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By Stephen LaGioia 09th Dec 2020 | 1,567 views
What’s old is exciting and new again - at least that's what Monstars and Resonair have set out to prove with their flashy, pulsing new rendition of Tetris for Windows, the Xbox One, and Series X. Building on the foundation of the already-robust Tetris Effect from 2018, this enhanced version adds more great content with addictive online face-offs and even an innovative co-op mode. Thanks to this range of features along with an ethereal, atmospheric presentation, Tetris Effect Connected shines as an appealing new twist on the formula that further strengthens the Game Pass library.
It’s hard to imagine yet another repackaging of Tetris being all-that exciting or interesting after decades of countless variants - including a 99 player battle royale showdown on Switch. And yes, amidst all the flashy effects, lush backdrops, and new features, this still is Tetris at the end of the day - with a number of new variants, unique challenges, and online gameplay thrown in. Take that for what it's worth. But given the tried-and-true quality of this core foundation, is that really a bad thing?
With that said, the presentation shouldn't be understated. Those who value captivating visuals, music, and sound design will almost certainly be enticed by the spectacle that is Tetris Effect Connected. Monstars and Resonair really go out of their way in wowing you with its trippy, dynamic visuals and sounds - to a borderline distracting level at times. It clearly seeks to differentiate itself from being tagged “just another Tetris game,” injecting a level of bombast and gameplay gimmicks not seen since N64’s Tetrisphere.
Throughout the game, you’re given an oddly small viewscreen of the action, set to a prominent backdrop of atmospheric visuals verging on hypnotic. There’s something of a psychedelic Geometry Wars vibe here, as waves of flashing lights, abstract imagery, and fluid particle effects radiate amidst celestial voids. These more empty scenes are sometimes diversified with environmental, mood-setting backdrops - adding some welcomed depth and color. These include serene ocean surfaces and exhilarating trips through the skies with soaring birds.
These backdrops make Tetris Effect Connected feel as much a nod to the classic puzzler as it does a stress-relieving app for your TV or PC. The fluid, entrancing visuals shine through as perhaps the game’s biggest highlight. The pulse-pumping soundtrack is similarly delightful and contributes to the prominent atmosphere of this Tetris trip. Given the rather straightforward, simple nature of Tetris, stellar tunes and sound design are beneficial, and this game really excels here.
The slew of melodic and thumping electronic tracks makes a great fit for the celestial backdrops - and proves quite the treat for the ears. There's a nice diversity - ranging from techno-pop and melodic trance to ambient sounds and even Eastern-inspired arrangements. What’s even neater is that the soundtrack is largely interwoven into the gameplay itself.
One of Connected’s most interesting traits is the sounds of moving tetrominoes being synchronized with - and adding to - the rhythm of the tracks. This gives you the feeling of playing DJ while you’re frantically shifting, scooting, and flipping pieces around. A song will often intensify or get faster along with the increasing speed or action of a game, too. This flowing, interweaving wave of sights and sounds brings an appealing twist to the standard formula, keeping you in a borderline trance and adding some pizzaz to the experience.
Even when disregarding these cool bells and whistles, though, the gameplay itself is nothing to sneeze at either. On a basic level, you somewhat know what you’re getting here. When you boil it down to its essence, it's still basically Tetris. You still get that same addictive gameplay centered around fitting blocks and clearing lines; which wavers between exciting and therapeutic.
The controls and mechanics, while not quite as airtight as they could be, are solid enough, especially with the useful fast-drop feature. There’s also a handy ability to swap out one piece for another (one use per piece), adding a bit of strategy and intuitiveness. I had the occasional flub when it came to proper piece placement, though I attribute this more to my rushing things than with the Xbox One's D-pad or actual in-game mechanics.
It should be noted - the visual and audio extremities may turn off some diehards used to the more subdued simplicity of classic Tetris. The fluid, changing backgrounds, flashing pieces, and shifting drop speeds could verge on distracting for some. I did have a few instances of missing an opportune drop or blundering a move on account of sensory overload; particularly in the later, more chaotic stages.
And it doesn’t help matters that the actual viewscreen defaults to a fairly small window in the middle of the screen. Thankfully, this can be mostly rectified with a zoom option in the gameplay menu - which also allows you to dial back some of the particle effects. With this screen adjustment and some practice, I found myself getting acquainted with the busy, stimulating setup with little sweat, making this ride all the more enjoyable. That was a relief, as there's plenty to enjoy here.
There’s an impressive level of variance in the gameplay options, which helps mix up the formula somewhat. There’s the aptly-named Journey Mode, which provides a linear path of various stages containing their own distinct visual style and themes. Each of the nearly 30 levels offers fairly straightforward Tetris trials that have you clear a given number of lines. For the most part, they offer a suitable challenge that smoothly ramps up over time. These rarely get too overwhelming - at least until unlocking the absurdly fast expert mode, which got needlessly stressful by the 5th or 6th stage.
You’ve also got the nicely-varied Effect Modes, which offers challenges deviating from the standard routine of clearing lines. Examples include combo-clearing objectives, eliminating “Dark Blocks,” and conditions like oversized blocks that must be weathered. Each of these challenges is categorized by a mood or style such as relaxation, focus, and “adventure.” It’s a great representation of the game’s crazy range in styles and tones; from frantic frenzies to calm simplicity. There’s not a ton of content here, though online leaderboards and rankings beef up the replayability somewhat.
The coup de grâce from a gameplay standpoint is the online matches - particularly the inventive new co-op romp. The new “Connected” repackaging of Tetris Effect adds a handful of fun multiplayer features by way of ranked, friend, or local matches. Zone Battles bring an intense new time-stopping mechanic, where you must wrack up eliminations during brief pauses before blasting your opponent with backlogged combos. Traditionalists can also enjoy a more basic face-off, along with the cool retro-style homage, Classic Score Attack.
For as thrilling as online competitions were, I found myself spending the most time playing alongside fellow Tetris players in the flagship Connected mode. This game offers an addictive co-op bout that pits you against one or more AI "bosses." It plays like a chaotic war of attrition, as you’ll combine your efforts with up to two other players, wracking up high scores and notching combos to fill the screen of the boss.
But the fun really begins when each separate screen meshes together, opening things up to pile on the damage. At this point, you’ll be granted several seconds to work with your teammates and cobble together lines in one extended screen. It’s a neat alteration that adds a new dimension to the more restricted bounds of solo Tetris.
Overall, I found myself really enjoying this unique, atmospheric take on Tetris, even if the gameplay tends to take a slight backseat to the in-your-face presentation at times. The core foundation is still there amidst the aesthetic and audio bombast, and should still prove solid enough for traditionalists (especially with Classic Score Attack). At the same time, those seeking to experience Tetris with some flashier modern-day flair and neat gameplay twists won’t be disappointed.