Tetris Effect Review

Spoons:
Accessibility:
Community:
Replayability:
Immersion:

(1)
★★★☆☆ (3)
★★★★☆ (4)
★★★★★ (5)
★★★★★ (5)

“Spoons” represent how energy-intensive a game is based on my experience. It does not reflect my personal opinion about the game or its quality. You can read more about my “spoons” and other ratings considerations here.

I recorded a narration of this article for your convenience, which you can find at the bottom of this page.

When I finally hit the “buy” button, my initial thought was “Did I really just drop $30 on a Tetris reboot?” I’ll admit I fully expected to have buyer’s remorse, but when I put on my VR headset and launched the game, I was blown away.

Tetris Effect is an artfully crafted audio-visual experience with the classic game “Tetris” as its core. In Tetris Effect, you are taken on a journey of sound and immersive animated environments while you puzzle out the best way to fit the falling shapes called “Tetriminos” into one another to fill as many spaces on the grid as possible in order to completely fill lines horizontally, thus causing the filled lines to disappear and awarding you with points for your clever success! Clear four lines simultaneously to achieve a “Tetris” for an extra bonus!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m sure you’re familiar with the original Tetris. It’s one of the most popular games in existence, and for good reason! It’s a masterpiece. An absolutely perfect creation. Tetris Effect takes this masterpiece, and by some miracle of ingenuity and artistry, makes it better. Paired with a beautiful original soundtrack by the band Hydelic, the game actually shifts and flows along with the rhythm and mood of each song, and vice-versa. As you clear lines and rack up points, the music shifts and the environment also changes in beautiful, sometimes subtle, sometimes breathtakingly drastic ways, increasing or decreasing in speed and intensity as you play. Even the controllers pulse along with the music to add another level of immersion.

As you play, you enter what’s known as a “state of flow”. Wikipedia defines “Flow” as a state of mind in which you are fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of an activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time. The main campaign, “Journey Mode” stitches each level together in a progression which does not disrupt your flow state, allowing you to keep up your enhanced senses and reaction time as you continue to play.

Tetris Effect developer Tetsuya Mizuguchi shared during Facebook Connect 2020 that he specifically wanted to induce a state of flow when playing Tetris Effect, and this was a major goal in the game’s creation. I can tell you from my own experience that he was VERY successful in inducing this state. After only a short time playing, I find myself easily drifting into the flow state, and before I know it, an hour has passed! It’s a wise idea to set an alarm before settling in for a Tetris Effect session for this very reason.

Being in that state of flow has similar effects as meditation on my mood, and is so refreshing at times that I considered giving this game a zero spoons rating, but considering the mental energy required to solve the often fast-paced puzzle, I decided to settle on a rating of one spoon just to be fair.

Aside from the main campaign, there are numerous minigames and alternate game modes available under the “Effect Modes” menu category, all of which have unique goals and challenges for the player to complete.

The Ratings

Spoons:

Like I said earlier in the article, I considered giving this game a cost of zero spoons due to the refreshing effect the state of flow it induces occasionally has on me. This game does take some mental stamina to play, however, so it wouldn’t have been entirely accurate if I didn’t give it at least one spoon. Some of the more difficult levels can be pretty taxing mentally, but the gameplay itself requites only finger movement and you can play while seated, so it’s not physically demanding in the slightest. The main campaign, “Journey Mode”, has many different difficulty options to choose from, from Practice Mode, which is as easy as it gets, to Expert mode, which I am currently busting my Tetriminos to complete!

When playing Journey Mode, you can exit the game at any time between levels and your progression will be saved, so there is no risk of having to spend spoons you don’t have just to push yourself through to the next available save point (a common issue I’ve experienced in many other video games). Tetris Effect is a spoonie’s dream come true. I frequently strap myself in to play when I’m having a flare-up, because it helps time pass by more quickly, and the state of flow is an excellent escape from my symptomatic body.

Accessibility: ★★★☆☆

Tetris Effect can be played while seated, but it’s not really possible to play while leaning far back or lying down. The game requires tracking to be on, so the environment around you is always in the same fixed position (if you hold down the oculus button to reposition, it only adjusts the horizontal direction in which you are facing, not the vertical angle). I think the developers could disable tracking and allow the game to be played while laying down fairly easily, but that option is currently not available. There are plenty of options to customize controls, so it’s technically possible to play one-handed, but you’ll have to sacrifice some less important camera controls and menu buttons in order to do this, so some folks might find it inadequate for their needs. Because of these minor shortcomings, I give Tetris Effect an accessibility rating of three out of five stars.

