tough scenarios. Mistakes are also not quite as damning and the unique power-ups, when used correctly, give players more strategic options and ways to rebound.
Going through stages individually in Tetris Effect also puts the pressure on each one to be hard, which condenses its challenge into a shorter timespan and causes said sudden spikes. Lumines seamlessly chains its levels together and presents itself as one continuous package. This endurance-like approach spreads its difficulty out over a longer period of time and leads to better, less jarring pacing.
Tetris Effect is still Tetris and no amount of EDM and colorful backgrounds are going to change that. Achieving a Tetris is still a rush whether or not “Korobeiniki” is playing. But as “Korobeiniki” proves, the game can be enhanced by its music, which is where Tetris Effect soars. Optional virtual reality support, an outstanding soundtrack, and vibrant visuals merge beautifully and help enhance its captivating gameplay loop in a way the oft-ported franchise has never seen. Some punishing design aspects and unceremonious jumps in difficulty do, however, tamper with some of the enchanting atmospheres its disparate elements work so hard to create. But those areas where Tetris Effect drops the ball doesn’t completely negate how good the classic puzzler still is at dropping blocks.
Tetris Effect was reviewed on PS4 via a digital code provided by the publisher.