Tetris Effect (PS4 and PSVR) Review

Dooo do do do, do do do, do do do, do do do; do do, do do do; daaaaaa… If you’ve just instinctively sung one of the most infamous tunes from the original Tetris game on the Gameboy, you’re in for a treat! Tetris has officially been around since 1984 and has appeared on pretty much every single home console and computer, either officially or via the means of imitators and bootlegs.

EA and Ubisoft have both been the publishers of this beloved classic over the years with very little wiggle room for anyone else to jump in. However, it appears the Tetris Company have allowed developers Resonair and Monstars Inc, as well as publisher Enhance, Inc. to recreate this timeless classic as the musically enhanced Tetris Effect, exclusively on the PS4 and PSVR.

So. who does it best? EA, Ubisoft, The Original Nintendo version, or the newly enhanced ‘rave’ version by the very talented team behind Lumines and Rez Infinite? Let’s find out…

Tetris Effect 1

Tetris – 2018 edition…

As I briefly touched on above, Tetris is by far the most well-known casual game in the world. Tetris MADE the Gameboy and the Gameboy MADE Tetris – they both were the core reason for their individual success back in the 80’s and early 90’s. For the one or two of you out there who have never played Tetris, the core mechanic of this rather simple yet innovative puzzle game is to fit blocks together in order to create a horizontal line from one end of the screen to the next. However, there are a number of different blocks (made out of four squares) in shapes like a square, a line, a T, Z and S. These can be placed anywhere but you want to try and build up a solid structure without placing blocks which leave a gap or create a mini-chasms. Then, if you drop the right piece into one of the gaps, it will eliminate up to four rows (a Tetris) as the horizontal lines become complete.

Everyone knows what Tetris is though, it’s a game which has had many variations over the years from Multiplayer, Branded versions, Mobile free to play editions, and even a PS4 version many years ago from Ubisoft which added a few new game modes. However, the one thing that stuck with almost every version is the fact that it’s just another Tetris game. The core mechanics are the same, the visuals all look similar unless it was branded, the audio kept an upbeat song (which never topped the Russian classics), and it just felt like a reskinned version of the original with a few modern twists.

Until now…

Tetris Effect 2

This looks so surreal in VR

Tetris (PSVR) Effect(s):
The first thing I would love to talk about is the PSVR implementation in Tetris Effect and how it greatly enhances everything. It pretty much makes this game a must buy for every single person out there who owns one of these amazing headsets. I was sceptical when I first heard that Tetris Effect was a PSVR game – how could you make it VR apart from having the game play out in front of you whilst you’re sat in a cinema-sized room? Sure, that doesn’t actually sound that bad but what we got was so much more!

You’re not simply sat in an empty void or a virtual room as you play Tetris on a screen as big as a double-decker bus, you’re bombarded with fantastical and absolutely stunning light shows and environmental performances. These don’t only occur around the ‘board’ but also all around you, on the ground, and even behind the board so you can watch both at the same time! Again, once I heard of this I was sceptical as Tetris can get quite insane as you progress through the levels and things get faster, having a barrage of visual effects thrown into your eyeballs is surely going to distract you right?! Yes and no.

At first, I was like “I need to concentrate to get a tet…. ohhhhh a pretty dolphin! Damn, I’m dead!” But once I’d got used to the pretty colours and the lighting, it never distracted me, it just enhanced the overall experience. Just imagine, playing Tetris Effect in VR with a blue ocean-like backdrop and as you eliminate lines you’ll see a glow of a dolphin made out of star-like lights appear momentarily as it swims past you. It’s truly magical. Another stage, which was also in the demo, has you working away whilst a group of monk-like beings (also made out of tiny lights, only red this time) are preying and worshipping the mighty Tetris board!

One last thing to mention in regards to the ‘visuals’ of Tetris Effect in VR is the fact that the game is super clear. We’ve had a few really good titles this year on PSVR which have looked amazing with little jaggies and utilising the Pro to supersample the resolution on the PSVR headset. Tetris is probably one of the best as it’s a game you need to be able to see everything that’s going on and you need that fast response time so you can react quickly. The framerate in Tetris Effect is really high in VR and never suffers any slowdown and the overall feeling in terms of responsiveness is perfect. Such a smashing job!

Tetris Effect 3

Again, as they swim past you in VR, it’s simply amazing.

Tetris (Sound) Effect(s):
Before I talk about the sound and the music, just remember that these are the developers and publisher who brought us Lumines: Remastered a few months back. Also, the music and sounds are obviously for both the flat and PSVR versions of the game, although you get a much bigger impact if you’re playing in VR and/or with headphones.

