One of the best games ever made makes its handheld debut.
Legendary British developer Jeff Minter once said that being asked to work on Space Invaders was like “being asked to play with Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd”. As a developer, being asked to contribute to the legacy of a game that has become shorthand for the medium must be one of the most terrifying things you can possibly do. Why would you put yourself in that position? If it’s bad, you’ve tarnished the legacy, and if it’s good, it can only ever be just as good as the original, never better.
But what if it was better?
Tetris Effect: Connected is the answer to that question. Originally released for the PlayStation 4 in 2018, Tetris Effect: Connected is the definitive version of one of the most important video games of all time. You know what Tetris is. It’s cultural. When you attempt to fit a lot of things in the back of your car, you say that you’re “Tetrising” them. Blocks fall into the playing field, and once you’ve got a line completely filled, it disappears, and the blocks above it fall down. As you continue to clear lines, it gets harder and harder, until eventually you’ve got so little time to make your next move, your board will fill to the top and you’ll fail the level. It’s Tetris. You know what Tetris is. Except, it’s not just Tetris.
For those of you that don’t know The Tetris Effect is a condition that occurs when you’ve played so much Tetris, that you begin to see falling blocks, cascading colours and exploding tetrominos outside of playing the game. It was first referenced in an article in Wired in 1994 called “Your brain on Tetris” in which a Japanese man who stayed with his friend for a week became so engrossed with the game that when he finally went outside, he found himself visually fitting trees and cars together.
Tetris Effect: Connected is a game about the inside of your brain when you play Tetris. While Tetris has often featured elaborate backgrounds and multiple ways to freshen up what began life as an austere, cold-war computer program, none have gone to the extent that Tetris Effect: Connected does. What begins as a blank playfield suddenly bursts with life as you break lines. You’ll feel the beat from the incredible soundtrack start to creep up on you as you realise something. You’re not just playing Tetris. You’re conducting Tetris.
As you make lines, more elements of the stage’s music will come into play, light melodies turning a quiet, simple play field into the beginning of what will be a symphony. The game gets harder as the music gets harder. At the same time, bright, psychedelic visuals fill the screen behind the playfield, you begin to look through it, the Tetris taking place somewhere in the back of your head while you feel yourself being dragged into the screen, all the while you realise that an incredible song has reached its crescendo. Then, a moment of quiet. You’ve activated Zone, a mechanic that slows down time, dulls the music slightly and lets you catch your breath. You’re floating, Tetris practically leaving the screen and appearing in front of your eyes as you line up block after block, and then BOOM, you’re back in the game.
I find this rhythm of going from the fast paced Tetris to the brief respite of Zone so engaging, that since Thursday when I received my code for the game, I’ve finished Adventure mode 3 times. It’s just absolutely addicting.
This new release, making its debut on the Nintendo Switch is such a good advertisement for the Nintendo Switch OLED that it feels like Nintendo should have made it a part of the firmware. You give anyone with an original Switch this game, and then show them it on the new screen and they’ll snap their old one in half instantly. The colours are so rich, the deep, black background looks fantastic and doesn’t suffer from the strange off-grey colour of the original model, and the new speakers on the Nintendo Switch OLED are perfect for the soundtrack, although if you’re not playing this game with headphones then you need to get your head checked.
There’s also a suite of multiplayer options including being able to play with or against players, and while it’s a great addition that wasn’t present in the initial release, it’s not where I get my Tetris Effect fix.
The Effect Modes are described as “various modes to match your current mood” and they nail it. There’s a marathon mode for if you just want to work on your fundamental skills, an Ultra mode which gives you three minutes to set your best score, and plenty of other stipulations to give extra dimension to your play. Your scores here contribute to a global objective, completing which can unlock things like skins for your playfield, including one that old school Tetris heads will be very familiar with.
Tetris Effect: Connected was already one of my favourite games of recent years, and with its Nintendo Switch release, it finds a natural home. Tetris and Nintendo handhelds have a relationship that goes back a quarter of a century, and not since the original on the GameBoy has a title in the series felt so essential. It’s an absolutely stunning game and a combination of perfect gameplay and incredible atmosphere. I believe there’s no such thing as a perfect game, but few games come quite so close as Tetris Effect: Connected.