The Tetris Effect

First, an apology in advance for the title of this post. It’s not about the actual “Tetris Effect”, where people find themselves subconsciously fitting things from daily life into order as one does with Tetriminos. Nor is it about the game Tetris Effect, though that game is what inspired me to write this post. Well, it is about the game a little bit, I suppose.

I’ve been playing video games for a long time. Longer than many of the PS5, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One generation has even been on this planet. Tetris was the first video game I ever owned, when I got my Nintendo GameBoy, and I quickly took to it and enjoyed the challenge of fitting those blocks together, and I got pretty decent at it. I never became a Tetris “expert”, but I certainly wasn’t a rookie anymore, either. That simple game led to a lifelong video game hobby, which continues to this day.

Fast forward thirty years or so. Out of nowhere, the puzzle game bug bit me again, and I realized that I didn’t have any puzzle games for my PS4, which has been my system of choice lately. So, I recently discovered the game Tetris Effect and promptly added it to my collection. All of those Tetris memories came flooding back, and I took to the game again as if the many years since I’ve last played it with any regularity hadn’t passed at all. The game itself is a fantastic new iteration worthy of the Tetris name. The gameplay remains virtually the same as the original version, outside of a few new features. After all, it’s hard to improve upon perfection. Tetris Effect is a sensory immersion of music and color, synchronized to your actual gameplay. The word ‘synesthesia’ is often used in reviews of the game, and it’s easy to see why. The presentation is mesmerizing and hypnotic, and it seems odd for a puzzle game, but you actually go through emotional shifts while playing because of it. It sounds crazy, but that’s how the game is. Tetris with the feels. Who knew?

Not your 8-bit Tetris

And somehow, all of that preface is still not the point of my rambling here. As I mentioned, I am no Tetris rookie. As much as I love the game Tetris Effect, it has one strike against it: the difficulty is too high. Tetris Effect has what’s called a “Journey” mode, which is basically several multi-phase stages of increasing difficulty. No big deal, and something to be expected of a video game based on player skill. The problem is that the difficulty of the “Beginner” level of Journey mode is set too high. Now, I don’t expect to be able to just walk through a game even at its lowest difficulty setting, and I do want a challenge, but a few stages in the Beginner level are enough to make me and my moderate Tetris skill want to rage quit. This includes the final stage needed to clear the Journey mode of the game. Of course I expect a challenge, but the difficulty is unforgiving for a beginner. I’m sure the idea is to give a sense of accomplishment once the level is completed, but in my case it’s just a sense of wanting to get past it so I never have to deal with it again. I haven’t completed the final stage on Beginner level yet, but who knows… if I keep at it in other modes for a while to brush up my skills a bit more, maybe I’ll be able to. Thankfully, Tetris Effect also has “Classic” modes recreating the original Tetris gameplay experience, which lets me enjoy the game as I did back in the early 1990s.

Better still is the “Quick Play” option, offered as one of the “Relaxing” play modes. Here I can choose any of the stages I unlocked on the Journey, which for me is all but the final one (plus one of the secret ones I discovered how to unlock), set a constant falling speed as fast – or as slow – as I want, and decide how many lines I need to clear the stage. All without a game over. If the field fills up, it just clears and I keep going until I meet the line goal. Truly relaxing Tetris, and the perfect mode for me. It makes up for nearly all of the frustrations I have with Journey mode.

And that is what dawned on me as I was working my way through the Beginner level of Journey in Tetris Effect. My reason for playing video games has changed since the early 1990s when I took my GameBoy out of the box and plugged Tetris in for the first time. I now play video games as a form of escape. I don’t want extreme difficulty. I want something fun to play for a while, with enough challenge to make me think about what I’m playing. I want to play interactive stories with interesting characters and puzzles to solve, but I don’t want to have to worry about a “Game Over” waiting for me the instant I make a tiny mistake. I want to enjoy being in a different world for an hour or two when I sit down to play a video game. That may be one reason I’ve started gravitating towards puzzle platformers – the descendants of games like ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, both of which I still have yet to complete! They tend not to be difficult in the traditional sense, instead relying on problem solving skills to progress through the game. It also helps that most of them are based around a certain style and theme, and are presented almost more as works of art than games.

There is a fair stack of third-person adventure video games waiting for me in my collection, and a couple of “Metroidvanias”, too. If normal difficulty proves to be too frustrating early on whenever I finally start them, I have a feeling I’ll be switching to the easiest difficulty setting and restarting them, if it’s an option. If I can change the difficulty setting mid-game without having to restart, even better. I want to enjoy the stories, rather than be risking a Game Over at every turn. The same would apply for games of other genres too, I expect. The exception being (J)RPGs, probably. Usually I can crack the code for those and figure out how to exploit their leveling systems to my advantage.

My enjoyment of video games hasn’t gone anywhere, but Tetris Effect somehow made me realize that what I want from them has changed. That’s something I definitely wasn’t expecting.

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