The Washington Post Sunday
Trippy ‘Tetris’ is a rapturous mélange of sight and sound
I’ve never considered myself a fan of “Tetris.”
Sure, I played it occasionally as a kid whenever a friend briefly relinquished their Game Boy, but I don’t have warm memories of lining up falling blocks into neat rows to make them disappear. Of course, Alexey Pajitnov’s game must be counted as one of the most accessible and broadly recognized video games in history. I just never figured that one of its iterations would prevent me from sleeping.
That’s why, slowly, over the past week, I’ve tried to make peace with the possibility that “Tetris Effect” is a game I love too much.
Designed by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the renowned Japanese designer of the “Rez,” “Tetris Effect” is a rapturous mélange of sight and sound that a friend of mine likened to a math rave.
Though anyone with a PlayStation 4 can enjoy manipulating the game’s geometric shapes and vibing to its globally minded, electronica soundtrack, “Tetris Effect” is best experienced on PlayStation VR, where it is an order of magnitude more immersive. There is a world of difference between watching turtles swim around you on the Turtle Dreams stage and seeing them skirt about the game’s matrix or playfield on a TV.
Being encased in its VR environment with nothing else to distract you goes a long way to helping the game achieve its stated goal of inducing the Tetris effect or the Tetris syndrome wherein images of falling blocks bleed over from the game to color one’s perceptions, dreams, etc . . . . Yup, it’s pretty trippy.
“Play the main campaign, a voyage of emotion and discovery,” reads the tagline that describes the game’s Journey Mode. One might wonder how such a well-known puzzle game could deliver on that lofty claim, but it only takes playing a few stages in VR to realize what a sensual, tactile experience Mizuguchi has created by fusing “Tetris” with the elements of a rhythm game.
As you rotate tetrominos — the four cubed-shaped blocks that constitute the basic components of “Tetris” — the music responds with grace notes that harmonize what you’re doing with what you hear.
Furthermore, “Tetris Effect” brilliantly leverages the DualShock’s haptic capabilities so you feel the controller pulse or vibrate in time with the music. On a stage like Downtown Jazz, manipulating tetrominos coaxes riffs from a piano, while on Hula Soul, they add to a percussive celebration. In the latter stages of the game, where the music noticeably speeds up in time with the falling tetrominos, it’s difficult to focus on anything other than the task at hand. Everything conspires to put you in a trance.
In terms of gameplay, one of the new things that “Tetris Effect” adds to the formula is a “zone” mechanic. As you clear rows of lines, a meter at the bottom of your screen gradually fills up. Gather enough charge and you can activate the zone mechanic by tapping one of the controller’s triggers. Doing so causes the tetrominos to stop “Tetris Effect” is best experienced on PlayStation VR, where it is an order of magnitude more immersive. falling until you input your directions.
Naturally, this can help you out of iffy situations, like when you find yourself edging closer to the top of the matrix, but it can also help you rack up points. In zone mode, cleared lines don’t count toward the 36 lines that are required to complete a stage, so you can prolong a good run.
“Tetris” is all about building and releasing tension. It rewards you for courting the danger of building your rows high so as to take them all out in one fell swoop.
What makes “Tetris Effect” special is the clever way it uses music and imagery to amplify the meditative pleasures of a game that’s all about bringing order to chaos. It’s so good it should probably be illegal.