PlayStation 4
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Game Info:

Tetris Effect
Developed by: Monstars, Resonair
Published by: Enhance
Release date: November 9, 2018
Available on: PlayStation 4
Genre: Puzzle
Number of players: Single player
ESRB Rating: E
Price: $39.99
(Amazon Affiliate Link)

There must have been a time before I played Tetris Effect. I can’t remember it. More precisely, I can’t remember it without a Tetris playfield, called a matrix, superimposed over my memory. The matrix entered my mind when I loaded the first level of this game and it hasn’t left. The real-world phenomenon known as the “Tetris Effect” refers to people seeing the likeness of Tetris pieces in mundane, everyday objects. The game named after the effect does one better. Combining excellent reactive visuals, sound effects, and music with natural and engrossing Tetris gameplay, Tetris Effect draws the player into a world of color and beauty which simply doesn’t exist in most other games - or in most mundane, everyday objects. I had hardly played Tetris before playing Tetris Effect. I can hardly imagine stopping now.

Tetris Effect is an “official Tetris product,” with all the gameplay implications that suggests. Boxy shapes called tetriminoes (the official misspelling used by Tetris) fall from the top of the play area, rotated and positioned by the player. Tetriminoes come in seven forms, each a combination of four squares: two Ls, two Ss, a large square, an I, and a T. When they horizontally fill up a row of the Tetris matrix, they disappear. Over time pieces fall faster. Clearing multiple rows at a time gives more points. If the pieces pile to the top of the screen, the game is over. That is Tetris, and it has been for three decades. In modern Tetris, a tetrimino can be stored and swapped in for later use. The point system of Tetris Effect recognizes tetrises (clearing four lines at once), all forms of T-Spins (a T tetrimino set by rotating it into a spot it would otherwise not fall into), all clears (clearing every line of the matrix), combos (multiple clears in a row), and back-to-back clears (chaining tetrises and T-Spin clears without intervening, less-valuable line clears). The game does not assume you know any of this, and the brief tutorial will bring you up to speed if you have never fit in a full game of Tetris before.

Tetris Effect
Highlights:

Strong Points: Beautiful and varied levels; engrossing music; sharp controls; flawless implementation of modern Tetris gameplay; variety of standard and creative modes
Weak Points: On default settings, visuals obscure gameplay on occasion
Moral Warnings: Spiritual imagery in the form of language about exploring the soul, yoga, and indistinct forms worshiping nothing in particular

Tetris can be played for free on the Tetris Company’s website, so if this PS4-exclusive was only that I’d direct you there. As becomes apparent within the first five minutes, this is not the same Tetris. For starters, Tetris Effect adds the Zone. The Zone meter charges up as as you clear lines. It can be triggered at any time to stop the automatic falling of tetriminoes, allowing you to easily chain together line clears or recover from some bad placements. Lines cleared in the Zone rack up points without contributing to the total needed to clear a level. This is a hindrance or a feature depending on how good you are at Tetris. A pro can use the Zone to clear the entire matrix for free points at least once a level. I could not do this, but the Zone helped me get out of tight spots of my own making.

Tetris is labeled a puzzle game, and it’s true that spatial reasoning - finding where the given tetrimino fits - makes up the smallest gameplay loop. I like to think of it as an exercise in making and living with poor decisions. While trying to set up a tetris, I might block off an empty square. Perhaps, moving too quickly, I drop a piece in the wrong spot. That’s one row closer to game over, and I need to burn the Zone or figure out how to start clearing lines again, fast. The difficulty levels scale well to whatever the player is comfortable with. Modes aside from the main “Journey” take away the Zone and give classic scenarios. Clear a set number of lines as fast as you can. Get as many points as you can in a set amount of time. There’s a Quick Play mode, with any level you want and no game overs. Some modes are explicitly puzzles, asking you to chain tetrises or achieve all clears. Playing Tetris is a joy, and it deeply engages the mind despite its simplicity. The core gameplay is as solid as it gets.

Putting off the discussion of aesthetics for so long is surely burying the lede of Tetris Effect. This game is gorgeous. Voices might gently harmonize while you rotate falling pieces. Every line clear glows pleasantly, joined by a fitting musical highlight. The tetriminos take the form of coral, shells, fireworks, snow, gears, leaves, and more. The backgrounds show you the ocean, the stars, and the teeming life in between. Rhythmic hip hop backs one level. A soaring, triumphant song accompanies the hot air balloon ride. Not all tracks are voiced, but those that are were my favorite. Music and background evolve over the course of each level. In fire-themed stages pieces steadily speed up, but that is not always the case. Sometimes the game slows down with the music after a time of frantic speed. At all times the sound is responsive to player action. No words can describe how good it feels to experience the music choreographed to my actions as the more active part of my mind continues the rhythm of fitting tetriminos into place. If words could describe it, we wouldn’t need the game. Even the failure state of a filled matrix is treated well, with music fading out and pieces drifting away.

Tetris Effect
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 96%
Gameplay - 18/20
Graphics - 10/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 96%
Violence - 10/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

The game’s demo gives a good idea of what the rest of the game is like. Whether you play the demo or look up a video, you could see what you’re in for with Tetris Effect. I praise it highly because it executes its mission of engrossing beauty with excellence, but not everyone’s endorphins will be hit by this game in the same way. The credits end with a (perhaps) tongue-in-cheek, “Until the next trip,” and such trips might not suit your fancy. The music is typically understated, and the visuals are impressionist. Those who just want a game of Tetris could turn down the visual effects, but they could play that game for cheaper elsewhere. In fact, a more plain edition of Tetris might serve these people better; there are a couple levels which flash in such a way that, without changing settings, obscure the play area for a second or two. This is a game for people who are hooked by music matching movement and color. If that's you, this game will draw you in immediately.

Once or twice a sensibility might be perturbed by the background action. An early level features vague human forms bowing in seeming worship. Yoga poses and imagery fill the menus. The game presents itself as an emotional experience and in doing so almost reaches for a spiritual experience that it obviously isn’t intended to be. Should the imagery cause no trouble, there is no moral reason to object to Tetris Effect.

This game is worth playing on a PS4 Pro if possible. I don’t own PSVR gear, but Tetris Effect really makes me wish I did to experience the fuller immersion of color and sound. It is a blessing and curse that Tetris Effect is a PlayStation 4 exclusive. It can utilize the one system to its full extent, though I wish it were portable. Online Community Challenges ask the player base to complete certain in-game tasks in a limited amount of time, usually to unlock PlayStation community awards such as avatars. It’s a nice way to encourage engagement. I don’t need it. I’ve had images of this game floating in and out of mind since I started writing, and I think it’s high time I play some more Tetris Effect.

About the Author

Sam George

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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