Has there ever been a more perfect marriage of hardware and software than Tetris and the Game Boy? Despite not being an original Nintendo IP, Tetris felt like it was made for the monochrome portable, and it's hard to imagine either of them being anywhere near as successful without the other. However, Tetris is very much its own thing and has utilised the staggering fame it achieved thanks to its pairing with Nintendo's console to turn into one of the most famous video game properties of all time, with entries appearing on practically every device with a screen.
One such 'evolution' of the Tetris concept is the sublime Tetris Effect, the brainchild of legendary game designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi. Originally released on the PS4 in 2018 with impressive support for the PSVR headset, it has since gone multi-platform with an updated version that includes online multiplayer, one of the key omissions from the original game. Tetris Effect: Connected is now available on the Nintendo Switch, which represents something of a homecoming; while we've had plenty of Tetris on Nintendo systems over the years (including the excellent Tetris 99 and the just-OK Tetris DS), this feels more significant, somehow; perhaps because Tetris Effect: Connected is effortlessly one of the best interpretations of Alexey Pajitnov's game the world has ever seen.
But before we get to all of that, it's worth talking about Tetris Effect – and what the 'Connected' subtitle means. Well, it's Tetris – a game which surely needs no introduction – but with a 'synesthesia' hook that means the on-screen imagery and accompanying audio are synchronized in weird and wonderful ways, something which former Sega staffer Mizuguchi first experimented with in the seminal on-rails shooter Rez.
During gameplay, every movement, line clear or hard-drop is accompanied by some kind of aural and visual effect, and each level is set against a wonderfully animated and evolving backdrop. Some would argue that Tetris is a game that doesn't need graphical gimmicks to engage and addict, but Tetris Effect pulls out all of the stops regardless, delivering some truly gorgeous visual effects which combine perfectly with the equally beautiful soundtrack.
Tetris Effect: Connected includes many of the recent additions to the core game that have been introduced over the decades, such as the ability to hold a piece in reserve and the power to spin a piece before it fully locks into place. However, the 'Zone' feature – which is entirely new for this entry – really makes the most impact.
Clearing lines fills up your Zone gauge, and this can be activated at any time by pressing the ZR trigger. When you do this, time is frozen; blocks don't fall as they do normally – but lines don't vanish as they should, either. Instead, cleared lines drop to the bottom of the well, and, once the Zone gauge is exhausted, are removed in a points-scoring combo. Because these lines stay on-screen while you're in the Zone, the space available to you at the top of the well decreases, which makes it harder to clear lines in multiples – and that's really the aim here; not only can the Zone help get you out of a tight spot, it's also key to getting best scores in Tetris Effect: Connected.
The game is divided into various modes, of which 'Journey' is the one you'll be spending the most time with, at least initially. This is the game's solo campaign mode and sees you moving through a series of stages by clearing a set number of lines. It's an engaging and often emotional trip, thanks largely to the aforementioned way in which the game marries light and sound, but you'll finish it on the default difficulty setting in the space of a day. There's replayability here, of course, but the game's other modes help extend longevity massively.
The 'Effect' modes will perhaps take up the bulk of your single-player time once you're done with the Journey mode. These are a series of gameplay modes that are categorised to suit your current frame of mind. For example, if you just want to chill out, you can pick from the 'Relax' section and take on a mode where it's impossible to lose; blocks reaching the top simply causes the well to clear and you start over.
The 'Focus' modes are a little more demanding and revolve around rigid targets, such as clearing all of the blocks or getting as many combos as possible. 'Adventureous' modes mix things up a little by including things like 'infected' blocks which have to be removed from play, or, in the case of the 'Mystery' mode, throwing in random effects, such as flipping the well horizontally or giving you blocks which have sections missing.
You could literally spend weeks just playing the modes in the 'Effect' portion of the game, and all progress in Tetris Effect adds to your level. Experience points boost your level status and you can unlock new avatars to use – something that was put to good effect in Mizuguchi's Lumines series. Because there's this constant sense of earning something through play, it's easy to spend hours and hours in Tetris Effect: Connected, beating your high scores and boosting your experience level.
