Go run a bath. Make it warm, get some salts, maybe some candles, put your speakers by the door and dim the lights. Play this, close your eyes, and sink into the water. Oh and, grab your Gameboy (don’t drop it) and boot up Tetris.
That’s about as close as you’ll get to the transformative wonder of Tetris Effect in the real world.
Tetris Effect is developed by the same studio that brought you 2016’s Rez Infinite, a transfixing assault on the senses that did a marvelous job of losing you in its sensual world. This is much the same story, just with the timeless game of falling blocks slotted right in the middle of the action. In the game’s central piece, a campaign named ‘Journey Mode’, you hard drop your way through nearly 30 levels, grouped in stages. Beat a level and you’ll progress straight onto the next one in the given stage until you reach its end.
Each level has its own theme, complete with an entirely different style of visuals, soundtrack and sound effects. One moment you’ll be enjoying peace and tranquility under the ocean before suddenly being thrust into the busy bustle of a US metropolis.
You know the substance is already there, thus the style is allowed to shine. Effect’s first level tells you all you need to know, employing a rousing title track, ‘I’m Yours Forever’, that has a sort of transcendent beauty. When paired with the atmospheric, pulsating visuals that bleed into view as you play, you’re completely at its mercy. It’s capable of reaching down through your body and placing a strong, firm grip on your heart. If you allow it, Enhance won’t let go.
At times it will lull you it into a soothing sense of security, encasing you in a bubble of graphical splendor before ripping you out of it and into something much more demanding. The rate at which blocks fall constantly adjusts in sync with these changes as if it were some sort of cruel dictator of your heart rate. The game’s Expert Mode can go from manageable to, frankly, impossible so I’d recommend casual players approach Normal with the mindset of enjoying the game and getting to experience its divine surrealism. It’s easy to miss the eye candy Enhance has prepared, otherwise.
I did find moments of intense strain in some levels, though. As joyful as it is to lose yourself in some of Effect’s more peaceful themes, there’s an unavoidable stress on the eyes in some of the harsher environments that made it difficult to focus on the core game itself. They’re few in number but, for me, they were a definite distraction to an otherwise cohesive whole.
As for that more competitive strand that the hardcore craves? This has some interesting new twists, like a special ability to temporarily pause time as you build up a meter. This can be used to rack up combined points that go well beyond a Tetris (clearing four lines at once). Doing so requires an intimate understanding of the workings of the game, which many will have built up over the course of decades now. For those that haven’t? It’s unintrusive, accessible and handily used as a lifeline when your lines are stacking near the top.
Effect also comes with the aptly-named Effect Mode that builds a sense of community around the game. You tell it where you live on a virtual rendition of Earth and then fellow players start to appearing as orbiting spirits around you. From here you can access the expected range of bonus modes, too, which help make Tetris Effect the complete package.
So, yes, this is indeed Tetris… in VR. But, by applying its unmatched strand of spectacular visual and musical flair, Enhance creates something with a powerful, compelling and entirely unexpected hypnotism to it. For some of you, that’ll be enough to lay down the cash without a second thought. For others, I could wax lyrical until my face goes blue and you still wouldn’t reach for your wallet. But for those of you teetering on the fence? Go on, make the jump; this is a really, really great way to celebrate an all-time great.
Tetris Effect is available now on PS4 with optional PSVR support for $39.99. Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.