Tetris is one of the most readily available games in the world, and yet people keep making new versions of it. Most of them are generally unaltered, content to act as a quick and easy way to get the game on new platforms and services.
Tetsuya Mizuguchi's take on Tetris is a bit different. While the basic premise is still the same (I'm not going to explain Tetris to you), the way Tetris Effect alters the experience is more about altering the experience of playing Tetris than the game itself, and from my short demo at E3 this year, I think it really works.
I didn't think I'd come away excited about game I've played all my life at E3, but here are five reasons I'm excited to put on some headphones and play some damn Tetris in 2018.
Tetsuya Mizuguchi has good taste in music
Although his games are often carefully designed, fun, and hypnotic puzzlers, the biggest appeal of Tetsuya Mizuguchi games for me is having another chance to delve into his taste in music. After playing hours of Lumines: Electronic Symphony a few years ago, I made a Spotify playlist of all the songs from the game available on the service, and had it on regular rotation for about two years.
The guy knows how to curate a playlist and enhance it through gameplay. You could easily sell Tetris Effect by saying "It's Lumines, but you play Tetris instead." That sounds crazy, but you also know exactly what I mean; while the puzzling aspect is a key part the experience, it's how the music and visuals intertwine with that experience that make Mizuguchi's work stand out, and that's what Tetris Effect is.
The songs I listened to during my demo are still stuck in my head, as are the various sound effects you can make by rotating and dropping Tetrominoes. As much as Tetris Effect is another Tetris game, it's also another Mizuguchi game, and those trappings enhance the trance you enter while playing Tetris.
As in Lumines, Tetris Effect has you play through a series of songs rather than simply clear lines 'til you drop. When the music transitions from one song to the next, the backdrop and block aesthetic changes with it. During this transition, you get the kind of dense, colorful explosions you might want to test out a new 4K TV with, and it adds to the experience.
Some of the backdrops in my demo were especially trippy, including one themed after Egyptian pyramids, where all the blocks where cleverly made up of two triangles and a sea of enormous diagram-like shapes of spheres and pyramids approached the screen at high speed. Another involved a sort of tribal ritual, where part of the song and sound effects were the primal "huhs!" of a chant acted about the tribe on-screen. By default, the actual Tetris board is fairly small on the screen, placing a larger emphasis on the backdrop. It might a little distracting to your actual Tetris play, but it works.
Especially In VR
Strapping on a headset to play Tetris sounds like something out of a dystopian future, but doing so is worth it for a couple of reasons. For one, it sort of forces you to put on headphones, which should be a given for a Mizuguchi game. Second, the visual flair that occurs when you transition from one song to the next is heightened when the particle effects fly right at your face.
You can also zoom the view of the board in and out, and at its most zoomed in, you actually have to look up and down to see the entire board. It's weird and again probably won't make you a better Tetris player, but this is more about the experience of playing Tetris than getting high scores, and it's a pretty fun novelty.
The Zone mechanic adds to Tetris without ruining it
The only real change to gameplay Tetris Effect makes is the introduction of the Zone mechanic. As you play you build up a meter, and when you unleash it (preferably when your board starts filling up), time slows down, letting you stack up and clear lines more easily. Even better, every line you clear is instead moved to the bottom of the board, and when the Zone timer ends, all the lines you've cleared disappear at once, making for some easy points.
Tetris is as perfect as any game is ever going to be, but the Zone adds to it in a fun way. It doesn't meaningfully alter the way you play Tetris, but does add a fun pace of building meter and pulling off Zone maneuvers, which again serves to distinguish Tetris Effect from other versions of the game without adding a layer that ruins the whole thing.
It has a story mode
Okay, maybe not a story mode the way you're thinking. You don't play as the square Tetromino and recruit the other Tetrominoes to take down the malevolent Top of the Tetris Board or something. It's a little more like Rez, where there's a loose narrative between all the songs you're playing through, but nothing too overt. There's a plot and message in the Tetris Effect, but it'll be delivered through the music and game itself.
There's also a menu where you select different stages made up of three or four songs, each are which act as a short, tailor-made medley designed around a theme or feeling. The length of these medleys changes depending on what difficulty you play on, and you'll have to work your way up to the hardest difficulty in order to see the complete version of a given stage. It's a neat way to repackage Tetris, and I'm hoping it delivers the same sort of euphoric denouement Mizuguchi tends to go for in his games.
I'm still a little surprised by how excited the changes in Tetris Effect made me to play Tetris again. I'm still a bit on the fence about VR as a whole, but playing it with a headset on definitely pushed me closer towards one. But even if that doesn't appeal to you, can play the entire game without it. Just make sure you wear headphones.
Tetris effect is scheduled to release this fall on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR.