The Tetris Effect as described in Wikipedia is as follows:
The Tetris effect (also known as Tetris syndrome) occurs when people devote so much time and attention to an activity that it begins to pattern their thoughts, mental images, and dreams. It takes its name from the video game Tetris.Wikipedia
For me though, the Tetris Effect has become much, much more than that. It is a game that whilst not my very first (that honour belongs to Centipede) is the one that has stayed with me throughout all my formative years and beyond.
I am not going to tell you I am a Tetris expert, both in terms of playing it and my knowledge of it, but I am capable and I am fully aware of the game’s origins and its creator Alexey Pajitnov. Want to learn more? Then there are some quite fabulous documentaries out there, that delve deep into the history of the Soviet Union and their relationships with the western world. (check out this one)
For 30 years though, one game and one game alone has held a place in my library and I still can’t believe what the game has become, from the very first time I played it in 1989 on a Nintendo Gameboy. To what it is now as Tetris 99 and Tetris Effect.
I know, I know there are many other versions and also versions others will prefer, such as The Grandmaster, but this is not about which is the best game, nor the history of the game itself. This is about how a simple game about building blocks and clearing lines dragged me through the worst of times and allowed me to enjoy the best of times.
It is only looking back now I have worked out why I didn’t fit in, why I was a target for bullies at school and why that showed itself with suicide attempts and bouts of depression, even at a young age. I have ADHD and a form of autism and whilst I still await an official diagnosis, I can see it now and a lot of my life makes sense.
I would often escape the real world into videogames and it was Tetris that gave me the most comfort of all. There is a very simple logic to the game, along with a basic and easy to follow gameplay loop. Drop tetrominos into a well and create lines to make them disappear. Simple.
This can and will go wrong, but because of a simple logic it was always easy enough to find ways to undo any damage done. It wouldn’t always go to plan, but you could see how to do it. Mess up too much and go again into the exact same loop. Blocks into well, clear lines, repeat. As someone who thrives on routine, this was a the perfect game for me.
I struggled to communicate with my peers as a child and even more so as an early teen. Trying to fit in and be like them. But I wasn’t, I wasn’t like any of them. I didn’t understand popular music or TV properly and could never engage. I was afraid of engaging, because it would usually end in some form of bullying. So escaping to Tetris (and other games) was the one place I felt truly happy and content.
When I went to college I tried to reboot my life and tried to enjoy the things others did. Going to clubs, drinking, that sort of thing. I did a better job of living that lie, but again, I was happier in a virtual world and despite having access to better consoles and some amazing games, I still reverted back to Tetris for that ultimate comfort hit.
Thank christ for Gameboy Tetris too, because the mess that was the Ubisoft release very nearly made me give up on it and it is also telling that was a point where I was most depressed. Not because I couldn’t get as much Tetris, but because something was up with my comfort blanket. My distraction from the shitshow that was my life was also now a shitshow.
It shouldn’t be a big thing, most people will likely read that and not understand how a simple game being crap could have a negative effect on someones over life. It wasn’t the game, it was my life, it was me, but the one constant I could cling to was not what it once was.
I got over that period via family support and various medications along with the undying love of my child. But it was hard and damn I missed my Tetris fix.
So listen, I’ll quickly mention Puyo Puyo Tetris and Tetris 99, because they somehow took Tetris to a whole new level. A cross over game with Puyo Puyo and a Battle Royale should never work, but damn it, they both work wonderfully well. I’ve owned every version of Puyo Puyo Tetris in both Japanese and English at various times, with Tetris 99 being my most played title across any currently owned platform.
This though is about The Tetris Effect and in turn, Tetris Effect itself. Just when I thought Tetris had thrown everything it could at me, along comes Tetsuya Mizuguchi to pull the rug from under me and blow me away like no game has ever done before.
Believe it or not, this was initially going to start as a review, but there is no point. It is a game that needs to be played and experienced and no amount of writing can convey just how special Tetris Effect is. So let’s just get this bit out of the way.
Tetris Effect. 10 out of 10, Game of the Year 2018, Game of the Year 2020 (thanks Xbox release), Game of All Time, Best game ever, must own, perfection, essential and whatever other plaudits I can throw at it. There is your review.
Let me go back to semi-coherent words of why Tetris Effect is so important to me and why so at this stage of my life. When the game came out in November 2018 on PS4, I was sans specific console and thus had to watch on with jealousy as others enjoyed this masterpiece. I had to pretend to myself, that maybe it wasn’t as good as it appeared.
I was also in a strange place mentally at the time. I was existing on the outside, but my life essence had all but gone internally. I was a shell of a human being. The only emotions I had were either anger or sadness. I’d walk down the road and hope for something to take me out.
I got help and again on the right path, but also had issues with job security, money, being able to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. I also saw my oldest son scared of wanting things because he knew it would be a no.
Anyway, we found a way to get him a PS4 and I initially passed on the opportunity to get Tetris Effect to make sure he had the games he wanted. Thanks to some incredible generosity from a then sort of stranger I was gifted a copy of the game for the PS4.
This was at yet another strange time of my life. I was in a better place mentally, but my life was falling apart. Some amazing generosity from a forum had seen me make my rent for the previous month and have faith in humanity again. But whilst this act of generosity was small in comparison it had an effect that will live with me to the day I die.
A few things happened because of that. First, this very site you are reading this on…well that may not have been here today. I had only written a few reviews and opinion pieces and was unsure if it was worth my time and effort. But a couple of messages from this person gave me a second wind.
That same person also showed an interest in writing and eventually being my podcast co-host. Stu (@treble_alpha) is that person and he also gave me something else… a friend. A concept I had all but given up on prior to that. It is strange how a small act of kindness can lead to so much more. At that exact moment I felt like I wanted to push on with life, with everything really.
I also mainly wanted to make sure I got to experience this version of Tetris at least once. But before I get to that… Stu… Thank you!
From the very first moment I started Tetris Effect I was in love. I was taken to a place I had never been before. I simply cannot quite explain the feelings I had. I mean, I cried playing the game, but I have no idea why. It just made me feel so, so emotional.
I have had emotional responses to games before, but this was triggering something else inside me, that no other experience had before. It was as though someone has shown me a true heaven and it hit me hard. I ‘finished’ the game and played the other modes but for me it is a game that will never be finished.
The visuals, the music and everything about the game stir something inside me every single time I play. When I am down, it can bring me up and when I am in a good place, it can reinforce the positiveness. Whilst the entire game is simply wonderful, that opening level and track just grabs me everytime. I mean just listen!
It may surprise you to hear that this isn’t my most played game though. That is still Tetris 99, probably due to being able to pick up the Switch and play, rather than needing to go to the PC or kick someone off the TV.
Yet knowing Tetris Effect is there waiting for me at any time is so comforting, I know I can go to it when I need it most. For me, it is as important to my mental health as my medication and other coping strategies. People will say video games are a waste of tine, they are bad for you and all that other rubbish. But Tetris in itself and in particular Tetris Effect now has done wonders for me and kept me alive at various points in my life.
Yes it sounds ridiculous, but it is true. The only downside for me, is that I still haven’t been able to play the VR version of Tetris Effect. From everything I have heard, that version is one of the most special experiences you can have. One day I will get to try it and it gives me yet another reason to keep pushing forward.
The main part of Tetris Effect would be enough for me on its own, but being able to also play the traditional Tetris modes are an added bonus and continue to feel like a safe pair of arms embracing me and making everything right in the world. If only for the briefest of moments.
Enhance have made some wonderful games in the past. Lumines and Rez are both works of art in their own rights and make me appreciate music in a way I never could before. Yet I feel Tetris Effect is Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s magnum opus.
We are not done though, there is going to be an update and a release on a new system as Tetris Effect Connected comes to Xbox, with PC and PS4 versions getting an update some time after. I am so excited for that, believe me. Now, if there was any kind of Switch version, well those hundreds of hours dedicated to Tetris 99 would move straight to Effect.
Whilst I believe there is no such thing as perfection, for me Tetris Effect goes beyond perfection. It transcends videogames, it transcends art, music, everything. Tetris has always been there for me, but Tetris Effect is my soul, it is my life blood and I am forever grateful for its existence.