However, it's the game's 'Connected' mode – which was added when the game was released on Xbox Game Pass in 2020 – which really makes this title sing. It takes its name from just one of the online gameplay modes on offer here, which sees you and two other players team up to tackle an AI-controlled 'boss' player. The objective is to fill up the enemy's well with junk while dealing with the various unhelpful effects they inflict on your and your companions. As the three of you clear lines, you fill up the Zone meter which, once totally full, connects all three wells into a single, super-well, allowing the three of you to collaborate as you complete lines and dump all of them into the boss character's well. The catch is that you each have to take turns to drop your blocks.
The Connected mode is responsible for some of the most breathlessly entertaining multiplayer action we've had in a long time, but it's not all that Tetris Effect: Connected has to offer when it comes to online play. If the collaborative nature of the Connected mode isn't your cup of tea, then you'll be pleased to learn that a separate ranking system exists which matches you against equally skilled opponents. You can take part in 'Ranked', 'Friend' and 'Local' matches, with game modes which cover a wide range of play styles, including the ability to disable the Zone feature and even tackle the 'old-school' two-player mode, which strips away additions such as hard dropping, the ability to hold a piece in reserve and so on. There's even a 'PAL Speed' mode which replicates how the Nintendo version of Tetris ran on European PAL NES consoles, offering a lower 50hz-style framerate, swifter horizontal movement and faster-dropping speed in the latter portions of a game.
Tetris Effect: Connected features cross-platform multiplayer, with little symbols denoting which system each person is playing on, so finding a match is a lot easier – at least in theory. We still found that on the odd occasion we had to wait a short while in some of the less popular modes, but that could be because we were logging on ahead of the Switch launch; most of the time, it wasn't an issue. It's important to remember that Tetris Effect: Connected launched on other systems before Switch, so it could be that its arrival on Nintendo's system will trigger an uptick in online usage.
While we're on that topic, it's worth addressing just how much better Tetris Effect: Connected feels on a portable device. Don't get us wrong – it's an amazing game regardless of the system you choose to play it on – but, very much like the Game Boy version, Tetris Effect: Connected is a title that benefits massively from the ability to play it whenever and wherever you want; it's the perfect 'impulse play' because each session is subtly different and often only lasts a few minutes, making it ideal for filling those short gaps in your daily schedule.
Furthermore, the Switch port is fantastic; sure, when playing on a TV it's possible to note very, very slight differences between the Switch version and the Xbox / PlayStation editions (the resolution appears to be slightly lower on Switch), but none of the visual impact is lost. For example, when playing the 'Ritual Passion' stage, the ember-covered animated figures look just as impressive on Switch as they do on other platforms. (Editor's note: Tetris Effect: Connected appears to be running at 60fps on Switch for the most part, but there are some moments where the frame rate drops; however, this isn't as much of a dealer-breaker as you might think.) Oh, and if you're playing on a shiny new Switch OLED, the graphics look even more striking thanks to the improved contrast and brighter colours.
The Switch port also has some new additions of its own. The HD Rumble feature of the Joy-Con is exploited via the 'Extra Rumble' option, which adds subtle vibration when moving pieces left or right – when you move left, the left-hand Joy-Con will rumble, for example. Rumble effects are also added to hard and soft drops. It's hardly a groundbreaking inclusion, but nice to see all the same – as is the ability to have up to four players huddle around a single Switch in the Connected Vs mode – although this is only available on weekends, during special 'Full Moon' events. Speaking of which, 'Weekend Ritual' modes are available during the 24-hour window every weekend, with players all over the globe earning points towards a Community Goal which, if met, rewards those who participated with a special avatar – another way in which the game's online features massively enrich the overall experience.
Tetris is one of the greatest video games of all time, and Tetris Effect: Connected is perhaps the best iteration of the classic puzzler yet. While this Switch port doesn't offer a great deal over existing versions in terms of features, it delivers the one key ingredient that its rivals cannot: portability. Sure, some will argue that Tetris Effect: Connected's unique brand of synesthesia only really comes alive when played on PSVR or an Oculus Quest headset, but we'd argue quite passionately that this game benefits far more from the ability to pick it up and play whenever, wherever. Just as the Game Boy and Tetris combined to create an irresistible, world-conquering fusion back in 1989, Tetris Effect: Connected has finally found the hardware that allows it to truly shine, making this an utterly essential purchase for all Nintendo Switch owners. Just don't forget those headphones.