The first version of Tetris was created by Russian developer Alexey Pajitnov in 1984. Since then, a bewildering number of variants on the concept have arisen, but in essence, it remains a puzzle game where the object is to make lines disappear by slotting together blocks. How, then, does such a simplistic concept translate into virtual reality (VR)?
Tetris Effect was created by Tetsuya Mizuguchi and Enhance Inc, who previously worked on similarly psychedelic puzzle titles Rez, Rez Infinite, and Lumines. The title continues the aesthetic and design sensibilities of Rez Infinite, which likewise had a VR mode, but turns everything up to 11 in order to turn Tetris Effect into something of a transcendent experience.
Tetris Effect takes its name from a recognised phenomenon where players who engaged in lengthy sessions of Tetris would find they were still seeing the moving block shapes even after shutting off the console, as if the game had printed itself on their eyeballs.
The main game mode is the ‘Journey’ mode, which challenges the player to clear a certain number of lines. Doing so will transport the player to the next stage, complete with the transformation of the visual landscape, showcasing such fantastic sights such as a whale made of light, or a surreal flying windmill. The Journey mode takes roughly 2-3 hours to complete, though doing so unlocks other game modes to play around with.
The other game modes can be found by exploring the Effects area, where players can pick a mode that matches the mood they are going for. These modes includes Classic, Focus, Adventurous, or Relax. The game features sub-modes inside these categories as well, such as the Marathon mode inside Classic, which challenges players to clear 150 lines.
Relax is one of the most pleasing modes, offering a gentle ambient playlist and a ‘no fail’ rule that ensures players are not dumped out early. Relax acts as a kind of practice mode, as well as providing a chill experience that is perfect for winding down after a tough day.
Fans of VR often talk about the immersion of the experience, which is one of the defining, and most appealing, characteristics of VR. On the surface, a timeless puzzle game like Tetris does not seem like an obvious candidate for the VR treatment, but in fact it works incredibly well. Players will quickly find themselves totally absorbed in a world of colour, sound, and falling blocks. The outside world entirely falls away as the Tetris Effect takes hold.
The core Tetris gameplay is present and correct, but the game has a couple of additions, such as the ‘Hold’ function, which lets players store a piece for later use – like saving those vital straight pieces, or tucking away an inconvenient block that does not currently fit. This function adds a new dimension, but the concept has been in quite a few modern Tetris titles. The other innovation is the Zone state, which involves filling up a meter by clearing lines, until the player is able to freeze time and rack up some unbelievable line clears, like the ‘Ultimatris’ twenty-line clear.
Graphically, the game is spectacular; the lighting and particle effects all look amazing, and the animated backgrounds are sufficiently beautiful as to be a distraction from the gameplay (in a good way). The transitions between levels are mesmerising, and when the player start to explore the other gameplay modes, things start to get even more impressive.
Of course, one of the main draws for Tetris Effect is the soundtrack. The music synchronises with the gameplay in a way that players of Lumines will find familiar, though the addition of VR and 3D sound incorporates an extra dimension to it all that really adds to the feeling of being immersed in a different universe. The sounds change in time to each spin and drop, giving the player the feeling that they have a hand in controlling the music.
The soundtrack ranges from pulse-pounding to ambient chill, with genres spanning electronica to trance and even jazz. The sound has some fun little touches here and there as well, such as a level where the shapes become stuck together snowballs, and the sound effects change to sound like crunching snow.
The controls use the DualShock 4 in both VR and non-VR modes, which works excellently. While Tetris Effect still looks and plays wonderfully in non-VR, it is in VR where it really shines, and a world of light and sound comes to life around the player. That said, if playing in VR, a good set of headphones or a solid 5.1 surround sound set-up is an absolute must, as so much about the game involves 3D spatial sound, so much so that losing it seems almost criminal.
Though many people have questioned how exactly one can innovate on Tetris, Mizuguchi and his team at Enhance have drawn upon the experience of creating titles such as Rez Infinite to create a hypnotic experience that draws the player into another world that does its very best to not let them go.
The quality of the visuals, the sound, and the gameplay means this is a title that impresses on almost every level. The only real problems are that the Journey mode could perhaps use with being longer, and some of the Extra modes feel a little bit tacked-on.
Unlike many ‘Optional VR’ games, Tetris Effect thrives in VR, and a PlayStation VR headset is by far the best way of experiencing this game. Tetris Effect is a very polished, absorbing, and beautiful experience, and well worth checking out for anybody who has a PlayStation 4, especially if they also have a PSVR headset.