Tetris Effect PSVR Review

One could argue that Tetris is the perfect videogame. Many long-running videogame franchises have experimented with new ways to shake up their respective formulas to varying degrees of success, Tetris included. But no matter how many new modes, remixes and other features have been bolted on, the core gameplay with its seven distinct pieces and high score requirements remain untouched. Whether played on modern consoles or a monochrome graphic calculator or even online via Google search, the legacy of Tetris lies entirely on its gameplay and not its visuals.

Not that a nice visual package can’t help enhance the experience, which the newly released Tetris Effect proves in abundance. Produced by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the mastermind behind many cult classic musical games such as Rez and Space Channel 5 as well as the Tetris-inspired puzzler Lumines, combining Mizuguchi’s distinct audiovisual flare with Tetris is one of the brilliant combinations no one ever knew they wanted. The game can also be played on the Playstation VR to boot, opening the door to a whole new level of sensory overload.

Let’s pretend for a moment that no one knows how to play Tetris: the goal is to line up a series of distinct blocks, known as Tetrominos, as they fall down from the ceiling at a given speed. Lining up a row of blocks results in a line break, which is crucial to keep the high score going as the game will end when the blocks fill up to the top. The better a player does, the fast the blocks will descend, requiring quicker reflexes and faster strategizing, as the next block is always visible to the player. Planning ahead to create multiple line breaks in a row results in a bigger score, though it’s also a riskier gamble as one misplaced block can ruin entire rows.

Two notable gameplay features have been added to Tetris Effect: the ability to “hold” one active block at a time, essentially saving it for when it is the most beneficial. The other is a “Zone” meter that builds up over time that when utilized will temporarily slow down the action and allow players to clear out several blocks at once with well-placed line breaks. Both of these features can be ignored for anyone preferring to stick to the tried-and-true Tetris mechanics, but they are incredibly beneficial for racking up the highest scores.

It wouldn’t be a modern Tetris game without a plethora of modes to mess around with. The core mode is called “Journey”, comprising of thirty stages that must be completed in order by fulfilling the requisite amount of line breaks per stage. This is also where Mizuguchi’s expertise comes out in full force, as each stage features a distinct visual theme as well as music. Similar to works like Rez and Child of Eden, it’s up to players to interpret what kind of message is being conveyed through the presentation, but at a guess the theme of Tetris Effect is simply about the celebration of life; each level puts players in a different part of the world, from deep underwater with dolphins swimming about to a Japanese festival filled with fireworks to a neon-colored city district, not to mention going beyond the reaches of the Earth itself and touching down on the moon, astronauts included.

It would be a shame to give away every psychedelic spectacle the game has to offer (not to mention a few hidden areas that will tickle the nostalgia bones of many oldschool Tetris fans), but they all share two things in common: the spectacular visuals and music. As expected, Tetris Effect is a DJ’s wet dream of colorful delights, flashing lights and pulse-pounding electronica music, with many of the game’s visuals pulsating in tune to the musical beats. The best part is this experience is just as impressive even without using the PSVR headset, though the latter combined with a surround sound headset will definitely provide the optimal experience and breathe new life into the VR hardware.

The downside to all of the wonderful sights and sounds is that for the Tetris-focused player, it can occasionally be difficult to appreciate it all; rather than having the speed increase based on how well the player is doing, Tetris Effect instead prefers to arbitrarily ramp up the tension at various points in Journey Mode, meaning that players who let their guard down looking at the virtual dolphins or falling snow may find themselves at a sudden panic as the drop speed increases suddenly.

Fortunately, there are more chill options that allow one to enjoy the game without stressing over high scores. In fact, “Chill” is actually the name of several of these modes, all part of a separate set of selectable challenges that can range from modes with no threat of Game Over or skill-based modes featuring specific requirements (such as how many line breaks can be achieved at a set time, or strategically placing blocks in order to “defuse” a layout of bombs, or the especially trippy mode that adds random effects while playing including temporarily placing blocks upside down).

Because every game seems to adopt an RPG formula these days, Tetris Effect also has a leveling system that adds additional rewards and challenges, including player avatars and music. These preferences can be set up to the player’s liking and allow them to view other avatars around the world (as in, a literal globe where players can place themselves where they want). Once more, this is a simple-yet-entertaining mode that follows a theme about life and connecting with others, making Tetris Effect both a zen-like experience for players wanting to relax and take in the sights and sounds, or an eyeball-melting arcade-style experience for the more hardcore challengers.

No two ways about it, Tetris Effect is a masterpiece, the kind of visually and audibly resplendence that one could immediately point towards the next critic who poses the age-old annoying question of whether videogames are “art”. It also makes for the best VR experience on the PSVR since Resident Evil 7, and is an absolute must-have with or without the extra hardware.

9 out of 10
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