PAX West 2018

Tetris Effect VR Preview

I’m one of those lame folks that’s never gotten to sit down and experience a Mizuguchi game. For folks uninitiated, Tetsuya Mizuguchi is pretty known for his style of synthesia rhythm or sound/music-driven games, things like Rez, Child of Eden, and most recently, Rez Infinite. I’ve never gotten into one of these games before, but as a long-time lover of Tetris, I think it’s safe to say Tetris Effect had to be the tipping point for me. While this game will be playable on all PS4s, there was only one station across all of Sony’s booth that let you play the game in VR, and I hunted down a very last-minute time to sit down and immerse myself in the Tetris.

Playing Tetris in VR is exactly what you’d expect it to be: you’re looking at the Tetris grid in front of you, and there is just endless nothingness all around you. What makes Mizuguchi’s take on the classic puzzler more fun is the feeling of almost sensory-deprivation. I was surrounded by Tetris in a way, but what’s more is how the music plays into that, which I’ll get to in a second. On a more technical level, playing in PSVR everything still looked sharp and excellent, and while sometimes you’ll see games take a bit of a hit going down to PSVR, the simplicity of the teriminos in front of me kept it all in crystal clear quality.

Playing Tetris in VR is just like playing Tetris, and Tetris Effect is much like any modern iteration of the game. You can still hold pieces, you can both soft-drop and hard-drop pieces, and generally the rules are what you’d expect. It’s the very minimal and little touches that Effect adds here that go a long way. First of all, the implementation of music is just astounding. Again, this is all pretty new to me, but I know Mizuguchi’s touch is his music and its implementation more so, and here it felt so intimately integrated with every movement. Any time a piece moves, rotates, drops, it creates sounds or beats that go with the slowly building background track. It’s almost as if while you’re playing Tetris Effect you’re remixing the music of by simply playing Tetris. The music builds and crescendos as you do more, see more, and do better. It culminates eventually and soon you eyes are covered in lights as you are blasting through pieces and the music is beating to every moment. I felt myself moving to the rhythm while in VR, and the visual and auditory experience that borderlined on synthesia.

But no iteration of Tetris is complete without some hook, some twist. Honestly, this was the part I was most worried about. But rest assured: my worries were quickly put aside. You can pull the right trigger after building up a sort of super meter, and when pulled, it freezes time. There is a lot that’s cool about this, not only that it can save you in a very tough spot, but that you can use this window to create combos that are greater than a Tetris. I had never in my head thought of the concept of “double Tetris” where you freeze time and then get two Tetris’ in that window, but that sure was a thing that happened. And boy did it feel legendary. The one time I used it I got ten lines, and those lines remain on the board but they light up a bright white and glow, which just continues down the complete audio/visual trip I was on throughout my time play Tetris Effect. It was incredible. When the timer of my frozen time ran out there was a crash and those blocks disappeared and the music came back in from its muffled, frozen state and honestly? I felt pretty amazing.

There is also level-system where when you clear enough lines you move onto the next level of the game. Usually this level starts with some pre-set blocks in the Tetris shaft ready to be busted, and there is a switch in visual style of the blocks to correspond to the music which also changes with the new level. It reminded me a lot of the style changes in say, Lumines, which should come at no surprise.

Walking out of Tetris Effect right as the show floor was closing, I was a bit dazed. I walked into the press room to talk with my colleagues as if I had just had a religious experience. It was truly a magnificent ten minutes, both coming from someone who had never experienced one of these games but also as a vehement lover of Tetris. It was incredible. I cannot wait to play more, and I can’t wait to play more in VR. This game is still slated to come out in 2018 as of this preview, and please lord do not sleep on it.

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