The PlayStation 4 hit comes to PC, as the creator of Rez turns Tetris into a virtual reality experience like no other.
Although Grand Theft Auto V and Minecraft are nipping at its heels, Tetris is still probably the best-selling video game of all time. During the ‘90s it was one of the most recognisable video games in the world, back when being addicted to a game was viewed only as a positive. But while there are plenty of versions available on smartphones, and still the occasional release on consoles, Tetris has long ago ceded its position as the public face of puzzle games to Candy Crush Saga and its ilk. But Tetris Effect proves that the original is still the best.
As a PlayStation 4, and now PC, exclusive Tetris Effect was never going to have the same reach as a free mobile game, especially when one of its key features is its VR support. But Tetris Effect doesn’t need VR, it’s only enhanced by it, and most of what it brings to the table can be appreciated whether you’re playing on a monitor or not.
The game is a dream project of Tetsuya Mizuguchi, who is best known for puzzle game Lumines (which was remastered last year) and Rez (which already has an excellent VR version). That makes him pretty much the perfect person to work on a new Tetris game, as he uses every trick he’s learnt so far to reinvigorate the great granddaddy of all puzzle games.
We’re honestly not sure if anyone needs to have what Tetris is explained to them, but just in case: it was invented in 1984 by Russian designer Alexey Pajitnov, back when the Soviet Union was still a thing. It became the first video game to be exported from Russia to the West and the story of how Nintendo beat off the competition to sign it up as a Game Boy launch title is one of gaming’s most entertaining behind the scenes stories (we particularly recommend the book Game Over by David Sheff).
Like all good puzzle games Tetris sounds confusing and overcomplicated when you explain it but is elegantly simple and instantly accessible when you play it. Geometric shapes (called Tetriminoes) fall from the top of the screen and you have to rotate them so they interconnect with each other – with a complete horizontal line disappearing entirely. The shapes begin to fall more quickly the longer you last, and it’s game over when one reaches the top of the screen.
Tetris Effect (named after the medical phenomenon where people keep seeing falling shapes even in their dreams) works in exactly the same way but with the addition of a Zone ability that allows you to drop more than one block at a time, raising the previous maximum score you could get at once by performing a ‘decahexatris’. Only hardcore Tetris fans will care about the specifics, but what this translates to in practice is a slowly-building power meter that allows you to save yourself – or simply go for a high score – at the moment of your choice.
As you’d expect, Tetris Effect also uses all the modern contrivances of the game, including the ability to slide shapes into place for a few seconds after they touch down and the controversial infinite spin that allows you to keep turning them as long as you keep hitting the button. You can also hold back a block to be used later, although that option you can turn off if you don’t want it.
Because this is a Mizuguchi game the soundtrack is fully interactive, so the better you do the more complex the music gets. As usual, his ultimate goal is to try and induce synaesthesia but whether that actually happens or not the effect is mesmerising all the same, as the backgrounds come alive at the same time and together with the Zone ability you’re given a constant stream of reward even as the gameplay itself remains the same.
The main play mode splits itself up into several separate stages that have to be beaten by clearing a certain number of lines, but there’s a huge range of other modes that range from standard Marathon mode to one that turns the play field into a 3D cylinder. No matter what mode you play in though the game tracks your progress and levels you up, unlocking new options and challenges along the way. Although oddly there are no traditional multiplayer modes, beyond chasing other people’s high scores.
Tetris Effect really can be played on a normal TV or monitor and thanks to the interactive music and varied game modes it is absolutely worth it. But the game’s true grandeur is revealed in VR, with the PC version supporting both Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Since you’re still only looking at a static play field you wouldn’t think it would make that much difference but the glorious particle effects – which are very similar to Rez Infinite’s Area X – combine with the music and gameplay to create an experience that seems to both overload and relax your senses all at the same time.
Tetris has often been referred to as a perfect video game, and we wouldn’t argue with that. But if that’s the case then this is the perfect Tetris. Except of course that nothing is really perfect, and occasionally the light shows and music can be distracting when things get really busy, obscuring parts of the screen for a few precious seconds. It’s a rare issue though and worth putting up for the 99% of the time the effects don’t get in the way.
As you’d expect there are also more graphical options on the PC but no real gameplay changes, beyond a new option to play Relax mode with a goal of getting a certain number of lines or playing Quick Play where the speed never increases.
Throughout his career Mizuguchi has always strived to combine graphics, gameplay, and music into a single interdependent whole, and Tetris Effect is arguably his most successful creation so far. The name Tetris Effect was well chosen, because you really do feel the game altering your perception, as it and the Tetriminoes become your whole world. You play Tetris Effect but you also get the feeling that it is playing you, the blending of game and gamer reaching a peak in which they seem almost one and the same.
In Short: A masterful reimagining of Tetris that changes little about the core gameplay but still manages to create one of the most immersive video games ever.
Pros: The classic Tetris gameplay combined with a huge range of modes and options. Interactive music and background graphics work masterfully and are enhanced even further in VR.
Cons: The graphics effects can occasionally get in the way of the screen. No real multiplayer options.
Formats: PC* (reviewed) and PlayStation 4
Developer: Resonair and Monstars
Release Date: 23rd July 2019
Age Rating: 3
*Epic Games Store exclusive, although ironically it requires SteamVR to run in VR mode
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