From the moment the words ‘From Tetsuya Mizuguchi’ appeared onscreen during what would be the trailer for Tetris Effect during this years E3, I was spellbound.
Mizuguchi’s games, from Rez to Lumines, are always sensory overloads, designed to merge audio and visuals into an experience unlike any other. Sitting down for an extended hands-on session at Tokyo Game Show 2018, I was looking forward to getting to see whether the psychedelic debut trailer did the game justice. I’m happy to report that not only is Tetris Effect a wonderfully engaging game, it also creates a compelling reason to invest in PlayStation VR.
Tetris Effect is named after a real phenomenon. The Tetris Effect occurs when a person has devoted so much time to an activity that their thoughts, eyes, and dreams begin to perceive the activity everywhere. It was named after Tetris players began to perceive how different objects in the real world could fit together, or tetrominoes falling on the edges of their vision. It’s an apt name for this game, which is designed to enthrall you in a way that no other Tetris game has done before.
At first glance, Tetris Effect is just another Tetris game, where you position blocks to clear outlines on the bottom of the screen. But Tetris Effect starts off slow – when you put the PSVR headset on, you look at a map filled with dozens of nodes that show that you’ve got a lot of block stacking ahead of you. The music is atmospheric, accompanied by a collage of light that gently drifts across your vision. Then, you select the first level, and you’re launched into a menagerie of music and colour.
Like old-school Tetris, you move blocks with the directional pad in order to create horizontal lines. The biggest addition to the formula is a Zone meter, which fills up as lines are completed. Once it’s completely filled, you can activate it at any moment to slow down time and freeze the clearing of lines. Each line you create in this mode is sent to the bottom of the screen, and once the Zone ends, are cleared all at once to earn a cornucopia of points. It doesn’t last long, meaning some strategy is required in order to pull off truly epic line clears.
Yet it’s not the gameplay that makes Tetris Effect so mesmerizing. The soft beat and melody of the first level intertwines beautifully with a blue background, the Tetris blocks falling to the beat of the music. The more I cleared, the faster the music got, eventually coalescing into a repeat of the chorus that drilled its way into my ears. When I beat the level, the music shifted to a tribal beat as the background changed to the colour red, the fast pace continuing to build the more blocks I arranged. It’s unlike any other puzzle game I’ve ever played, and that’s primarily the result of the wonderful incorporation of VR.
Though Tetris Effect is entirely playable without VR, using it propels you into the world in a way that few games are capable of. The VR itself is relatively straightforward, as there is nothing else to really look at besides the Tetris board itself, but that works in its favour as you can only focus on the falling blocks. The music serves to lull you into a rhythm, and in a sense, you enter the zone, and I found it difficult to leave once I entered.
By the time I ultimately fell in the game’s fourth level, a glance at my phone revealed that half an hour had passed. Half an hour where I sat on a chair, completely unaware of the world around me, as the beat pulsated within my head as I placed block after block and cleared line after line. As I walked away from the game and headed back out into the show floor, I realized that I didn’t want to play Tetris Effect without PSVR – I needed to play it under the same circumstances to fully experience it.
I can see a select few people purchasing PSVR just to use it for Tetris Effect, and I’m certainly one of them. It may be Tetris, but this is a game that takes the series in a refreshing new direction while retaining the core gameplay that has made it stand out for over three decades. Tetris Effect might just be the best use of PSVR yet, and I look forward to getting into the zone again when it launches on November 9th.