We’ve all played Tetris at some point in our lives. We’ve cut our teeth against offshoots like Tetris Attack, experimented with EA’s terrible mobile version or sunk hours upon hours into the classic version. Tetris, much like Mario or Space Invaders, is ingrained in our video game culture, influencing countless titles over the decades. With so many different variants, offshoots, spin-offs, sequels, gimmicks, ports, rigamaroles and what have you, what could Resonair’s Tetris Effect, directed by Tetsuya Mizuguchi of Rez and Child of Eden fame, possibly offer?
Booting up Tetris Effect and entering Journey mode immediately starts you in a serene yet pitch-black underwater backdrop. As you clear lines, musically visualized whales with their gorgeous particle effects begin to drift in and out of the background. The vocals eventually transition in, speaking of how we’re all connected as if the game is communicating on some primal level of “being yours” forever. After completing this, you’re transported to a seemingly stark level with Egyptian hieroglyphs as the music’s tempo picks up. The faint visage of a pyramid is seen in the background and if for only one instant, the “vision” of the Pharaoh’s Code is revealed.
"Notes play as you move blocks around and connect lines. The music evolves as you progress through a level, transforming completely in many points."
These are just the first two levels, by the way. You may have played Tetris but you’ve never played it like this.
Journey mode consists of 27 levels spread out across seven areas. Completing each level sequentially in an area is the key to obtaining a high score. Failing in a level allows you to try it again but then you receive a lower area score, which means less XP gained (though getting a low score in Tetris is the ultimate shame). Each level follows its own theme with a mind-melding soundtrack that ebbs and flows with the action. The sheer range of beats on display here, from traditional Indian tablas to techno and tribal chants, is incredible and they’re all beautifully rendered.
Notes play as you move blocks around and connect lines. The music evolves as you progress through a level, transforming completely at many points. As you progress to later stages, the overall speed of the blocks will change according to the tempo, pushing you to think quickly as the screen is bombarded by visual effects. The sun will set on a farm of floating windmills, Yin and Yang visualized as fire and ice will collide and you’ll be hard-pressed to keep up at times.
Not to worry though because Journey mode comes with three difficulties – Beginner, Normal and Expert – along with a Practice mode. Speed changes and line requirements become more hectic at Expert and are easier to manage at Beginner. However, the key to truly appreciating Tetris Effect is to push yourself further, attempting higher scores and perfecting earlier runs.
"Setting up Tetrises and knowing the best time to use the Zone meter to rack up more line clears is a fundamental part of Tetris Effect."
To throw a wrench into the traditional Tetris gameplay of preparing Tetrises and executing T-Spins is the new Zone meter. Clearing lines will build up this meter and activating it causes everything to slow to a standstill. This allows for clearing multiple lines and even multiple Tetrises in one fell swoop, activating Octorises (eight line clears) for higher points. Setting up Tetrises and knowing the best time to use the Zone meter to rack up more line clears is a fundamental part of Tetris Effect. However, the Zone meter can also serve as a quick survival tool if you’re quickly getting boxed in by garbage.
After completing Journey mode, you’ll unlock Theater Mode. This lets you sit back and take in the sights and sounds of the different levels, evolving them, panning the camera and triggering specific effects with the press of a button. The real meat of the additional content comes in the Effects modes. You have your standard Marathon, Sprint and Master modes here, as you would in previous Tetris titles. However, Tetris Effect also applies something called “Moods”.
The four moods are Classic, Adventurous, Relax and Focus and each contains a set of different modes to cater to a different mindset. Want to mix up the game significantly? Head into the Adventurous set of modes like Purify, where clearing lines will “purify” infected blocks or Countdown, which drops “I” blocks at random places and challenges you to clear as many lines as possible with them. If you want to sit back and relax without the threat of failure, playing the Relax modes like Chill Marathon or playlists with four different stages is a good idea.
"That feeling of adventure, sublime euphoria and inner peace is perfectly captured in Tetris Effect. "
Each mode has its own accompanying music track – keep leveling up and you’ll unlock them in due time. With so many different modes and accompanying play-styles, there are so many amazing ways to experience Tetris Effect that it’s not even funny.
You’d be hard-pressed to find anything wrong with the game, except for perhaps the visual effects. While they can be gorgeous to witness, some players may find them distracting, even more so if you’re trying a stage for the first time. It’s easy to get caught off guard by the speed increase and accompanying stage evolution that brings so many visual fireworks. Some slowdown can also occur at random times but it’s nothing rampant and doesn’t ruin the experience.
When thinking about Tetris Effect, I likened it to a vacation – Summer, Winter, doesn’t matter. You’re whisked away to a place that’s disconnected from your ordinary life and take in all that it has to offer. That feeling of adventure, sublime euphoria and inner peace is perfectly captured in Tetris Effect. This might be “just Tetris” but several decades and iterations later, it’s incredible how much the gameplay still holds up. It’s also to the credit of Resonair and Mizuguchi that Tetris Effect stands out as its own blissful experience and as a stellar Tetris title that’s worthy of the name.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 4.
Magnificent aesthetic that's equal parts calming and epic. Soundtrack is varied and organic, offering a wide range of beats in sync with stage progression. Same classic gameplay holds up and works very well with new mechanics like the Zone meter. Different "Moods" offer a variety of modes with unique and fun challenges.
Visual effects can be distracting sometimes, especially when attempting a stage for the first time. Some slowdown in places.