“Tetris Effect,” as its name implies, feels like you’re playing the famous Russian puzzle game in your dreams, or perhaps in a sort of meditative trance.
“The codename was Zen Tetris,” said Aileen Viray, who handles public relations for Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s (“Lumines,” “Rez”) studio Enhance Inc. “What it’s meant to do is get you in that zone, that meditative zone of escaping reality.”
It’s the sort of thing that Mitzugichi’s past creations have always done best.
While you can play “Tetris Effect” on a television, the best way to absorb the game and be absorbed by it is with the PlayStation VR headset. It’s there, soaking in the surreal visuals floating around you, cradled in the music that reacts to your control of those falling tetrominos, that play begins to feel more meditative than adversarial.
In one early level, ocean blue crystal blocks in the familiar “Tetris” shapes, pile up in the game’s rectangle of space, creating lines that disappear, but more often, a jumbled, ever rising mess of squares. The play space floats, centered in a black void of creation. Massive, blue translucent stingrays drift across the scene, leaving streams of blue sparkling stars in their wake. When a line is forms, it explodes in a flash of white light, that spreads to those stingrays, which explode into a disappearing sparkle of blue and white lights.
That this all takes in virtual reality means that it surrounds you, immerses you in the lights, sounds, colors of the tetromino play. The lights moved toward you as they explode at times, things float around and even behind you. You are in the center of this vibrating, musical, experience as you play and these floating things, the thrumming music reacts as if watching you play.
Other levels are shaped in fire or take place in a forest, there’s a space station, rotating umbrellas popping open and close as you play, whales adrift in the sea of your mind’s eye. There’s also the ability to overtime earn the ability to slow time to a crawl, allowing gamers to quickly build up and unlock as many as 16 lines at once in a euphoric rush of lights and sounds.
“Each level has its own sound ballet,” Viray said. “Everything from dropping a block to rotating them has its own distinct sounds. It’s kind of like how ‘Lumines’ has skins.”
This latest take on “Tetris” came about not because of some sudden interest by Japan’s video game puzzle master, but rather an opportune loophole in a licensing deal.
“Mizuguchi mentioned that he’s wanted to do ‘Tetris’ for a really long time,” Viray said. “He was thinking about it even before making ‘Lumines.”
He even approached licensor holder Henk Rogers, but there were also existing licensing in place that stopped him.
“It hopped around a lot,” she said. “Now that we have a VR system out, we’re able to do it because no one really had VR listed in their contracts.”
While “Tetris Effect” doesn’t have a story piecing the puzzles together, it does have a sort of emotional journey, designed to deliver feelings that ebb and flow as you play.
“With ‘Lumines,’ the game starts you out more easily,” Viray said. “It eases you into the game, but then it gets into an intense stage. At the end of the challenge mode, it opens things up. By the end, you feel like you’ve played this awesome experience.
“That’s what he’s trying to achieve in ‘Tetris Effect.’”