A rebuild of a 34-year-old puzzle game on a console powerhouse doesn’t scream game of the year, does it? And yet here we are. And rightly so. Tetris Effect is an utterly compelling game for PS4, whether experienced in PS VR or not.
The puzzler’s purity is unquestionably why it’s as playable in 2018 as it was back in 1984. But there’s a coldness to that perfection — it’s as clinical as a chess game or mathematical equation. Tetris Effect reinvigorates all aspects of the classic with new rhythm-action mechanics that breathe life into the formula without robbing the original concept of its elegance.
The concept is simple, the effect intoxicating as Alexey Pajitnov’s timeless work is reinterpreted by celebrated game designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi. The latter takes a lifetime of experimentation with interactive, multi-sensory experiences and lets himself and his team run wild to extraordinary effect.
This is a collaborative dynamic you didn’t see coming. Far from a Frankenstein’s monster: this is as electrifying as a Beethoven/Beyoncé mashup. Tetris has never felt so alive.
Mizuguchi has pedigree in this genre and there’s much of his celebrated PSP puzzler Lumines here. The main spine of Tetris Effect is Journey mode: multiple levels — grouped into playlist-style stages — each with a carefully curated pairing of unique visualizer and original song. The track listing is eclectic, the visuals beautifully abstract.
Every level is reactive to how you play. Tetromino turns add to the song’s beat and ignite an accompanying visual spark, line-clears evolve the level’s look while also increasing the backing track’s tempo and complexity. You’re always chasing high scores, but simultaneously you’re artist, DJ and music video producer.
Cleared lines turn into electronic fish shoals that swim away. A tetromino tap ignites neon light trails onto a quiet city street or cause a sea of drums to beat in unison. Line clear-cued sunrises reveal a sky of twinkling hot air balloons or cause weary desert wanderers to transition into astronauts joyriding on the moon.
Everything is connected and all constructed to further immerse you in a puzzle-solving trance, rewarding you for every success or pushing you to correct any mistake with visual and audio motifs.
You chase multipliers both for the long-term satisfaction of a leaderboard entry and the immediate fix of another sensory explosion. Every change causes eyes to widen, heart to race. Every beat pulsed out of your DualShock 4 is echoed by a nodding head, a tapping foot. It’s mesmerizing, euphoric.
Yet even when you beat Journey mode, there’s reason to return. The longevity of Tetris Effect and the reason it’s now daily routine for me to fire the game up is Effect mode, an all-encompassing label for multiple gameplay variations and community events.
The variations each offer a unique spin on traditional Tetris gameplay (clear 40 lines as fast as you can in Sprint, eradicate ‘dark’ blocks in Purify, or survive random effects in Mystery, for example).
But crucially each highlights your current best score and top grade. It’s a simple but enticing detail: most evenings I’ll scroll through to see which mode I’ll try to do better in (spoiler: it’s the insanely fast Master mode. It’s always Master mode). It’s perfect for three minutes or three hours.
The routine is similar at weekends, but with one key addition: Weekend Rituals. Certain modes will be activated as ‘events’ for 48 hours only, with any points earned across them added to a cumulative total as you — and every other player on the planet — try and hit a high score milestone before the clock runs out.
While other online games idolize single victors, it’s lovely to see Tetris Effect celebrate community achievement, with the game’s social feed name-checking each contribution. It feels rewarding to be part of a larger whole, feeding a competitive urge to be the contributor with the biggest points share and giving me a reason to try out different modes.
Overall, it’s a brilliantly conceived package. Pure. Beautiful. Alive. It’s equally joyous, addictive, stressful, chilled, manic. It’s hard to discuss Tetris Effect without slipping into seemingly contradictory superlatives. Yet these juxtapositions happily coexist here, perfectly locking into place like well-placed-tetrominos.
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