Tetris Effect Review
Reviewed on PC
Bruce Lee once said “Don't get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
It informed a lot of his approach to martial arts and life and stemmed from his training in Wing Chun and his own personal philosophies. He brought it to bear upon his opponents in his fights and tried to show it off in his movies too. He even built the entire system of Jeet Kune Do around these ideas. Rather than worrying about a single correct way to do things, it’s more about learning to apply what you know and learning to flow with it.
“That's a weird way to start a review.”
Bear with me here, I promise it’s relevant.
That style of flow is rare in games, moving from one action to the next, everything working unison for a single goal. The best we can normally hope for in a game is for it to be like a group of gazelles, gracefully leaping through the air, all in the same direction, like some strange Olympic sport. Of course, the worst games are more like a herd of cats, which you may well know, just isn’t a thing.
Tetris Effect isn’t like either of those things though, it’s not a group of animals – graceful or otherwise – it’s like water (see, I told you we’d get to it). The movements of modern-day Tetris are a long way away from the sudden sharp edges of the original versions, but taken alone still can’t be classed as flowing, not really. That’s not all that counts though.
The music in Tetris Effect is excellent, it swells as you perform better, and goes back to a basic beat when you’re struggling, but it goes one step further when it comes to reacting to what you do. Every time you move a Tetromino you get a basic sound, it might be a snare drum or a trumpet blast, but it’s always something. They even manage to make it fit with the beat of the music, even if that means playing with your perception of timing. There might be a minuscule delay between the movement and the sound, but it’s all in service of the overall feeling. Again though, there’s more.
Graphically the game is the best that Tetris has ever looked. There’s not much you can do for the pieces themselves, nor the playing arena, not really. Instead, the graphics focus on the entire screen, which is so much more than just where you’re playing. There might be light in the shape of sea life circling the board, or a celestial background on which to play your game. Lights blast out whenever you clear a line, each level is defined by a clear visual language, one that tells you something about the music, and the feeling it’s meant to evoke.
All of this ties together to form the story mode, where you take a journey through time and space. It's utterly absurd to think about, but it works so well that you never actually question it. There's a reason this game was so wonderfully received last year on PS4, and it's because it may well be one of the best games of the last ten years.
“Mate, it’s Tetris, calm down”
No, stop that. Sure, the game is ‘just’ Tetris, but there’s a reason that Tetris has always been so popular. Tetris Effect takes the classic game and turns it into an experience. A river of visuals, sounds, and feelings that will wash over you, leaving you feeling cleansed and euphoric. Yeah, it’s Tetris, but not in a way you’ve ever played it before, and all of this goes without mentioning the intensely immersive VR version, which is, naturally, even more overwhelming. Tetris Effect singlehandedly makes a good argument for a need to rethink how we approach gaming, and it’s good that even more people can play it now that it’s on PC.