What is there to be said about Tetris that hasn’t been covered multiple times over the years? As a game it’s one of the forebearers of the scene; a game that allowed mainstream life and virtual visions the chance to merge as one. It’s a game that has sold millions of copies, across all manner of formats to become one of the most ported titles of all time. But no matter which version of Tetris you are playing, the core idea stays the same – work seven Tetriminos down a grid, stick ‘em in a line and rack up the points. Rinse, repeat, scream to the world that you are the Tetris master. Job. Done. Until the next time.
In that sense Tetris Effect: Connected is no different. You get access to the usual Tetris playing board, as you are allowed the chance to manoeuvre seven of the most stunning looking Tetriminos down that grid, rotating and switching them into prime point scoring positions. Git gud, and the speed at which these little guys drop will increase, the faster your fingers will need to move, and the harder, and tougher, the whole thing gets. Fill the grid, and it’s game over… until approximately 10 seconds later when your adrenaline levels mean you just have to get another fix.
The thing is, Tetris Effect: Connected does all the usual Tetris stuff, but with a whole load of glitz and glamour; with eye and ear candy on levels that the original creator, Alexey Pajitnov, could only dream of. It is so sparkly in fact that you can immediately tell that this version has been put together by those at Enhance, what with their track record of Rez Infinite and Lumines – it’s pretty much nothing short of a light-fantastic, as boards, Tetriminos and the player themselves pulse in sync with the gameplay. Oh, and just for good measure, there are multiple cooperative and competitive game modes thrown in too. Yep, Tetris is a loner’s game no more.
It doesn’t really matter too much where you start with Tetris Effect: Connected, as each and every game mode covers the basics that you would expect of a Tetris title. But even though it’s all about shape dropping, that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of new ideas in here.
The career – running under the Journey Mode banner – is probably where most will start, and this in itself will keep you going for some time. Promising a voyage of emotion and discovery, there are more than 30 stages in place here, taking you through the galactic field with levels that are unique from one another, yet they all promise to reach deep into your soul. Your task is to nail Tetris lines, grab scores and push the boundaries of finger movement as speeds increase to stupidly fast levels. With a practice option ensuring you can play with no worries of taking an L, and beginner, normal and expert levels in place – all of which are interchangeable as you progress – you’ll always find something to enjoy. And if you start finding it all a bit of a hassle and your skills are unable to match the speed of the levels in place (roughly 11 stages in if you’re anything like me), dropping down to simpler difficulties will ensure that you can just about carry on in your own little world.
Each stage comes with its own theme, wonderfully named to help with the immersion, and with plenty of leaderboards rolling around alongside them, bragging rights can be called against your nearest and dearest at will. It’s a simple structure, but one that promises plenty of depth as you work through each stage and become more and more accustomed to what is required of you; basically, block dropping with style.
Helping out matters with Tetris Effect: Connected is a nifty little game feature called the Zone. As you drop Tetriminos and work your way up the board, you’ll find yourself filling this Zone, before calling on it when all hell breaks loose. A quick action sees the Zone come into play, halting the drop speed of your Tetriminos and allowing you to get a handle on the situation at hand. Rotating and spinning blocks before finding a place for them is an essential skill for any Tetris master, and utilising the Zone will let you feel like the grandmaster of them all. It’s a cool little feature that you’ll come to rely on when times are made hard.
That Journey Mode is complemented by a number of secondary solo activities known in-game as the Effect Modes. This is a simple drop-in, hop-out style affair which holds a number of brilliant modes to match your current vibe. Split into Classic, Relax, Focus and Adventurous game modes, it is here where you’ll be given the chance to pop into a single one-off match, take home a score, and drop out of the world again. It’s perfect for five minute moments or lengthy affairs, with Marathon, Ultra, Sprint and Master modes all populating the Classics; although honestly, the point of the latter is totally lost on me as playthroughs here last mere seconds at best. If you’re looking for something a little more chilled then the Relax area is for you, with a Marathon mode that comes with no Game Over issues, a Quick Play single stage hitter, or three different Playlists that each bring together four diverse stages centred around the Sea, the Wind, or the World.
