Tetris might be the single most recognisable game in the world. Since its release in 1984, it has appeared on basically every gaming (and a few non-gaming) platform that has ever existed. From PCs to calculators, handhelds, early mobile phones, and dedicated high-end gaming devices, Tetris is everywhere. Over the years the basics have remained the same – spin, position, and drop different shaped blocks called tetrominoes to create horizontal lines that will then be cleared from the screen. While this still holds true, a lot has actually changed mechanically that might not be obvious to more casual players.
“Classic” Tetris tends to be a more deliberate experience where tetrominoes lock into place almost immediately upon contact. Meaning there is no room for error and things can very quickly go from displaying zen-like levels of Tetris mastery to the rapid seemingly unstoppable creation of a column of disaster in the middle of the screen. On the other hand, “modern” Tetris focuses more on speed but is also a lot more forgiving. Tetrominoes can slide for a short while in contact with another block. Spinning the tetromino can allow it to slide into positions it otherwise would not be able to, and you have the ability to “hold” a tetromino to be used later to help complete a Tetris (4 line clear), or any number of combos where points are awarded for sequential line clears, and even multiple sequential Tetrises (Tetri? Tets? Tetricals?).
Tetris Effect is definitely a modern Tetris title in every way, but thankfully for this old-timer, it is also very welcoming to classic Tetris lovers. The insane speed is there if you want it but for those looking for slower rhythmic block-slotting nirvana you need look no further. Rhythm is actually a core tenant of Tetris Effect, which you would expect from Game Director Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the man behind the music-driven classics Rez and Lumines. Mizuguchi’s team at Resonair has taken the Tetris we all know and transformed the experience without making any significant changes to the modern formula. Tetris Effect is nothing short of a revelation and the most fun I’ve had playing Tetris in over 30 years.
Tetris Effect does very little to the core Tetris game loop. You’re still dropping blocks to make and clear lines. The difference here is in the presentation and the feel. Where traditional Tetris is almost solely defined by the visual landscape of falling and stacked blocks, it’s the soundscape in Tetris Effect that helps to define the experience. Spinning, placing, and dropping blocks interact with and help shape the audio feedback. With each move creating an audio effect, beat, or subtle distortion to some of the best electronic music I have heard in years. Tempo increases in the music reflect the speed of the drop rate of the tetrominoes, but what is most impressive is how naturalistically the audio and gameplay merge together to become a completely new experience. Tetris Effect is a surprisingly emotional journey tapping directly into the pleasure centres of the brain in ways you’d not expect a puzzle game to - releasing endorphins, dopamine, and adrenaline to a degree that I actually felt high more than a few times playing the game. This game will get you stoned.
It’s not just the audio input and feedback that drives the almost narcotic experience. The visuals too react to both your actions and the audio. This interplay is what makes the game so great. I had an almost visceral reaction when the game began to build a wall of light and sound in response to my growing tower of disarray. Missed drops triggered eruptions of light eventually triggering a machine gun like staccato of particles and sound as panic overtook me, and bricks began to drop and stack in rapid succession in places I did not want them. Ultimately leading to complete failure and an expulsive crescendo of light, sound and exasperation. I’ve been in relationships less rife with emotional turmoil. Conversely, the visual feedback can help to keep you in the zone. Successive line clears will peel back the visual layers and help ease you into an easy cadence with a subtle screen throb, that does not so much prompt your actions, but seems to somehow predict them. I know this must sound like some hippy-dippy bullshit, but I’ve not had a game experience this fundamentally affecting ever in my life. I certainly was not expecting it, but I am endlessly appreciative of it. When you and the game are working in unison it is the gaming nirvana, there is no other way to phrase it. It feels almost spiritual, and this is coming from about as devout an atheist as you're ever likely to meet. The downside being here though is that when you and the game are not in sync it can be very jarring.
At its most frenetic the bombastic display seldom detracts or even worse distracts from the action. Seldom though is not never, and sadly there were times when sensory overload caused me to lose focus and lose the game. There were also a few times when the background visuals bleed onto the game field and obscured parts of it. While this is not common it is aggravating and game-breaking almost every time. There are also a few levels where the tetrominoes have complex textures that can make them less visually distinct which can lead to misplacement and ultimately a lost game. These are not common, but they do happen often enough that they need to be highlighted. As a complete package Tetris Effect is an easy recommendation. There are a slew of game modes from time trials to puzzle solving, and even an online mode with unique challenges that should keep you coming back for a very long time. There is even a full campaign that unlocks new levels and visuals as you progress through it.
Tetris Effect more than any other is a game that needs to be experienced first-hand to really appreciate it. No review or video is ever going to be able to deliver the feeling of actually playing the game. Do yourself a favour and play it.