Tetris Effect | Technical Review - PSVR/PS4/Pro
Not just a game, a state of mind that refreshes a classic from our childhoods.
Puzzle or logic games have been around much longer than video games. Right back to dominoes, chess or Mahjong we have been taxed with single, repetitive yet compelling games that draw us in. From the Rubix cube to Simon says these simple to pick up but addictive challenges ignite our cerebral engine. Games in electronic form also used these simple elements pretty much from day one. Minesweeper was a regular icon seen on desktops from windows 3.1 onward and many of the classics such as Lemmings, breakout or even PAC-Man have all focused on a simple, yet compulsive, perpetual task to draw us in like a drug.
The grandfather and easily the most famous of these is Tetris, Russian Alexey Pajitnov designed this puzzler in the mid 80’s, although thanks to Russian government ownership he never earned a penny until the late 90’s from it. Something he surely made up for since then, this simple tetrominoes ( 4 squares connected in 7 variety’s) stacker has shipped on almost every format, medium and electron powered device you may have owned. The true, defining moment arrived in 1990 , a year earlier elsewhere, and was the biggest game in my school playground at the time thanks to the all conquering Gameboy, Tetris was the pack in game and for many of us, and the only game we needed. Many of my break and lunch times revolved around high score challenges, this was serious business and seriously addictive. So inspiring was Tetris that Sega bought the rights to an incredible mimic in Columns which it also packed in with their own GameGear handheld in a bid to mirror its success, history states that outcome.
It’s biggest hook, and I believe the single biggest reason the Gameboy dominated the GameGear and far superior Lynx was Tetris, oh yeah and the incredible battery life. Kids, parents and even grandparents all took an interest in this new handheld craze, but Tetris was the star as the number one selling game on the Gameboy and colour combined. That base challenge of connecting a horizontal line never gets old, and surprisingly becomes far easier to see the pattern the more you play. History may just be repeating itself again, maybe, as the latest PlayStation exclusive Tetris Effect, named after the medically confirmed condition, launched last week on both consoles and a fully integrated VR mode that is a step above what I expected.
The aim is the same as before, we have not got a redesign of the core game, this is Gameboy, C64, Amiga, ST, SNES, mobile etc Tetris as you know it. Falling shapes, align them up, join a row and score higher as you clear them. What is new is the vision of Tetris now comes from the great mind of Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s of Rez fame and like that Dreamcast star it is an audio visual assault of the senses. They share the same use of music being controlled or formed by your actions, this symbiotic link is more engrossing now as then. Over 30 levels are included and the core ‘Journey’ mode takes you on one you will not forget and, if like me, will keep returning to. The game board takes up a small view in your vision, with so much blank space left void, not for long. As you start turning blocks and building shapes little flashes of particles catch your eye, is that a whale, did I just see flaming sacrifice. The music can start slow, moody and calming, then as the line score increases so does the tempo. Vocals fade in, bass starts thumping or the Rhythm changes dependent on the Level, score or stage within. Even on a 2D flat screen this is one hell of an experience, taking hold of you like very few games can at this level. The simplicity of the challenge, hypnotic, pulsing visuals and magnificent soundtrack elevate this from a game to a state of mind.
It has been created using Unreal Engine 4 and like the early demos we saw of the engine particle effects are front and center. Objects, characters are comprised of point cloud particle scripts. Allowing them to dance, sway, swim and move with grace whilst pulsing and flashing with the music and score. As your points rise or you land a Tetris they can break apart mid flow only to reform again. Continuing the vector style of Rez it may look simple but these 3D shapes are generated by thousands of particles that are managed by the GPU and deliver the distinct style the game has, crowned with a dynamic light show it assaults your senses at every turn.
Just as I used to lose hours in a day trying to beat others or my own score, the years have rolled back to that same compulsion. Yet it is all the more encapsulating as the 60HZ update and even 4K resolution (well 26880×1512) on the Pro present a crisp, sharp and pure electronic experience that is as human, tranquil and beautiful as it is addictive, exhilarating and relentless. One of the ways it works so well is that, like the game itself, everything is so simple. Start your journey, choose a zone and then work your way through. The aim of getting a Tetris is merely the start of that constant itch to perfect the unattainable, yet you continue non the less. Even with that done you can challenge others around the globe with leader-boards and some high scores already. The other modes mix up the game as you play, flipping the screen and more. Added to this is the in the “zone” option, build up the meter then fire when things get tough. Stopping time so blocks no longer fall but you can mix up the board and try to clear it down before it all starts again, breaking free of that 4 row limit for the first time. This stay of execution is, like the entire thing, simple yet brilliant. Sometimes being the proverbial tide turner on a level or score. You can jump between these modes as you wish and everything has that same instant pick up, play and put down to fit into your minimal free time, it really suits my lifestyle and modern game time.
The game needs to be played with total immersion, 7.1 or headphones in a dark room are absolute Nirvana as you can almost enter a Zen state, focused on nothing more than the task at hand, and those peripheral distractions from your success. The mood is simply unique in that regard having you lose 30- 40 minutes without even realising it. VR takes this to a true next level and really sells the defining and individual aspect that only this medium can deliver. Everything I have mentioned is amplified by 10, music grabs you even more, the darting bodies, swirling effects or flickering lights give a sense of alien worlds, stylish nightclubs or wind swept havens. It is here you can really lose all sense of your surroundings, low to no sickness due to lack of motion, aside between stages it takes your children, wife or other real life demands to suck you out, I came home this weekend after a hectic week of work and after an hour in here I actually felt calmer, more alert and happier than I did prior, not because of VR but because it feels almost like a spiritual occurrence that clears your mind.
What I love about the games medium is that rules need not apply, although many, many games, teams and studios do follow a similar path we can see, play and enjoy such variety that almost no other medium can achieve. Indie titles tend to take me back to those halcyon early days of games I grew up with. Tetris Effect is a shining beacon of that free, open ended canvas that it can deliver, transforming an old and worn game into a truly magnificent, calming and transcending title that offers much more than just a game, an oasis, it is a state of mind. If this is what the Tetris Effect condition delivers, then I have already contracted the disease. A mesmerising, refreshing reminder that original, simple ideas are nearly always the best, if you have PSVR this will convince anyone how different VR is, if not the 2D version is equally breathtaking an absolute must buy for anyone who enjoys thinking games or craves something different, yet familiar, triumphant.