If only it was easy to put into words how Tetris Effect will make you feel. Unfortunately, there’s a reason we’re here writing reviews rather than best-sellers, but we’re going to give it our best shot. Much like Rez Infinite before it, there’s something melancholy and moving about Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s take on the decades old Russian puzzler. On a 4K television with HDR it’s a dazzling experience, but with PlayStation VR it’s a borderline spiritual one.
That the game is able to have any impact on your emotions at all is a testament to Enhance’s outstanding use of presentation, because the very foundations of this package are identical to those you experienced on the Game Boy some 30 years ago. There are some new tricks added to the age-old format, including a Zone mode which slows time and quickly allows you to clear the stage, but this is good ol’ Tetris – T-Spins and all.
And yet, it’s so much more. The main mode, Journey, is a kind of mesmerising campaign which whisks you from one otherworldly location to another. Whether you play in virtual reality or on a standard screen, the game board exists within a kind of visualizer, with dazzling effects engulfing the screen. It’s at its best with PSVR, where the sense of scale and 360-degree viewpoint ensures maximum immersion.
While we don’t want to spoil a single thing, this is a trip in every sense of the word. One stage will find you sitting on a seabed, surrounded by bubbles and glitter, only for giant electronic whales to swim around you, pulsating to the beat of an electro-pop banger. The game changes speed and adapts its visuals to provoke an emotional response, and as the music crescendos and imagery bursts with colour and effects, it can feel like you’re flying.
It’s a real testament to the quality of the presentation that a simple round of Tetris can invoke feelings ranging from fear to euphoria, and yet the title achieves it effortlessly. The campaign is generous too, and while it’ll only take you a couple of hours to see it through on standard difficulty, there’s a score-based element to it which will encourage you to play it multiple times. It’s also great escapism – an opportunity to step outside of your body and exist in a higher place.
But there’s very much a game beyond all the macchiato sipping, moustache twiddling hyperbole. Tetris Effect has a generous array of modes, ranging from your bog-standard Marathon all the way through to the maniacal Mystery mode, a madcap smorgasbord of discovery, as the stage is flipped, obscured, and all sorts. There’s a disease-like mode where you must clear out lines of infected blocks, and also hardcore options where you’re judged on all-clears and more.
Everything that you do in the game rewards you with experience points which in turn unlocks avatars; these can then be used to identify you when you’re connected to the web, as you’ll appear floating above the surface of the world on other people’s consoles. A rotating weekend event will see you working alongside the community to hit a designated score target, with all the participants rewarded with in-game rewards.
But it’s really the presentation, particularly with PSVR, that makes this so much more than a quality, contemporary take on Tetris. The title’s ability to shape your mood, to colour and contour it with audio and visuals, is unprecedented – we genuinely haven’t felt the same sense of weightlessness since Rez Infinite, which as already alluded was also unsurprisingly a Mizuguchi joint. The director has a unique knack of marrying sound and images to the point where the game becomes tertiary to the experience itself, and this is yet another example of that.
Tetris Effect takes you on an emotional rollercoaster through oceans and to other worlds. While its striking audiovisual achievements sing on a standard screen, virtual reality elevates the experience to euphoric new levels. And yet, for all the chatter of spiritual awakenings, there’s a damn good game of Tetris here, bursting with inventive modes and beautiful visuals which will keep you hooked for potentially hundreds of hours.