Near the end of last year, I had no qualms putting Tetris Effect among my personal list of the games of last decade. There’s always going to be this undue demand that games not even two years old require more convincing that they deserve such a place on any coveted “best of” list — be that a list of personal or otherwise collectively unanimous persuasion alike. Even if it’s merely out of a sense that said recent releases surely can’t yet be considered to be the best of the best — that the passage of time served isn’t enough for a game released near the end of the 2010s and whose expanded form is strictly-speaking a 2020’s release. It’s perhaps the least-surprising remark to read that I stand by that decision.
Maybe it was the fact I’d come off the back of reviewing the [site-wide consensus] worst game of 2018 days prior and was in need of something to erase such awful memories. Maybe it was the recent return to Rez and to Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s knack for combining appealing visuals, eccentric spins on niche genres and catchy music. Maybe it was just the simple concept of “nicer-looking Tetris” that was the attraction, albeit one slightly marred in a somewhat snarky degree of doubt as to just what exactly this spin on one of video game’s oldest intellectual properties could bring. Aside from a few pretty particle effects here and there. Though it may have been lauded for its presentation, its execution of fusing music with visuals, its sheer splendour of many a musical/visual aesthetic on display, Tetris Effect was a brilliant reframing of Tetris’ longevity, complimented by a series of well-integrated and enticing game modes. A soundtrack so varied and vivid its peaks remain on repeat nearly two years on.
To most it may have seemed initially perplexing to find Tetris Effect: Connected a part of Microsoft’s lead-up to the release of their new console. And not just in the sense that “just Tetris” was being granted time and space to convince us to get on-board with Xbox once more. More so, for a game that pulled off exactly what it was attempting to evoke the first time round, what exactly could this Connected expansion bring that would elevate the experience to an even more euphoric high? Impossible a feat that sounds in theory. Admittedly, the lack of any real multiplayer component — beyond the visage of many a player’s avatar orbiting the in-game globe — was perhaps the only real sizeable knock against the game to some on original release. The idea of an added multiplayer component, alongside an optimized single-player as has been advertised, is a credible response to what minor drawbacks the game may have been perceived to hold. But even for those who found the lack of such a component not that bothersome to begin with — or perhaps for those jumping into this interpretation of Tetris for the very first time — how much, let alone how well, does Tetris Effect: Connected build upon its triumphant successor?
The answer, surprisingly, is rather a lot. Not in the sense of content or physical substance per se, but in the simple realization that online multiplayer in Tetris Effect seems like a no-brainer. Again, that’s not to say that the original’s lacking of such a component was detrimental or damaging or that its original standing is now diminished. Taking a trip through the single-player Journey Mode once more is a fantastic trip for the ear as much the eye. The lush swing from one aesthetic to the next — one musical genre to another — still impresses with the ease, as much the pace, with which it transports players amidst its many falling blocks. While it may not be the first time to jump aboard the PC platform — having released exclusively for the Epic Games Store earlier in July of last year — the aid of tweaking graphical settings alleviates any concern that the game’s ambition gets in the way of the core gameplay at its center. A minor gripe I myself held with the original PS4 release in 2018.
The real joy of Tetris Effect: Connected is in more than just the sheer presence of its online component. Rather, it’s the way the game manages to strike that difficult balance whereby all parties feel served by the gameplay mechanics. No better is there a case than in the Connected mode, whereby three players team up against one, CPU-controlled “boss” character. It might seem to begin with that the three players could so easily gang up on a solitary AI player. Or that the opposite is true, that the AI’s over-powered attacks of sorts can seldom be countered — by anything other than some brief, mad-dash attempt to clear lines upon all three player’s boards conjoining. Even beyond the delight of seeing gameplay and music snippets sync up during such precious moments of counter-attack, it always feels as if both sides always have a chance of taking victory. Of too slipping up if they’re not careful — that it’s less about clearing lines as quickly as possible and more to do with the longer-term plan.
Especially during the once-a-week rarity that the all-player Connected Vs. variant brings, whereupon players get the chance to hop into the shoes of the solitary “boss” position and matches become truly one-versus-three affairs. While it’s a shame that this mode is exclusively-timed to but one day of the week — not to mention it’s a case of first to nab the “boss” slot gets to play as such in the pre-game lobby — little of that surprise depth of strategy is lost here. For any fan of Tetris who can both work well as a team, yet be methodical about how they set up line clears when they need to be, there’s usually a clear and attainable path to victory to find in each match. That same revelation on strategy can be said just as well for Connected‘s other online offerings; though Zone Battle is self-explanatory in its translating of Effect’s primary gimmick, it’s Score Attack which again feels tailored to those looking for less competitiveness and striving to be the first to pull the figurative punch.
Because with Score Attack — in which two players compete to end with the highest score once their boards become too cluttered to continue — it’s less about speed and more about planning how soon you want to progress through the gradually-increasing speeds. Those who simply rush to gain as many four-line clears as possible may end up getting caught out later on and yet, in following with the game’s recognizing of balance, taking one’s time and playing a touch too safe with accumulating blocks can too leave you vulnerable. To end up trailing the entire match countless thousands of points behind — long before the round has ever kicked into high gear. It’s a continuously-worrisome dilemma players have to tussle with but that hook — trying to read what your opponent may well be setting up themselves — is where Tetris Effect: Connected, much like its predecessor, finds a way to compliment the traditional flow of Tetris gameplay with extra challenge to consider.
The added incentive though is not without some occasional frustration when it comes to the connectivity and the stability of its matchmaking system on top. And while the experience has improved following a recent post-release patch, there are still a few lingering issues in this regard. Getting booted back to the main map screen following a failed matchmaking is something that unfortunately can crop up a few times in quick succession. Though jumping out and immediately back in does tend to remedy this, it’s a minor irk that deserves to be highlighted. A predominantly enjoyable mode on a round-for-round basis this is, Connected‘s infrastructure and its general networking is not flawless and for those eager to jump into the added multiplayer, finding a match is relatively, though not completely, smooth.
Though it may harbor the same delightful and immersive single-player offerings as the 2018 original, there’s no doubting that the online and competitive expansion to Tetris Effect has only heightened Resonair’s work evermore. Yet not only are the new modes introduced here, built with competitiveness in mind, for those keen to see the original’s euphoric, sensual presentation function through co-op, Tetris Effect: Connected goes one further and pulls this off remarkably well. Creating a multiplayer experience that’s both uplifting whilst still maintaining its tactile, puzzle-solving heart. Whether you missed out on the original two years previous or are looking for a worthwhile part of the Xbox Series X/S launch line-up, Tetris Effect: Connected is an even more joyous and grander expansion on what remains one of the puzzle great’s most creative interpretations.