Review | Tetris Effect Connected

Screenshot of the cooperative mechanic, which combines each player's field into one large field.
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Somehow I’ve never owned a Tetris game before, so when I discovered Tetris Effect Connected on Xbox Game Pass soon after it was released, I decided to try out this version. The graphic style showcased in the screenshots and trailers seemed impressive, and the idea of head-to-head online matches appealed to me much more than experiments such as Tetris 99.

My first impression of Tetris Effect Connected was a little negative, purely because it seemed oddly pretentious. This was mostly due to its language and exposition; the campaign is called a “Journey mode” and is described as “a voyage of emotion and discovery”, while you are referred to as a “Guardian” whose job is to help save the galaxy from a negative void that’s going to erase existence. Leaving that to one side and jumping into the gameplay, however, quickly appeased my scepticism.

Its clear from the first information screen that Tetris Effect Connected aims to be an immersive, sensory-blending experience; its encouragement to equip surround sound or wear headphones “for maximum enjoyment” is presented with the same prominence as its photosensitivity warning.

This aim is reinforced by how the Journey mode is built to be near-seamless. After completing each stage, you automatically transition into the next one, while failing a stage resets you to the start of the previous stage rather than returning you to the stage selection screen. This approach feels like its designed to absorb players into a flow state, especially as the power-up mechanic is called “the Zone”. Once you’ve filled the Zone meter by scoring points, you can activate it to slow down time and hold tetrominoes at the top of the screen until you’re ready to release them. While activated, lines that you clear won’t vanish as they normally do, but will instead stack underneath the existing game board. When the Zone activation ends, all of those lines are cleared at once, allowing for not just the titular high-scoring Tetris (4 lines cleared at once), but an Octoris (8 lines), a Decahexatris (16 lines), and even clearing more lines than the game board contains at once (an aptly-named Impossibilitris).

Its also a feature that I accidentally overlooked when I first started playing, because I thought “I don’t need a tutorial, it’s Tetris!” – in hindsight, that wasn’t a good idea. Once I started using the Zone mechanic, my abysmal scores, which rarely strayed from an E ranking, also improved. (Well, they improved to Ds and Cs at least…).

I had more luck in the extra Effect modes, which showcase different ways to play Tetris Effect beyond reaching the highest score. My favourite was Mystery, which reminded me of the battle mode from Guitar Hero III : Legends of Rock. In Mystery, the goal is to clear as many lines as possible while navigating through random gameplay alterations; these include losing the ghost outline of where falling pieces will land, having the game board flipped horizontally or vertically, and having to place a strategy-breaking quadruple-sized tetromino. The Countdown mode was also memorable, because it was both an interesting puzzle and an introduction to how higher-level players approach a game board. In Countdown, a vertical line piece will fall into a highlighted column after every 10 pieces. The aim of this mode is not to quickly clear individual lines, but to build stacks of nearly-complete lines which will be cleared in one go by the incoming vertical piece. Stacking pieces haphazardly means that the next vertical line drop might be on top of a large group of pieces, forcing you to rescue your board rather than save up for a high score.

There is also a Chill mode, where the board simply resets once pieces reach the top. As a result Chill can act as either a more peaceful infinite game, or a practice mode for players who are new or a bit rusty. Finally, Tetris Effect includes a Theatre Mode. The theatre doesn’t just play the audio and visual backdrop for each level, but allows you to manipulate the backdrop by adding the effects of cleared lines or manually “evolving” the level to its next speed change. I don’t often use Theatre Modes in games, but I tested it while writing this review, and it did allow me to better enjoy the varied, fitting and surprisingly uplifting soundtrack. (Side trivia: this soundtrack was so popular that it entered the Billboard top 100 a couple of weeks after its release).

