Blocks. They all saw blocks. Enter the incredible world of Tetris Effect, filled with tetriminos and awe inspiring audio/video visuals. Although on the surface it's just tetris, Tetris Effect provides a journey through life, several different playable modes, theatre mode and other little goodies that clearly make it different than "just" Tetris.
Controller: Dual Shock
Game Length: 1.5 hours for Journey Mode, possibly infinite
PlayPSVR Score: Adam-6 Alex-8 Combined: 7
After dropping quite possibly one of the greatest trailers I have ever seen in my life at E3, Tetris Effect had been hyped up for months. Once the demo was released, I spent literally hours upon hours on just those 3 levels. Although I wasn't for sure a day-one buyer, after the demo I immediately pre-ordered the game. This craze is what got me so excited about Tetris Effect, but it quite possibly also led to its downfall.
I say this meaning that I had such astronomical expectations for this game that it could be seen as unfair. After the song "I'm Yours Forever," the rest of the demo, and the bits of footage I saw leading up to release, I thought the entire game was going to be similar. Unfortunately, this wasn't the case.
The entire game works perfectly. There isn't a single glitch, and it has a nice addition to just being Tetris. The developers had the goal of creating a game that could be played after work and while just chilling, and that goal was achieved masterfully. The different modes, such as infected, master, line clear, and endless, provide unique ways to play Tetris. I do think that this game is different than what we typically expect from a Tetris game.
With that being said, for me it didn't live up to the hype whatsoever. So much that I regret purchasing it, especially for the hefty price of $40. My two favorite levels are the first two levels of the demo. So for me, they put the two best levels in the demo, which felt extraordinarily misleading. Of the 27 levels in journey mode there were only 4 other levels that I can really say I enjoyed. The rest of them were lackluster, with poor music, cool visuals, and nothing incredible. Everything with this game is "cool", but I was looking for so much more.
When I played “Rez” for the first time I was inspired, awe-struck, and amazed. That is what I expected with “Tetris Effect.” What was released, unfortunately, was something that never achieved anything beyond "cool." In the beginning I had my doubts that this game would be anything more than "just” Tetris. I fell victim to the hype, the demo, and the excitement, and all along I should have listened to myself. My advice for you? If you enjoy Tetris, pull the trigger without a doubt. If you aren't sure about your love for Tetris, or if Tetris doesn't really excite you then stay far away. I thought the audio and visuals could mask that for me. But it didn't. Not even close. Rather, I have a $40 game that I played for 5 hours and will never touch it again. I can't completely blame the Tetris Effect however, sometimes expectations are the root of despair.
It’s impossible to approach a review of “Tetris Effect” without also facing the baggage facing the game since its announcement. As a primarily VR gamer, I have been drowning in first-person, immersive adventures that make me lose my sense of place. I’ve been made to sweat, hold my breath, and cower in fear. VR games have easily provided the visceral response that only the most masterfully designed titles have been able to elicit. With “Tetris Effect,” I had high hopes that Mizuguchi and co. would be bringing us a title that provided something different and broadened the horizon of VR games for the future. What’s more, Mizuguchi would be pulling it off with something as timeless and classic as “Tetris.”
Perhaps, as with Adam, I set the bar too high. I was under no illusions, however, that I wanted something more than just Tetris. I grew up watching my parents throw house parties dedicated to playing Tetris on the NES. I burned through countless vacations and battery packs playing Tetris on my Gameboy. Even after years passed, I would still find myself addicted to Tetris given the chance. So, as far as gameplay was concerned, I knew what I was in for with “Tetris Effect.”
My hopes were also bolstered by a thorough familiarity with Mizuguchi’s lesser known but still popular titles like Gunpey, Every Extend Extra, and Lumines. He had a way of taking these simple puzzle games, adding a musical layer to them, and transforming them into a truly meditative experience. I’ve probably spent more time playing “Shining Star” on Lumines than I have spent reading any holy text, and I sometimes feel like my soul is just as rich for doing so. There’s something special about getting lost in time with a Mizuguchi title. And with VR, I was hoping to get lost in space as well.
But it didn’t seem to completely pan out for “Tetris Effect.” Its promotion relied on prior familiarity with this feeling of being in “The Zone,” so much so, the game has a dedicated score mechanic named after the feeling. However, Enhance games trying to force the meditative experience is what potentially might hold the game back from reaching that potential. Playing through Journey mode feels akin to listening to going to a visually stunning rave wherein the dancing becomes natural and the sounds become hypnotic, except that the DJ seems to change tracks 3 minutes too early. Granted, I was playing on Normal mode, which means that levels change after 36 lines have been completed rather than the 42 required for Expert mode. But that was because I wanted to relax and enjoy the sounds and sights as much as I did the gameplay, which danced around the edge of being “too difficult” for a relatively seasoned Tetromino such as myself.
There are options to adjust the gameplay and difficulty and virtually any pertinent parameter to the game, but sometimes I don’t exactly know what I want in terms of balance. Left to my own devices, it becomes difficult to find the sweet spot between too challenging and too mind-numbingly easy. But adjusting the speed of the game is only one parameter that affects the gameplay’s difficulty, and it might not be the only one responsible for delivering the meditative experience I was looking for.
Mizuguchi has said that Lumines was the game he made because he couldn’t get the rights to Tetris, and the result is a beautifully mesmerizing title that puts me in the zone quickly and for a long time. I think that Mizuguchi’s ability to use the Tetris license here has perhaps hamstrung him in a sense. With Tetris, there are expected mechanics and parameters. Elements are made of 4 blocks, and the well is approximately 10 blocks wide. In Lumines, the well is shorter, but much wider, and I think the result is a gameboard that is plenty challenging, but that gets less quickly out-of-hand. Mistakes can be forgiven, even multiple in a row, before a session goes out of the window. But in “Tetris Effect,” its possible to ruin a run in 3 poor moves, and such instability results in an inability to relax into the games’ admittedly impressive soundscapes and atmospheres.
“Tetris Effect,” it almost hurts me to say, is like the opposite of “Rez.” Whereas the latter combined its gameplay elements into an emergent, unexpected amalgamation of sights and sounds that took me on a spiritual and musical journey, “Tetris Effect” expects similar results but narrowly misses the target. As out of place as it seems, the best comparison I can make is a boxing one: Mizuguchi is a knockout artist game designer who might’ve finally fallen in love with his power. And this time he went looking for the knockout. But everyone knows that you can’t look for the knockouts. And in Mizuguchi’s games, you can’t go looking for the emotional response. You have to set it up and let it come to you.