Tetris Effect

Tetris Effect

One of the all-time greats is back, and it has never looked better.

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Tetris is a game that needs no introduction, but we're going to stick with tradition and give you one anyway by asking you to cast your mind back to 1986. It was before many of you fine folk were even born, and even some of those among us who are going grey (and bald) will probably be too young to have enjoyed it at launch and would rather have gummed a Game Boy than played it. Alexey Pajitnov designed the game in 1984 but it wasn't until it was boxed in with Nintendo's iconic handheld that Tetris would go on to make its undeniable mark on history.

Let's get it out of the way now: Tetris is the greatest puzzle game ever made. You can argue the case for another game if you want, but you're wrong. Sorry about that. Whether you played the original on Game Boy, any one of the millions of LCD ripoffs that sprouted in the years that followed, or even if you came to the party later when more modern versions appeared on consoles and handheld devices - if you've come across Tetris before you'll know what it's all about, and you'll probably appreciate the simple yet brilliant gameplay loop that has kept millions and millions of players glued to their screens for billions and billions of hours.

We've played a lot of different versions of Tetris over the years, from the Game Boy original to equally traditional interpretations, through to more novel recent additions like Puyo Puyo Tetris, but of all the variations and versions that we've played of this most iconic of puzzle games, Tetris Effect is by far and away our favourite. We're going to spend the next few lines explaining why.

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The basic core of this new experience is pure Tetris. Rather than twisting the formula and making sweeping gameplay changes, this is dropping tetrominoes plain and simple. You can charge up a meter and enter "the zone", pausing the action mid-game for a short period every now and then to more purposefully place your blocks, but otherwise, from a mechanical perspective, it's a very straightforward adaptation of the original formula. If you've played before it'll take you no time at all to find your feet, start moving blocks around, matching them and clearing lines. Like riding a bike, there are some things you never forget.

Tetris Effect

The game's main Journey mode is a series of interconnected levels, a line of four individually-themed experiences that are chained together to form longer chapters. They make up a solo campaign that players will be able to tackle as many times as they want, with an overall points tally for your general progress, as well as ratings for individual chapters - there's always a high score to chase down and leaderboards are on hand if you need further incentive to dive back in.

So far, so Tetris, but what makes Effect so special is the audio-visual experience that accompanies each new setting. Each one has its own music, with the soundtrack reacting contextually to your actions, and so while you're essentially just playing Tetris much as you always have done, there's a sumptuous and alluring new layer in the form of a brilliant and reactive soundtrack that feeds into your every action, giving new substance to well-worn mechanics that many of you will have committed to muscle memory.

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Some of the music is beautiful, and the use of haunting vocals accompanies some pulsating electronic beats that draw you in and hold you firm for hours at a time. These toe-tapping tunes are accentuated by some wonderful visuals that add genuine richness to each of the settings. Effect takes us down into the depths of the ocean, high up above the clouds, and it even explores different cultures via the various background animations and audio effects. Every new area utilises fresh background visuals, differently styled tetrominoes, and each one comes with new music pumping through its veins. It's a constant light show and, while at times some of the effects can be just a touch distracting, even played on the big screen Tetris Effect offers nothing short of a feast for the senses.

Tetris EffectTetris Effect

It might be easy to forget the world around you when looking at the beautiful effects happening on your TV, but putting on the PlayStation VR headset takes things to a completely new level. The feeling of immersion is absolutely sensational and we forgot the outside world on several occasions while playing. We initially feared that the particle effects would be more disturbing in virtual reality, but it proves to be quite the contrary, and experiencing the different stages and effects in 3D just pulled us even further into the game.

Playing in VR wraps the different worlds around you, making it feel like you're actually floating around the rain-drenched forest, swimming with the stunningly-realised whales, or wandering through the desert. Having the audio reflect your moves and watching the speed of the animations in the background ebb and flow in time with the tetrominoes, as well as the isolation from your surroundings, makes playing in VR surprisingly emotional. You might feel your brain and muscles relax as you fade into something close to nirvana when playing some of the more relaxing playlists, or feel your heart beat faster and harder together with the music when the pace picks up in the later Journey stages.

Speaking of which, once you've finished the brilliant Journey campaign with its many levels, there are a bunch of Effect modes that further spice things up and provide plenty of longevity and variety. There are modes that lean more towards the puzzle aspect which require you to drop blocks in exactly the right spot or remove specific pieces from the board, and there are others that push your reflexes to the absolute limit with an unrelenting stream of shapes descending from above at high speed. It's really down to the mood you're in at the time.

Tetris EffectTetris Effect

While some of the modes are as simple as time-limited challenges, Resonair has also come up with some really creative ideas based around the Tetris theme, and whether you want a more traditional experience or something a little different, there are options here. There are community events, leaderboards to climb, and similarly themed levels have been put together with a specific atmosphere in mind. One of the more novel modes, Mystery, even mixes up the mechanics and throws constant game-changing effects at you, so one minute you might be playing upside down, and the next you could have to deal with incomplete tetrominoes.

Thanks to a wealth of modes and a trio of difficulty settings, there's plenty to keep you busy in the long term. From the expansive and enchanting Journey campaign through to the varied Effect modes, this is the near-definitive Tetris experience. The only thing that's absent is local and online multiplayer, and for some, that'll be a big miss. Tetris has always been a solitary past time for us and so it wasn't really a problem, but if competitive play is important to you, alas you don't have that option here and that has to be considered a mark against. You could also point at some of the more illuminating visual effects as there are moments when they're borderline distracting, but these are few and far between.

And so Tetris Effect falls just short of being truly complete, but don't let that dissuade you from checking it out. It's an incredible and immersive VR experience and it's almost as good when played on a boring old flat screen television. We've had discussions here at the office about which game in the series is our favourite, and while there was a strong shout for Tetris DS, for our money Tetris Effect is the best way to experience this timeless brand of gameplay in 2018 (although while we're on the subject of money, given our universal familiarity with the franchise we expect a lot of people to baulk at the rather hefty price tag). This is Tetris for the modern age, and thanks to the creativity of Tetsuya Mizuguchi and the craft of Resonair, one of the greatest games of all time just got even better.

09 Gamereactor UK
9 / 10
Looks and sounds incredible, Journey mode is stunning, lots of game modes to spice things up, one of the very best VR experiences.
No multiplayer, quite expensive.
overall score
is our network score. What's yours? The network score is the average of every country's score

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REVIEW. Written by Mike Holmes & Eirik Hyldbakk Furu

"Thanks to the creativity of Tetsuya Mizuguchi and the craft of Resonair, one of the greatest games of all time just got even better."

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