The original Tetris is over 30 years old and remains as enjoyable as ever thanks to new takes on the legendary formula. The biggest commercial release initially was on the Game Boy, but it also saw an endless array of imitators on both PC and consoles for years to come. Nintendo has been at the forefront of Tetris-related tentpole releases for many years, with Tetris DS and Tetris 99 being the two most recent examples. However, 2019’s Tetris Effect was the latest entry and one that brought the classic puzzler into VR for the first time with the help of Rez creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi. There, you could see large neon-colored things forming in the background while you played a game of Tetris across many maps, but it felt incomplete. One thing that has come to define Tetris, especially in the post-Tetris 99 world, is multiplayer, and that was lacking.
Thankfully, Tetris Effect Connected saw fit to correct that, and it winds up being yet another addicting, must-play twist on the formula. As it was already, Tetris Effect was a fusion of the normal Tetris formula with a Rez-like look and sound. It’s a strange fusion in theory, but one that works shockingly well in execution. Tetris is no stranger to change, and that’s one thing that’s helped keep it so exciting for so long. Nintendo’s versions have used Nintendo-branded skins and music to help their incarnations stand out, and Tetris Effect evokes a lot of Rez to do the same thing. The game’s Journey mode acts as its main campaign and challenges you in many smaller ways throughout the adventure.
Your goal is to clear a certain amount of lines, and scoring a Tetris means you’ve cleared five at a single time, so playing a waiting game and going for an all-Tetris run may be a more rewarding way to win, but it’s also riskier. Building up puts you at higher risk of a single wrong move leading to your well of blocks filling up faster, and that becomes even tougher to avoid as you get into later stages with higher clearance requirements and obstacles in your path. Fortunately, the obstacles are nothing all that new for veteran players in theory, but their implementation in a game with so much going on at once visually makes them tougher than normal. It can be easy to get distracted by the background because there’s a lot happening.
The most impressive part of Tetris Effect Connected is how varied the stage designs are. Much like how Lumines would change up the look of your blocks as the playlist evolves, you will have the same basic thing happening here, with colors changing depending on your environment. An area with a blend of sun and moon designs will feature deep red and blue hues on the blocks themselves, while stages with a lot of particle effects will fill the blocks up with particles, allowing them to stand out completely from any other Tetris game.
Another big difference here compared to others is the zone meter, which fills up as you play and allows you to slow down time. This is activated with a press of the triggers and enables you to go beyond just a single Tetris set of five rows. Cleared lines go to the bottom of the well, and it enables you to take care of as many lines as you can in that time limit. It’s a really fun adjustment that adds another wrinkle to the gameplay, because if you are the kind of person who focuses on getting Tetrises, this takes it to the next level by multiplying your rows based on how lucky you are with block drops and existing placement.
The zone system is all new to this game but isn’t the only added mechanic. The new multiplayer modes offer a Connected mode that features three players taking on one rival, with all three wells combining at various points to create one giant well to add junk blocks to the rival’s well. Score Attack is less about clearing a large amount of lines and more about better efficiency. You can also go for an older-school challenge and take away modern perks like block holding and fast drops if you want a bigger challenge. From a fine-motor perspective, Tetris Effect Connected benefits from the core game only needing a d-pad and a pair of buttons to control. As long as you can move the d-pad with ease, you won’t have an issue with moving your pieces around, and you have a bit of time to make final moves with buttons as well, making the game a bit more forgiving in that regard.
Visually, there’s nothing else quite like Tetris Effect Connected on the market right now, for better or worse. One downside to this game being a non-VR conversion is that the camera does appear a bit zoomed out, which can make it harder to see your block positioning. Fortunately, the core Tetris well does take up the center of the screen, and the sharp contrast between the background and foreground helps, but it would be nice to have a more zoomed-in mode so things look a bit larger. The same goes for a text size option, which is a bit lacking. Other than the zoomed-out look, it’s still about as accessible visually as any other Tetris game, but an update that allowed for larger UI elements and a bigger playfield would be nice.
From an auditory perspective, Tetris as a franchise and Tetris Effect Connected as a game is in a unique position. There’s no real story to worry about, and you can easily enjoy a game of Tetris without music or sound effects, but the trance soundtrack does play a large part in making this experience so special. Despite that, I do have to say that the fun still holds up shockingly well on mute, and a lot of that comes down to Tetris as a concept just being so timeless and the visuals doing their part to carry the experience.
Overall, Tetris Effect Connected is a top-notch puzzle game that’s largely accessible out of the gate but would definitely benefit from a few tweaks here and there. Having the option for a larger playfield and larger UI elements would be great from a visual standpoint, while the game’s story-free nature means that hearing problems won’t get in the way of the core experience. Even being a game that’s very reliant on the soundtrack to create any kind of emotion, the main game itself is a blast to play silent, which was a bit surprising. From a fine-motor perspective, the game is pretty solid and doesn’t require much beyond the d-pad and two buttons to excel. The addition of multiplayer action to the already-addictive campaign makes this the definitive way to enjoy Tetris without a VR headset, and it’s great to see the game get a wider release outside of its existing PS4 and PC release.