After completing most of Journey mode on Normal, and trying out the Effect modes, I moved on to multiplayer. The Connected part of this game’s title refers to its multiplayer expansion, which was added to the base Tetris Effect in November 2020. Multiplayer modes include standard head-to-head games, 3-player co-operative matches against an AI boss, and a hybrid co-op/VS mode named Connected VS. Connected Vs mode is only available for 24 hours a week, in the “Full Moon Weekly Ritual”. I’m guessing that keeping this mode on a fixed schedule will consolidate its playerbase, letting it avoid the multiplayer death spiral, which seems like a great idea.

The Ranked multiplayer menu, which showing the Score Attack, Zone battle, and Classic Score Attack modes.
Seeing ranked multiplayer options and an SR value in Tetris is new to me. And yes, I am in the bottom 1% of players apparently!

Tetris Effect‘s multiplayer retains the mystical and grand styling of its single-player; according to its menu text, reaching the top tier of play will allow you to get to a mystery at the centre of the galaxy. (When did I start playing No Man’s Sky?). Other players are represented as spaceships floating in the games universe, while the 12 AI bosses, who are your opponents in the co-op Connected mode, are based on Zodiac constellations.

As Connected mode is the main development that makes Tetris Effect Connected unique, its the part of the game that most needed to appeal to players. Thankfully, the mode is excellent; the idea of defeating a boss by turning your cleared lines into unusable lines on their board is clever. Also, the approach of combining each player’s tetris board into one shared board that everyone clears together works really well. Each player places pieces in turn, which means one player can’t spam the board and sabotage another. And because each the position of player’s waiting piece is highlighted, players can indicate what they are thinking of doing next. This allows everyone to adapt their moves around their teammates’ moves, without needing text or voice chat to collaborate.

Screenshot of the cooperative mechanic, which combines each player's field into one large field.

My only minor issue with playing Connected mode was with how reviving players works. After I failed out when my board filled up, I was revived nearly 10 minutes after I failed. I’m not sure whether very specific conditions have to be met, or whether all 3 of us were new enough to not know how to revive earlier; either way, the requirements for bringing a player back, and the fact that you can be brought back even after a fairly long delay, could be communicated more clearly.

At first the idea of having a competitive tier system and an SR rating for Tetris felt odd to me. However, when I learned more about the aims of Tetris Effect, my passive liking for the game turned into admiration. Researching this game led me to read more about how the Classic mode in Tetris Effect was built to replicate every facet of the 1989 NES Tetris. Every design choice, from the physics of how a tetromino responds when a direction is input, to the exact timing of how far a piece drops down the screen per frame at each level of game speed, to the not-quite-random RNG of the queue of upcoming tetrominoes, has been meticulously recreated. Why that version of Tetris specifically? Because the Classic Tetris World Championships are played using 1989 Tetris, on original NES consoles attached to CRT televisions. Tetris Effect is the only way to play or practice classic Tetris on a modern console.

Doing that research changed my initial perspective on Tetris Effect. I had initially seen it as just another update on Tetris, albeit a very good-looking one. But after reading about how carefully Tetris Effect was designed and how the developers worked closely with classic competitive professionals to ensure that the game wasn’t just good Tetris but perfect Tetris, I really warmed to the game. Also, the fact that I’ve had zero issues of any kind while playing every mode was welcome – its a relief to play a game that works flawlessly and does exactly what its supposed to do.

Overall

For casual fans like me, Tetris Effect is an immersive update on the classic Tetris gameplay, with extra modes that allow for both relaxed play and for new types of puzzle to solve. Connected VS mode is a novel addition offers a welcome opportunity for co-operative puzzling. For hardcore Tetris fans, the variety of modes, the fidelity of Classic Score Attack, and the sheer challenge of the Expert Journey option all let even highly-skilled players stretch their abilities.

In terms of my personal enjoyment, it’s Cool tier, solely because I enjoy playing the occasional match of Tetris but am unlikely to devote lots of time to it. But due to the style, the absence of flaws, and its well-thought-out variety of modes that cover multiple skill ranges, this is the go-to modern edition of Tetris. If you want to play Tetris on an Xbox or PC, play Tetris Effect.

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