I’ve played about a hojillion hours of Tetris. Me and everybody else who has ever held a game controller, handheld game, or graphing calculator. It’s easy to think we’re all set on a particular game, or that we’ve had enough of a game. I was quite sure we’d had enough of Tetris over the years. Then I played Tetris Effect. It’s rare to have this good a time being wrong.
Tetris Effect is an idea and a game. The term comes from the way people who play puzzle games for long periods of time can still see the puzzles when they close their eyes – the grids and shapes imprint on our vision and our memory for a time, and long after the game is off, we’re still playing in our heads. As a game, it’s Tetris as an art project.
Tetris Effect was helmed by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the mind behind Rez, Lumines, and tones of other games that do weird things with music and visuals. Playing this game, it feels like maybe something he was aiming for all along. It fuses the best parts of Tetris with the best parts of Mizuguchi’s game design and brings in some new ideas along the way.
Instead of just dropping you into the beginning of the game cold, the main campaign in Tetris Effect is called “Journey Mode.” It takes you through a variety of levels, each with its own look, soundscape, and theme track, much in the same way that Lumines did. And like Lumines, it’s not about increasing the speed consistently, but about finding a rhythm that makes the game exciting and then relaxing, ramping up the difficulty and then giving the player a chance to recover. The biggest new mechanic this game adds, though, is the “Zone.” After filling up a meter, triggering the zone freezes the game. In a level where things are coming down fast and hard, this can be a much-needed break. but further, it drops each completed line down to the bottom of the screen. A skilled player can get a decahextris, a perfectris, and an ultimatris. And man, I thought a tetris was satisfying.
The ebb and flow of the levels becomes and almost emotional experience, which sounds like a totally bananas thing to say, but as I was progressing through the game and having an especially good run, I found myself rising and falling with the pace of the game, chilling out as the game chilled out and leaning forward as the game sped up.
What I haven’t mentioned yet is that this game is meant to be played in PSVR, and by all accounts people who play it that way have had an incredible time with it. Even without it, though, I’ve found it to be one of the freshest and most entertaining gaming experiences of the year and more worth the $40 price tag than I could’ve ever expected.