Games Review: Tetris Effect (PS4, 2018) is the Game of the Year contender no-one saw coming

Tetris Effect is extremely good and you should play it. I’m not burying the lede on this one. Tetris Effect is one of the best and most inventive entries the long-running puzzle series has seen in years, and if you are in any way interested in Tetris then you need to pick this up.

Tetris Effect takes a very different approach to the classic block-dropping puzzler, building the whole show around music. Rez producer Tetsuya Mizuguchi, who has built a career on marrying electronic music to unexpected video game genres, brings his skills to bear here and the result is a game that, even when the music is pulsing and the blocks are falling at close to light speed, feels curiously like guided meditation.

Each level is given a specific theme around which its particular song is built. Every move you make, every block you drop, every line you clear contributes to the song. Levels tend to begin slowly, the song bursting to life after you clear a few lines, and build to a crescendo. Rhythm is everything, the pace of the falling blocks varies as the song enters a new movement. This means players have to adapt on the fly, you have to learn to not only read the board and the next few pieces ahead, and stay on beat. It’s like Tetris for drummers.

There is an Oh Shit button for players caught off guard by a change to the time signature. Clearing enough lines fills a bar on the left side of the screen that, once filled, can be popping by pressing R1. Doing so puts the game into slow motion for a short period. This gives you a chance to collect yourself when the blocks are falling at high speed and get back on track.

At first blush, Tetris Effect appears to strip everything way back, the game board taking up only a small amount of space in the centre of the screen, surrounded by darkness. Its reason for doing this quickly revealed — as each song gets rolling, the background begins to fill in. Some levels feel a bit like a Windows 98 screensaver, full of nice colours and easy to ignore. Others go out of their way to distract the player, pulling the eye away from the game board just long enough to create havoc. Combine this with levels where the pace varies regularly and you’ve got a real battle on your hands.

Tetris Effect is also compatible with PlayStation VR but as we have no PSVR kit available at the AU office, I was not able to test it for this review. I suspect it would make me deeply nauseous.

I wasn’t expecting a Tetris game to squeak into my Game of the Year shortlist at the last minute but here we are. Tetris Effect is a smart, absorbing, wildly creative entry in a series that just seems to keep giving. It changes nothing about the core Tetris gameplay, still so engaging after all these years. It changes everything around it, and for the better.

Play it. Turn the sound way up and play it.

FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Highlights: Clever take on the series; Absolutely incredible music
Lowlights: I have so many other games to play but all I want to play is Tetris Effect
Developer: Resonair, Monstars
Publisher: Enhance Games
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation VR
Available: Now

Review conducted on PlayStation 4 Pro with a retail copy purchased by the author.

David Smith

David Smith is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously worked as a freelance games journalist and critic, appearing on PC World Australia. He tweets at @RhunWords and plays the odd game at twitch.tv/RhunWords when the internet works.