Tetris Effect is the best Tetris game since Tetris DS1. It’s loosely based on the phenomenon where people see Tetris blocks after playing in their thoughts and dreams. Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the mind behind Rez and Lumines, had wanted for years to make a Tetris game. He finally got the chance, and it was worth the wait. Tetris Effect uses some of the same design choices of Rez and Lumines in an effort to provoke synesthesia.
Tetris Effect intelligently doesn’t shake up the core of Tetris, but instead embraces it entirely. It’s how everything is presented with love and care that makes Tetris Effect an experience.
It’s The Journey Not the Destination
The main campaign of Tetris Effect is called Journey Mode. It’s definitely a journey and I recommend completing it in one or two sessions if you have the time.
In Journey Mode, the player goes through several scenes where the music, visuals, and sound effects all revolve around a certain theme, such as skimming the ocean surface with dolphins, serenity with windmills, a pilgrimage through the desert, or a jazz infused cityscape. Each scene is its own plane of unique existence. It’s mesmerizing.
Tetris has never been considered a visually appealing series. It’s remained fairly basic. Blocks. Colors2. Tetris Effect is the first game in the series that really pushes visuals into the spotlight. Tetrominos remain in their basic shapes and configurations3, but the colors, textures, and blocks change to fit the scene. Sometimes the blocks will be multicolored and other times they will be monochromatic.
After a certain number of lines are cleared, the screen changes and the player is warped to a new scene. Every scene builds slowly. Some start off quietly, and after a number of lines are cleared, the scene will change and build upon itself. New instrumentations, vocals, beats, and flashier visuals are introduced.
The default view of Tetris Effect has the playing field zoomed out4 so that the scene wraps around everything else. I recommend playing this way the first time as it enhances the effect5.
Don’t Zone Out, Zone In
Tetris Effect doesn’t change the core of Tetris, with one exception: Zone. The Zone mechanic is exclusive to Journey Mode. Over the course of clearing lines, a Zone meter fills up. Zone can be activated by pressing a trigger on the controller. Once activated, time stops. Lines can be cleared, but instead of disappearing, they move to the bottom of the screen. The goal of entering Zone is to clear as many lines as possible to achieve, essentially, a “super Tetris” – such as a Dodecatris6. Clearing the entire playfield will give you the coveted and elusive Ultimatris.
While in Journey Mode, the progression is measured by clearing a set number of lines – however, lines cleared in Zone do not count toward this counter, but the score is. So an advanced way to maximize your score is to build up the playfield and activate Zone before you reach the quota.
This is definitely one of the most interesting gameplay ideas ever introduced to Tetris in its 30 year history. It feels so natural to Tetris. It’s a shame it isn’t available in other modes.
The Journey Is Just Beginning
After Journey Mode is completed, the rest of the game opens up with several other modes. This includes traditional Marathon and Line Clear modes, as well as several others. The modes are separated into categories like Classic, Chill, and Adventurous.
In the Adventurous category, you’ll find Mystery Mode. Mystery Mode is especially challenging; for every few lines cleared, a new wrench is thrown into gameplay such as inverting the playfield7, only giving the player square tetrominos, and more. I finally completed the 150 lines and felt like I accomplished something, but I only got a C rating, which means there is always room for improvement.
In the Chill8 category, the games do not end when the stack reaches the ceiling. Instead, the board clears and the player can continue playing until they clear all the lines, or until they quit. This is great for one reason in particular: it allows the player to build up to a speed level and continue playing at that level as practice. So for example, maybe you are good until level 9, but then it becomes just too fast. In Chill, you can keep trying without fear of a Game Over screen.
Every mode has its own leaderboard and rating so you can chase a high score for yourself, with friends, or against the world.
The other modes also allow the player to choose a scene or a playlist of scenes. This allows you to select your favorite and stick with it. My favorite scene is called Forest Dawn. It’s set against a rainy forest backdrop with subtle music and nature sounds. The only thing missing is a hint of petrichor.
Other customizations are available to tailor the experience as well. The hold slot9 can be toggled on or off. The tetromino colors can resemble more traditional colors, bypassing the current scene selection for visual clarity. The playfield default zoom can be set. There are plenty of options to mold the game to whatever is most comfortable, which makes it really inviting.
I really wanted to experience the VR aspect of Tetris Effect before I formalized my opinion10 for the game overall. It may just be me, or it could be the current state of VR technology11, but it didn’t radically change my opinion of the game. It was definitely more focused than playing on a TV, but overall it wasn’t any better or worse. It’s definitely worth experiencing once, but it didn’t sell me on the VR prospect as much as I was anticipating.
A Tetris Classic
I haven’t been this swooned by a Tetris release in years1213. I love this game. It inspires me to play more Tetris. There are only two downsides of this game: it has no multiplayer component, and it’s only available on a Playstation 414. The lack of multiplayer is acceptable. This is a personal version of Tetris, and the more intense nature of competitive Tetris would detract from this game’s mission statement. But it’s not necessarily a game enjoyed alone. When I played a few times with others in the room, everyone was silently engaged with the puzzle game spectacle taking place.
This is a landmark game in the series. The game sets this in stone with a hidden secret: a new scene based off the classic Game Boy version, complete with the music you’ve had ingrained in your memory from when you were younger.
If that’s not love I don’t know what is.
- Fact or opinion? You decide. ↩
- Colors. Are. In. ↩
- And that line piece never shows up when you need it. ↩
- This can be adjusted to zoom in. After one playthrough in Journey Mode, I usually zoom in if I’m doing a short play session. ↩
- The TETRIS Effect. MIC DROP ↩
- Clearing twelve lines. ↩
- This one really messes with me. I need to practice playing upside down. ↩
- Just chill, okay? ↩
- Which surprisingly angers both hardcore and casual fans of classic Tetris. I never understood this as it doesn’t make the game any easier by a considerable amount. ↩
- And I still haven’t played 3D Tetris for the Virtual Boy. ↩
- I played on a PSVR headset which is basically budget VR right now. ↩
- Tetris DS was my last favorite, but the Nintendo infused nostalgia may have influenced my opinion. ↩
- Tetris Ultimate was far from being anything resembling an ultimate version. It is almost disgusting they named the game this. ↩
- Bring it to Switch™ ↩