Should you be looking to really go deep with Tetris, the Focus arenas are more likely to be for you, especially as they are pretty fun diversions. These deliver All Clear, which tasks you with clearing puzzle lines before the time runs out, another which works the Combos angle, and a final one that lets you focus on Target Blocks. This is a really clever twist that sees the game add random blocks to your playfield, requesting you to gain Tetris’ in order to remove them. Finally, Adventurous mixes things up even more across the Countdown, Purify and Mystery modes. There’s a lot to involve yourself with in Tetris Effect: Connected, and just these solo options alone will keep you going for some serious time.
There are also multiplayer opportunities rolling around with Connected, and as the name suggests these will let you see off either local sofa-based family and friends, or those from the other side of the globe, either in friends matches or ranked. No matter which option you choose, Tetris Effect is just as slick and smooth as the solo campaign, with not a judder, stutter or hint of lag ever taking hold. In a nutshell though, Tetris Effect: Connected has got you sorted with multiple multiplayer options; classic old school Tetris Score Attack, a new, more modern, Score Attack, Zone Battle which brings in the new Zone mechanic, and Connected. This latter option sees a team of three players (AI can be included if you need it to) work together and go up against a run of three AI-controlled Bosses. It’s a neat little idea, but personally it’s all a bit too long-winded for my liking and unless you’ve got a team of players all on the same wavelength (or you’ve knocked your own personal AI friends up to the maximum skill level), it’s the one game mode that I could happily ignore.
However you are playing, and as hinted at nearer the start of this piece, there are some magic moments to be found in Connected, and much of that is down to the brilliant combination of visuals and audio; it’s pretty much a match made in heaven. If truth be told either of these could quite easily elevate the core Tetris experience to new levels, but throw them together and you’ve got something that is right up there with some of the very best gaming experiences.
Visually and there is a lot going on, especially in the career which takes you to multiple worlds, changing the look and, dare I say it, feel of the Tetriminos with every turn. The vast majority of these work brilliantly, as you flip and flop through different hues, different themes and wonderful ideas. They don’t ALL come off as perfect, and I’ll admit that as things really ramp up in intensity, the switch of standard Tetrimino design occasionally fails to come off – one filled with cogs turns things into a bit of a blur – but on the whole each and every idea works.
It’s also great when working the multiplayer routes too, especially when you and your friends get the chance to go up against some great astrological beasts. The combining and merging of boards and colour as one allows you to deliver powerful blasts the way of your opponent, and this means the cooperative opportunities can be delightful. It is immersive beyond anything you may have previously witnessed in any Tetris play session.
Things get better still with the inclusion of some absolutely cracking backing tracks and overall soundtracks. The usual Tetris pings are there when you need them, but pushing your entire sessions along are audio cues, pounding soundtracks and calming tunes like no other. They complement the visuals brilliantly, ramping up when need be, and ensure that the whole thing comes together as one.
There is little to complain about with Tetris Effect: Connected. As a game it has been well-considered, controls are spot on, and even though there are a few little oddities as you get to grips with the cooperative battles, it’s easy enough to look past those. As an experience it’s right up there with some of the biggest wow moments in recent gaming history; you will not fail to get down with the beat or feel your jaw dropping at the visuals that batter your eyeballs.
At the end of the day, Tetris Effect: Connected on Xbox is just Tetris. It’s the game we’ve all played a million times over, it’s a game we all know like the back of our hand, and it’s a game in which we can rack up the highest of high scores with our eyes closed. And that, that feel of familiarity, is quite possibly the only thing that is holding Connected back from utter greatness. Yes this version looks great, it plays brilliantly, it sounds awesome, and it could well be the best Tetris experience yet, but at the end of the day it’s still Tetris… yet it is still as stupidly addictive as it ever was.