My god, the music in Tetris Effect is bloody amazing! Seriously, whilst playing in VR I literally got goosebumps a few times as the visuals switch over and ‘the drop’ occurs mid-track. The way a lot of the levels worked is you’ll go through three phases of the music based on how many lines you clear. First, the music plays as a calm tune or in some cases, like the Jellyfish Chorus, you have an ambient sound with the Tetriminos themselves creating dynamic music as you rotate, place, and eliminate a line. Secondly, the screen will begin to change as a few more visual effect occur and the music begins to get a bit more emotional and lively. Finally, as you get into the final phase, the music goes all in as the effects fly left right, centre, and through you! 

Just like Lumines: Remastered, the music, sound effects and beats aren’t just there to sound good (even though they do), they are there to help you out as this is a rhythm-based game of Tetris. A lot of the time, the music you’re listening to and the beats sound like they’re coincidentally happening perfectly in time with you rotating and dropping pieces. In reality, that’s basically because the music is dynamic and happening BECAUSE you’re rotating and dropping pieces. If you’ve ever played any of the de Blob titles, it’s like that – you’re interacting in time to the beat yet you’re also creating the sounds and music by doing so.

The whole experience is simply stunning and it makes Tetris feel fun, refreshing, modern, and like a brand new game with the core mechanics intact. This is literally how you turn an old classic into a modern masterpiece. Also, as the developers love to ‘shake’ things around – you can connect a second controller and have that vibrate to the music or sound effects or their alternative beats – this was also in Lumines: Remastered and brought back in Tetris Effect.

Tetris Effect 4

Even in ‘flat’ mode – the game looks great.

Tetris (Flat) Effect(s):
So, what’s the game like if you don’t own a PSVR headset – it’s still a great game but not as much as if you don the headset. Sure, it’s the same game and you get the same thrill of the combination of both the visual and audio effects, but the immersion you gain with VR is simply above and beyond anything you could even comprehend with a game about dropping Tetriminos!

Now, I had an issue with the ‘flat’ version of Tetris Effect but since playing the game, I’ve taken a look at the options and I believe it was just me being stupid as I’ve managed to tweak the game to my liking both in and out of VR. My initial complaint was regarding the camera. You would start up in flat mode, by default, zoomed quite far out. This meant you had to use the left stick to adjust your zoom and the right stick your angle in order to get the best view. If you’re on a fast level or one with pre-filled parts, then you have to do all of this whilst the game is playing out behind you as you can’t pause and adjust. Also, if any visual effects turn you upside down or changes your angle (which I’ll come to later), then the camera is reset to the default.

That was my biggest complaint – however, I’ve just seen you can set the default viewing distance and even disable the camera controls if you wish. Placing it on the ‘close’ option for the camera basically fixed all of my issues I had with this.

Tetris: Story mode

One new addition in all modes is the ‘Focus mode‘. As you clear lines, a gauge will increase on the screen. Once it gets to a decent amount, hit the L2 or R2 trigger and go crazy with completing as many lines as you can. In this mode, nothing falls unless you tell it too and the completed lines simply get shifted to the bottom of the screen – the objective is to clear a whole bunch and get a massive score for it. I’ve seen people clear 15+ rows in one go using this and one person even cleared the whole screen! My maximum was 12 lines in one focus.

So, if you’re not sold on the fact that this is the ‘Tetris of the future’ game which you should all buy if you want to play a solid game of Tetris with the best visuals and music in existence, then what else would tempt you? How about more game modes and events than you can shake a 4×1 stick at?

The main game is called ‘Journey Mode‘ – this lets you play through all 30+ levels in a ‘story’ mode which has you playing one after another in groups of three or four levels as you aim to hit a set amount of cleared lines in each. Whatever your board looks like as you move to the next level is the state it will be in once you begin the next one. This can be played in Beginner, Normal or Hard mode and every level have its own theme, music, sound effects, visual effects and mood – all of which dynamically change in line with the gameplay. Once completed, you can even jump in and ‘view’ the level and just sit there and relax as the music and visuals play out for you!

The second part of the game is the ‘Effects Mode‘. This is a list of 15 new game-changing challenges and modes which are created for different moods and adapted for certain play sessions. Let’s take a look at those…

Tetris Effect 6

I’ve not posted this the wrong way around – it’s an ‘effect’ in-game

Tetris Effect(s mode):
There are four main categories, Classic, Relax, Focus, and Adventurous – each with their own playlist of styles, such as:

Classic:
This is your standard set of game modes. You can try and get the best score in a 150-line limit, earn the most points in three minutes, clear 40 lines as fast as you can, or try out the ‘Master mode’ and play an insanely fast game of Tetris.

