For the longest time, I honestly thought Tetris Effect was a VR-only game. Something that could only be enjoyed through a headset. Because I didn’t have a VR headset that could play it when it launched in 2018 (launched exclusively for PlayStation VR), I skipped it. Thankfully, it finally came to Oculus, so I was able to pick it up and see what I missed. While this is something you can play without a VR headset, it certainly gives the game an added layer that you can’t truly appreciate without it.
There is no need to describe Tetris. It’s a famous video game that even people with almost no interest in video gaming still can explain the concept. Tetris Effect doesn’t break the formula but instead uses strong visuals and music. Producer Tetsuya Mizuguchi is famous for his audio-focused games. If you’ve played his earlier works like Rez or Lumines, you know his design style and this is no different.
With that, Tetris Effect blends audio and visuals in some really impressive ways. The game’s core mode, Journey mode, has you completing a set number of lines in different environments. As you complete lines, the levels begin to change, introducing you to new music and visuals. A level may start quiet and mysterious only to break out into frantic action with a thumping sound to match. It’s what makes the game so enjoyable.
Rather than simply raising the level speed as you get further into a level, it can jump all over the place. This keeps you on edge as you’re not quite certain what you’ll face next. You’ll have a steady pace then at a certain point, the speed will jump super fast and you’ll begin to panic, hoping to avoid failing the stage.
On normal difficulty, Journey mode isn’t that much of a challenge. Only once did I not get to the end of a series of levels because I was getting cocky trying to get Tetris. I wasn’t expecting a sudden jump in speed and it got the better of me. The levels don’t change, so once you know a sudden speed change is coming, you can prepare yourself and get by it pretty quickly.
Also, Journey mode is pretty short. You’ll be able to complete all the levels in a couple of hours. What will keep you coming back are some of the challenges available in the game’s Effect Mode. These introduce new obstacles and change up the gameplay in some fun ways.
Once you finish Journey mode, you unlock the ability to let the level backgrounds play on their own. Not quite meditative but a nice distraction so you can see how each one changes without having to focus on the game.
Tetris Effect doesn’t need VR to play but it’s clear that the visuals wouldn’t work on a standard HD TV. I have no idea if the PS4 or PC version have 3D support, but I could see this game working really well on a 3D display. If you plan on playing this in any format, I also suggest playing with a good pair of headphones. Again, Tetris Effect is all about its musical cues and visual accompaniments. If you haven’t played it and have any interest in puzzle games or just want a distraction, then pick this up without hesitation.