Every few years a new version of Tetris comes along. This isn’t surprising, since Tetris was, and remains, one of the most influential and enjoyable gaming experiences ever crafted. The ultimate example of “simple to learn, difficult to master,” there’s little that can be said of the core Tetris tenets which hasn’t already been known for over thirty years.
In a way, Tetris Effect is more of the same formula known and loved by millions of fans all over the world. The brick-laying mechanics are as smooth as ever, and free of the immersion-breaking framerate hitches which plagued the otherwise acceptable Tetris Ultimate, released by Ubisoft back in 2014. If Tetris Effect brought nothing more to the table than this, it would be a passable effort, but publisher Enhance, Inc, led by Rez and Lumines creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi, went above and beyond to deliver a Tetris experience unlike anything else in the puzzle genre.
Tetris Effect is broken up into two main modes: Journey and Effect. Journey is the starting point, the main adventure mode which introduces players to the game’s 27 main stages, each of which possess unique background visuals and dynamic music. It’s also the best place to grow accustomed to the slightly faster and more slippery sliding controls; moving tetriminos feels a bit different during high-speed play, which can make it easier to accidentally drop a block in the wrong place. There will be a slight learning curve for longtime players, but the change is, overall, for the better. Effect is a more arcade-style showcase of modes and variants, adding in several new stages and musical tracks, as well as leaderboards and weekly challenges. Journey also introduces “Zone” mode, a meter-burn move which allows for rapid stacking of lines and major scoring potential; it doesn’t rewrite the rules of the game, but is still a fun twist with its own strategic merits.
It will be easy for some to dismiss Tetris Effect as merely “more Tetris,” but that would be a reductive claim to make, both towards Tetris‘ timelessly perfect gameplay and the truly incredible audio/visual marvels on display; every single level is rife with psychedelic tapestries of imagery derived from fantasy, reality, art, and nature, all celebrating the idea of humanity’s potential and capacity for greatness. Musically, some tracks are subjectively better than others, but they are all unique and hypnotic in their own way, and the way the audio and visual elements evolve as the stages go on is nothing short of spectacular. The entire game is playable with PlayStation VR, though we were still blown away by the depth and fidelity of the scenery and particle effects on display on our HDTV screens.
Every so often, certain scene transitions come with a jarring instance of split-second texture pop-in, an effect which only stands out because the visuals are otherwise so perfectly executed that, were it not for the game’s limited camera control, one would be mistaken for believing them to be completely pre-rendered, and not formed in real-time, with Epic’s Unreal toolset. Meanwhile, each stage offers a different look to the falling tetrimino blocks, although the game does give players the option to have the bricks retain their classic and recognizable colors. Gamers who cut their teeth on the monochromatic Game Boy version probably won’t mind the change, but we felt compelled to revert to the traditional colors for the sake of being able to more immediately recognize the difference between L and J blocks. Either way, it’s excellent that the option is there for both camps of players.
If there’s a single omission which truly hurts Tetris Effect, it’s the complete lack of local or online multiplayer. Leaderboards and weekly community challenges notwithstanding, there are no head-to-head or co-op modes at all, which is disappointing, especially since four-player couch co-op and battle modes were the best part of the aforementioned Tetris Ultimate, which is handily outclassed by Effect in all other departments.
Tetris Effect is a beautiful game: gorgeous in its striking and profound imagery, mesmerizing with its rousing musical score, and mythical with its trance-inducing gameplay loop, a loop which has persisted for more than thirty years and will continue to enchant audiences until the end of time.
Tetris Effect is available now on PlayStation 4 with optional Virtual Reality support. Screen Rant was provided with a code for the purposes of this review.