Editor's note: This review was originally conducted in a podcast format, available as a video above or right here as an audio file. A summary of the review follows.
How do you innovate on Tetris? The core game itself is just as playable as it was over 30 years ago. Sure, you can change the rules of how the game plays, create new modes, or mash it up with other games. It feels like many modern versions of Tetris have asked “how do we make Tetris more fun,” but nobody has asked “how do we make Tetris more of an experience?”
Enter Tetsuya Mizuguchi and Enhance Inc. with Tetris Effect, which blends the core mechanics of Tetris with the unique visual and audio stylings of past Mizuguchi games like Rez and Lumines. In the game’s main Journey mode, players are taken on a trip through 27 levels, each with their own unique and interactive skin and music. Clearing a set number of lines will bring players from one stage to the next, transitioning between visual soundscapes that are themed around flying windmills, volcanic hulas, and space whales. Beating Journey from start to finish will only take about two hours or so, and it takes you through levels that are range from relaxing to very technically challenging. There's decent replayability to be found with different difficulties and modes that you unlock after completing it.
Tetris Effect does an incredible job of keeping the player immersed, and one of the best ways it does it is by giving the player control of the music. Moving tetriminos, rotating and dropping them, and clearing lines affects the music in dynamic ways. This is only complimented by playing the game in VR. This, surprisingly, was my favorite way to play the game. The first time I booted up the game in VR and was able to look around me and see myself being showered in falling stars as trance/world music washed over me was my favorite VR experience to date. The interactivity of the music, the intense and sometime overwhelming visuals, and solid core gameplay all blend together to create a cohesive and sometimes emotional experience. The few songs in the game with lyrics all share a common motif--togetherness--and as cheesy as it sounds, you feel like you’re part of something bigger when playing in VR.
In addition to the Journey mode, the game features Effect mode. These are a series of Tetris variants, and feature some models you might be familiar with. There are established modes like Marathon (clear 300 lines as fast as you can) or Sprint (clear 40 lines in a set amount of time), but also new modes such as Purify, where players must kill off infected tetriminos as fast as possible. These offer a good break from the core game, and even act as tutorials to a degree. Take, for example, the mode called All Clear. This mode gives you a partially filled in well with a set number of pieces to drop. I found playing this mode allowed me to spot unique solutions to problems in my regular Tetris play. Tetris Effect will also have weekend challenges, where players must come together and clear a certain number of lines to unlock new avatars for players to use on their profiles, adding a reason to come back to the game frequently.
Tetris Effect, from top to bottom, is my favorite iteration of Tetris yet. The music and visuals work together to create a truly unique Tetris experience, that is only enhanced by VR.