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Tetris Effect

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Resonair
Developer: Enhance Games
Release Date: Nov. 9, 2018

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PS4 Review - 'Tetris Effect'

by Andreas Salmen on Nov. 9, 2018 @ 8:00 a.m. PST

Tetris Effect is the next evolution in the long-running puzzle franchise, surrounding you with fantastic, fully three-dimensional worlds that react and evolve based on how you play.

Buy Tetris Effect

I love Tetris, but after decades of the same rebranded and slightly overhauled Tetris titles, it wasn't exactly a hot topic, let alone an intriguing video game concept. Tetris Effect is the first game in a while to mix things up, and it does so in a way that enhances the experience but doesn't significantly alter the traditional gameplay mechanics we know and love.

The biggest name attached to Tetris Effect is Tetsuya Mizuguchi, who's best known for his work on Lumines and Rez, so it's not surprising that Tetris Effect looks like Lumines. It's basically a special Lumines edition where music and visuals dynamically change with every block we place, every line we clear, and every Tetris we wipe from the board. It's also more than that. It's the logical continuation of Lumines in a way that steps beyond what was previously possible in terms of combining music and puzzles.

At the end of the day, Tetris Effect is a surprisingly straightforward Tetris game. There aren't any distractions, gimmicky battle modes, or crossovers — just pure Tetris. You may even be a little underwhelmed when starting the game for the first time and finding only two menu items. Journey mode is essentially the story mode, and Effects mode offers a variety of Tetris modes that can be played for high scores and online leaderboards. The main attraction is Journey mode, which takes us on a journey through seven areas with 27 levels, and along the way, we experience various effects, locales, and music tracks.

We select a difficulty (easy, normal or hard) and start the first stage with a clean slate. The music plays, and we're down to the usual Tetris business of fitting blocks in gaps. The music often starts with a basic beat and slowly evolves with our level progression. Every on-screen action has a musical repercussion, and it's easy to get caught up in the flow of the music, and you'll find yourself turning blocks to the rhythm. Levels don't go on forever but demand a certain number of cleared lines before we progress. The number of cleared lines also dictates when the song and environment of a stage evolve into more opulent tunes and visual overload. When your controller starts vibrating to the very beat of the music, that's when you know you're completely immersed in a simple puzzle game, and that's the main magic.

Particles explode all over and form shapes of dolphins, whales, or Native Americans, depending on the theme of the stage. The shapesmove to the music, and even the tetromino blocks change and adapt to what's happening on-screen. While this can cause some stages to feel a bit more confusing than others and may make the game difficult to follow, the whole presentation from music to visuals is surprisingly diverse and works like a charm. In the end, the visuals and music can make or break Tetris Effect, and if you're a fan of Lumines, you'll adore Tetris Effect even more. The music has a high production value, and while not every song resonated with me, most of them were good, and a few remarkable standouts wouldn't leave my head for hours afterward. It's a mesmerizing experience.

That's exactly what it's going for. The expression "Tetris Effect" means being in an almost hypnotic state and seeing Tetris everywhere in real life. It's a meditating experience that can range from relaxing to high-focus tunnel vision in an instant, and it captures your attention in a way that is difficult to describe.

There's one additional feature we haven't talked about, which is the new Zone mode that can be triggered to increase points. It's charged by clearing lines and, once activated, it slows time to a halt. While in the "Zone," all incoming blocks stay at the top of the board until we shoot them down to where we want them, and cleared lines will be moved out of the way. While in the "Zone," cleared lines are not counted toward the lines we need to advance a level, but they are counted toward our high score. This also means the biggest single score to achieve isn't a "Tetris" anymore but a decahexatris, which can be accomplished by clearing 16 lines at once during Zone mode.

It can also be used as a final relief to tidy up your board when things get too messy — and believe me, they will. While we have the choice between the three aforementioned difficulty settings, Journey mode doesn't get harder and harder as you go. The difficulty has peaks and valleys from level to level, and it even varies within levels based on your cleared lines. Think of it as interval training in running. Every so often, it will push you beyond what you feel you can reasonably master, just for a few lines, and then it lets you fall back into a more relaxing mood to get your things together.

This provides a varied experience, but it also works just as well as interval training, slowly teaching you to get more comfortable with faster falling speeds. Within a few days, I was able to push past my truly average abilities in Tetris, even though the later levels on the normal difficulty are way too overwhelming for me. Even if you're an above-average player, the challenge posed by Tetris Effect might surprise you.

The experience doesn't end after the final credits roll. Once it's cleared, we can reattempt levels for high scores, and we can try to set a high score playing the whole journey in one go (up to the first "game over" screen). Once that's completed, we also get access to a theatre mode that lets us play the stages without a Tetris board, almost like an interactive ambient wallpaper. It may not sound like much, but it is seriously moody.

A single playthrough of Journey mode may not take longer than an hour or two, but the game's replayability is theoretically endless, and this is where Effects mode comes in to save the day. In Effects mode, our avatar floats around a massive globe with all other player avatars, and this is our hub for all leaderboards and 15 more Tetris modes that range from classic to special moods and experiences.

Classic modes are the same sprint and marathon modes you'd expect from any Tetris game, but they are complemented by a huge range of playlists for every mood. Relaxing levels sport some ambient music and don't treat you harshly should you goof up at any point. However, focus levels are all about speed and concentration, getting into a flow of clearing lines in quick succession. There are even some adventurous levels where we have to clear dark blocks and a mystery level with a few interesting twists and turns while playing. All of these modes mix and rehash Tetris with its own DNA, and the result is certainly a solid library of modes and endless leaderboards. You can also roam around the globe in Effects mode and look at other players' avatars.

The last big draw of Tetris Effect is support for PSVR, pushing immersion and its eye-candy visuals to even more impressive levels and theoretically even improving the game across the board, especially since the 120Hz PSVR display allows for smoother and higher reaction gameplay if you need it.

Tetris Effect checks all the boxes, and if you're into music and puzzle games that are as challenging as they are meditative, look no further. Tetris Effect is truly the best version of Tetris I've ever played, but at the same time, it is "just Tetris." It pushes the gameplay into interesting directions without actually changing any significant part of the core gameplay, and that's the beauty of it. The toughest sell may be the $40 price tag, but Tetris Effect showcases quality work with high production value, and that justifies a price tag above what we'd usually consider to be acceptable for a Tetris game.

Score: 8.7/10

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