Tetris is already an all-time classic, while we’ve seen this simple but deep drop block puzzler take different forms over the years, from anime-flavoured mash-up Puyo Puyo Tetris to the surprise battle royale of Tetris 99. Tetris Effect however is the game like you’ve never experienced before, a life-affirming interactive concept album. And now it’s one you can take with you and share wherever you go.
Taking its name from the phenomenon from the people play Tetris so much that they begin to see the falling blocks in their thoughts and dreams, Tetris Effect first came to the world in 2018 from Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the creator of Rez, where the concept of multisensory experiences akin to synaesthesia first began.
At its core, the line-clearing gameplay is just like any other Tetris game, including all the modern techniques like hard drops and T-spins, although it also introduces an inspired ‘Zone’ mechanic where time stops, creating the illusion of entering a transcendent flow state, giving you the chance to clear even more lines all the way up to the top. These all drive the immersive sensations as you’re playing to visual backdrops that wouldn’t look out of place on a big stage for a music festival. The soundtrack itself is similarly sublime, progressing from verse to chorus based on the number of lines you’ve cleared, while the game speed also changes in accordance with the mood or tempo of the music rather than simply speeding up like in a traditional game of Tetris.
The single-player campaign is not a cohesive narrative arc story but you do go on a journey, each stage playing like a track from a concept album with themes as diverse as they are audacious, from the deep of the sea to the peak of a mountain and beyond, sometimes transforming within the stage itself. If you’re new to Tetris Effect, far be it from me to go into any more detail, as the stages are just so inspired and clever in their composition that they deserve to be experienced fresh. I’d almost guarantee a few will have you crying at its beautiful synergy of themes that instil the underlying theme of connection.
Whereas the original had also supported VR, a perfect way to fully immerse yourself in the audio and visuals, the Switch version arrives as another equally fantastic way to get absorbed in Tetris Effect – in your hands and on the go just like the days of the Game Boy. If you’ve played Tetris Effect before then it’ll be hard not to notice that on less powerful hardware the resolution is lower when playing on TV, those particle effects feeling a little less sharp, although it maintains a 60FPS performance. In handheld mode, however, it feels just perfect and it’s perhaps no surprise that Enhance chose to coincide the release with the Switch OLED – if I didn’t know any better, it feels like a launch title made built just for its new high-contrast display and enhanced audio speakers. (Note: unfortunately, due to annoying shipping reasons, I’ve personally been unable to test Tetris Effect: Connected on the OLED model at the time of writing.)
Another lovely addition is the use of HD rumble, in particular the new “extra rumble” option exclusive to Switch, so that the haptics travel between the left and right Joy-Con depending on which side of the board your Tetrimino is on. Haptics have been just as important to the Mizuguchi’s multisensory experiences since Rez, which infamously sold an optional ‘Trance Vibrator’ accessory, but this is sadly something you’ll miss out on if you opt to play on the Switch Lite since rumble isn’t supported on that model. It may not be a deal breaker for some, but it’s worth taking into account if you’re looking to get as immersed into that synaesthesia state as possible.
But let’s get into the ‘Connected’ part of the title, which was first introduced last year for the Xbox release, though the update has now also been applied to all other platforms. While Tetris Effect did have some decent additional modes, categorised into Relax, Focus, Classic and Adventurous, Connected finally introduced a plethora of multiplayer modes, the signature Connected mode that has three players going up against an AI boss.
The mode itself is ingenious as each of you clears as many lines as you can, while adapting to status effects from the boss, contributing to a party Zone gauge. Once this fills up, the Zone phase automatically triggers except all three boards merge together as you take turns building as big a combo as you can to top out the boss. There’s a magic to seeing players’ blocks hovering over one another, figuring out whether these online strangers will follow your cue or drop their piece in the spot you were going to, but always a delight when it instinctively flows and comes together. That teamwork becomes essential if you’re trying to triumph against the higher level bosses.
Alternatively, you can play in versus battles against each other using all the latest mechanics. Connected however also caters to the old-school Tetris community, so it’s possible to just play a score attack match using only the original rulesets and mechanics from the NES days. And of course, all these modes can be played locally too, which you’ve got right out of the box on Switch with the split Joy-Con, though having a spare means you’ll even be able to crowd around the Switch in tabletop mode to take on a boss in Connected mode too (or even a Connected Vs match where one player gets to be the boss). But if you’re short on people right in your vicinity, cross-platform play enabled by default also means you really shouldn’t run out of folks to play with online.
Tetris Effect: Connected is out now on PC, PlayStation, Xbox, Oculus Quest 2, and Nintendo Switch. This review is for the Switch version.
Tetris Effect: Connected has reached the point where it can cater to just about any player, with each platform having its own particular strengths, from those looking to lose themselves to VR to just having it there on Game Pass as a convenient pick-me-up. The Switch release further expands those options as one that you can take anywhere, while also being a terrific advert for the new OLED model.
Whichever version you opt for, there’s no denying that it’s quite simply a modern masterpiece, whether as a meditation on life, an excuse to challenge the universe, or making a connection with strangers.
- Simply the best version of Tetris
- Astounding imagery and music that will move you to tears
- A wealth of modes for solo or multiplayer, online or local, cross-platform, and for old-school players
- Switch version’s resolution is not as good as other platforms, while you’ll miss out on the haptics when playing on Switch Lite.