Relax:
These are for people who just want to relax and play the game without having to worry about scores or the number of lines they reach. There’s a ‘chill Marathon Mode’ which is just like your regular ‘reach x amount of lines’ yet if you fill the screen with debris then it is auto removed and it doesn’t result in a game over. Following suit, the quickplay mode also has a no-death mechanic in the same way. Now, this is where it gets interesting, there are three sub-modes (Sea, Wind, World) which are based around the levels with these themes. These are four-stages long each and feature a continuous track of specially designed relaxing ambient music.

Focus:
As you may expect, the focus category is all about timed challenges. These all follow the same pattern, you have a set amount of time to perform an action, yet performing the action will give you more time on the clock. The actions are clear as many lines as you can, earn as many combos as you can, and clear as many ‘target blocks’ as you can. So, if doing the ‘clear as many lines as you can’ then you’ll have a time limit but every time you clear a line, the timer will increase slightly.

Adventurous:
These are fun! This has a ‘countdown’ mode in which the line Tetriminos will appear randomly and automatically on the stage over time and you must keep up and destroy them all. Purify mode has you destroying as many ‘dark blocks’ as you can in three minutes – this is similar to the Target Blocks’ above, but a little different. Finally, we have my favourite mode – Mystery Mode. In this one, you’re randomly given a special effect as you’re trying to play the game. For example, one minute it will be normal, then you’re playing the game upside down where left is right and right is left. Or, you may be looking at the blocks fall from the perspective of a tiny person stood at the bottom looking up!  I love this mode.

Tetris Effect 7

Online Leaderboards

Multiplayer?
There isn’t any multiplayer in Tetris Effect, at least not in a conventional way. Every single stage in the Journey mode, at all three levels, has its own online leaderboard which you can view as you try and become number one. There are also weekly events that take place over the weekend in which you’re tasked with earning as many points as you can in a certain category of modes (as above). If you participate within a challenge and the collective amount of points of everyone bypasses a set amount, you all unlock a new avatar to use in Effects Mode. 

However, in terms of a couch or online multiplayer – this has been strangely missed out in this title. I’m not a massive multiplayer fan, but it would have been nice to see the addition of a mode in order to help prolong the game a little more and offer a bit of extra diversity. Especially if the team opted to do what very few games have, have the VR screen and the social screen run different views, so the VR player only sees their blocks and the couch-playing players only see theirs, that way it would make an exciting MP experience.

Tetris Effect 8

I’m on the moon playing Tetris… On the moon!

Personal Option:
Personally, I think that Tetris Effect is by far the best Tetris-based game I played since the first time I played it on my Gameboy. I think I can happily say that playing Tetris Effect in VR is pretty much the definitive way to play this game with its spectacular visual effects and extremely colourful and mesmerising events which occur all around you. Not to be left out in the cold is the magnificent audio design, both in terms of the music and the ambient sound effects which combine together to create a dynamic soundtrack I could listen to all day! 

However, the audio and visual effects would be pointless if the gameplay was clunky, broken, boring, or slow… Thankfully, Tetris Effect is one of the best Tetris games I’ve played in terms of its mechanics as well. Sure, it doesn’t offer many new features or play differently if you strip away the visuals and the audio, in terms of the core gameplay (other than the Mystery mode), but everything just works perfectly and extremely smoothly. The team have really outdone themselves with Tetris Effect – this is certainly a must-buy in terms of PSVR and it’s high up on my recommendations for standard PS4 owners as well. If you love Tetris – this is a no-brainer…

Official Trailer:

Final Conclusion:
Tetris Effect is a combination of brilliant dynamic music, spectacular visuals, and solid Tetris gameplay, all rolled into one must-have package. Not only will you be treating yourself to a great version of Tetris, but you’ll also be giving your eyes and ears a gift they’ll never forget. On top of the 1-2 hour ‘story mode’, you can also try out fifteen set modes/playstyles as well as participate in weekly challenges. There’s a lot of content and fans of the classic game will simply love what the developers have done with the license this time around.

My recommendation to buy the game is higher if you own a PSVR headset, but it’s just as good both in and out of VR – just remember to set your camera options if playing in ‘flat’ mode.

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A copy of the game was kindly provided for review purposes

Tetris Effect

£34.99
9.5

PSVR

10.0/10

PS4 (Flat)

9.0/10

The Good:

  • The music is amazing - most of it is dynamically created by your actions as well
  • The visuals are absolutely stunning - especially in VR where the game comes alive
  • Over 30 stages, each with their own music, sounds and visuals
  • 15 game modes for you to pick and choose from
  • Weekly community challenges and online leaderboards

The Bad:

  • The camera is a bit annoying in flat mode until you adjust it manually in the settings
  • In VR, the effects are a little distracting due to how pretty they all look, but you get used to them
  • No multiplayer (local or online)

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