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How Tetris Effect adds a new strategic layer to a decades-old formula

The Zone mechanic is a welcome addition to one of gaming's all-time classics

Tetris Effect is, obviously, a Tetris game. What it less obviously is, though, is a culmination of Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s entire body of work.

In a turn of events that makes more and more sense the more I think about it, the man who launched Rez in 2001 and Lumines in 2004 — as well as multiple sequels and re-releases of each — has ended up in charge of a new Tetris game coming to PS4 and PS VR this autumn.

Tetris Effect blends the time-tested gameplay of Tetris with Lumines-style level themes and progression, wrapped in the Rez-like audiovisual bliss that can only come with a Mizuguchi-directed experience. Especially in VR with a nice set of headphones on, Tetris Effect is a perfect, inspiring fusion of the best parts of these three classic experiences.

 
This next part might border on blasphemy for the seasoned Tetris vets out there, but bear with me: Tetris Effect adds a new strategic layer to the core Tetris experience by way of its new “Zone” mechanic, and it’s really good.

As you clear lines in Tetris Effect, you build up a meter in the bottom-left corner of the playfield. As long as you have some meter to burn, you can ENTER THE ZONE . The team at Enhance is finalising how exactly players will activate this mechanic, but when I played it was done by pressing either R2 or L2. When you do this, time stops, freezing the falling blocks at the top of the screen until you decide to move them.

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This is a great way to get yourself out of a jam, should you find yourself in one… but that’s not where this new strategic wrinkle shines. The brilliance of the Zone mechanic lies in its scoring potential: not only do you get bonus points for clearing lines in Zone mode, the game also stops counting cleared lines toward your progress in the current level.

This affords experienced players with an opportunity to stretch levels out longer than they’d usually run, which leads to more total cleared lines and tetrises, which leads to more sweet, sweet points and cool new terms like “Octoris,” “Dodecatris,” and — buckle in for this one — Decahexatris when you clear huge chunks of lines while in Zone mode. It feels… well, it feels awesome.

 
Of course, I only played one mode (Story) during my too-brief time with Tetris Effect, so time will tell what other kinds of modes will be in the final game and whether they’ll have other twists on gameplay, or other modes that more directly cater to the purists out there.

All I can say based on what I know right now is that Enhance’s take on one of gaming’s oldest traditions is a welcome evolution of the formula, and I’m already twisting my brain into knots trying to figure out the best way to maximize my scoring potential — and to find out what they call it if you manage to clear all 20 lines at once — when the full game launches later this year.

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