There’s something primal, something insanely emotional and personal, about Tetris Effect. When I originally awarded Tetris Effect 10/10 on PSVR and called it a “game of the generation” many people sneered. The comments across each social media platform were the same; everybody laughed and said “it’s just Tetris.” Everybody, that is, except those that had actually played it. With the benefit of time and the ability to, you know, play the game, the world discovered just how powerful the Tetris Effect is. Now that it’s arrived on Xbox with multiplayer in tow, the effect is only growing stronger.
There is a nugget of truth to it being “just Tetris”, if only that it has to be Tetris in order for any of this to make sense. Designed by Alexey Pajitnov some thirty-six years ago, the fundamentals have not changed, and they do not need to, as Tetris is still one of the best games ever created.
Tetris Effect takes in elements of the previous years of Tetris development and wraps them in one of the most incredible audio-visual skins that gaming has ever served to us. If you want to see the evolutionary trail that leads to Tetris Effect you simply have to follow designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s career path, taking in Space Channel 5, Rez, Child of Eden and Lumines. All roads lead to Tetris Effect, the culmination of two decades of mercurial game design. We shouldn’t have expected anything less.
Tetris Effect: Connected finally brings the game to the Xbox platform, appearing for the launch of the Xbox Series X and coming with the gloriously sharp 4K Tetrominos that PS4 Pro owners have been cutting their eyeballs with for years. Of course, what the transition has lost is VR support, and it shouldn’t be underestimated just how life-changing Tetris Effect is when you are ensconced within it.
The best I can recommend is sitting on the floor about two feet from the screen, cranking those headphones up and running the lights down real low. It will do, but I wonder how much of my own emotional response has been programmed in by playing in VR, and whether someone coming to the game on Xbox will have quite the same reaction. I hope they do.
Xbox players do get the first taste of Tetris Effect multiplayer though, and it’s been worth the wait. Other platforms will have to hold out for another six months, so I guess that some balance has been brought to the Tetris Effect multiverse. That feels like a very Mizuguchi thing to do, even if it’s more likely it was some suits in a boardroom.
Multiplayer has two distinct ranking systems. Your Tier is your overall ability and experience level, and that’s based on your average Skill Rating across all of Tetris Effect’s modes. As you’d hopefully expect, it goes up when you win Ranked Matches, and down when you lose. If you’re more about the taking part than the winning, then you will still increase your skill rating no matter what you’re doing, but it’s going to be much slower than being a winner.
At the centre of Tetris Effect’s multiplayer modes is the Tetrimidion, and as you progress up the Tiers you’ll come ever closer to what the game describes as “a wondrous sanctuary that only the most worthy may enter.” Whatever that might mean.
As you’d hope you can choose between ultra-serious Ranked Matches, playful Friend Matches and even – whisper it – Local Matches that you can play with the real people in your home. Can you imagine?
As you’d expect from Tetris Effect, it’s not simply a straightforward ‘put the blocks in the slots’ type affair here, or at least, not entirely. Connected is a unique take on the formula and sees you form a three-player team with other players who then have to work together to defeat AI-controlled bosses. At points your three screens join together to form an immense wall of Tetronimos that can cause equally massive damage.
You have to work together at these points, taking turns to fill in the gaps, and in local play especially it just works incredibly well. You shout at your partners “over here!” and point excitedly towards a little gap, or huff and puff when they fill in the spot you had your Tetronimos all set to drop into. Co-operative Tetris shouldn’t work, but just like with VR, Mizuguchi has found a way.
Remember I said it wasn’t all straightforward Tetris-ing? Well, the rest of the modes are far more traditional, including the central Zone Battle. This is a pure one-on-one competition played with the standard Tetris Effect rules that you’ve hopefully learned through the single player campaign. You drop Tetronimos on your opponent by making line attacks. Score Attack is very similar, though it’s purely your score against theirs, and there’s none of the horror of them dropping extra blocks on you at an inopportune moment.
If you’re feeling nostalgic, the final multiplayer mode is Classic Score Attack, which removes all of the niceties that years of Tetris development have brought. There’s no Hold Queue, no Hard Drop, no quick Lock Down, no… anything that wasn’t in the Game Boy version. It’s a short, sharp shock after you’ve been playing Tetris Effect for any length of time, but it’s actuality quite freeing. This is Tetris at its most stripped back, and in a multiplayer setting there’s nothing here to save you.