Additional notes: I have visual impairments caused by Optic Nerve Hypoplasia, so my FOV is limited way more than most people. Occasionally, I find it difficult to focus on the falling Tetriminos while also being able to look at the area that shows which shape is coming next. Despite this difficulty, I have still been able to get some pretty impressive scores, if I do say so myself. I want to stress that this is NOT a fault of the game at all, but I thought it would be illuminating to share how my own personal vision issues have impacted my gameplay in case anyone reading this article has similar issues.

Community ★★★★☆

This review is for Tetris Effect, not Tetris Effect: Connected, which just launched for consoles and will be available as a free update for all Oculus users who own Tetris Effect in 2021. I will update this review once the update launches and I get the chance to play it. In Effect Mode, you can see when other people are also playing, and while there is no way to directly communicate with one another, I feel like there is a comforting sense of community when I see their avatars orbiting the globe alongside my own. Furthermore, the game developers host something called the “Weekend Ritual” every Saturday where anyone who plays the specified event levels in Effect Mode during the ritual contributes to a global score to reach a goal that unlocks a rare avatar for all participants. This definitely contributes to a shared sense of community. There are also many different leaderboards within Tetris Effect that encourage competition between players. The developers of the game, Enhance, also keep an active social media presence where they are pretty good about responding to and encouraging people who post about their games.

Replayability: ★★★★★

The developers obviously put a lot of effort into making sure there are hours and hours of the main campaign to complete over the course of multiple difficulty levels. Beyond the main campaign, there are many challenging mini-games in the Effect Modes category, and the leaderboards also encourage players to return and compete for the best scores. The “Weekend Ritual” also appears in the Oculus Events menu each week, which reminds me to come back to the game each weekend to help the community reach its goal. There are also many achievements that you can unlock while playing. All of these features combined has definitely earned Tetris Effect a 5 star replayability rating.

Immersion: ★★★★★

I would give this infinite stars if I could. This game is BEAUTIFUL. The game, music, controller vibration effects, and constantly shifting environments combine to draw you in and send you into a state of flow that passes time in a truly incredible way. I’ve joked that Tetris Effect is actually a time machine, because it is so immersive that it’s easy to lose track of time and suddenly realize an hour has passed. I really can not stress enough how magical this game’s level of immersion is. Excellent work, dev team!

Spoons and Ratings Criteria

“Spoons” are a term frequently used by those in the chronic illness, disability, and neurodivergent communities to describe the limited energy or physical and mental stamina we may or may not have on any given day. Often times, people will refer to themselves as “Spoonies” as well. These monikers originated from something known as “The Spoon Theory”, which you can read here.

On this site, I begin by giving each game and experience I review a “spoons” rating, which expresses how many spoons I think a Virtual Reality (VR) experience may cost. The more spoons there are in a rating, the more energy-intensive the experience is. I take the following considerations into account when issuing spoons:

  • How much do you have to move in order to play?
  • How much control, if any, do you have over the game’s intensity?
  • How intense are the required movements overall?
  • Are there calm moments where you can rest in between action sequences?
  • Are you required to stay standing, or can you sit down?
  • How long does it take to complete a level or get to a good stopping point?
  • How physically draining is the experience?
  • How mentally draining is the experience?

It’s important to keep in mind that the number of spoons I give in a review is relative to my own experience, which may differ from yours. The spoonie community is extremely diverse. What I consider to be two spoons might cost another person four, and yet another person only one.

To give you a good basis for comparison between my spoons and yours, I would give each of the activities listed on the right the following spoon ratings. Please adjust each according to your personal level of spoons and keep that adjustment in mind while reading my reviews. Also please keep in mind that my “spoons” are mostly related to weakness, fatigue, and other symptoms caused by my endocrine disorder. I do not live with chronic pain.

A leisurely walk:
A fast walk:
Riding a bicycle:
Running:
Climbing stairs:
Aerobic exercise:
Yoga:
Writing an article:
Folding laundry:
1hr Zoom call:
30 min. shopping:
Cook a big meal:

(2)
(4)
(3)
(5)
(3)
(5)
(2)
(1)
(1)
(2)
(3)
(3)

Each of my reviews also include ratings on a scale from 1-5 stars for accessibility, community, replayability, and immersion. To the right is a key showing what I consider each rating to mean.

exceptional:
above average:
average:
fair:
poor:
N/A:

★★★★★ (5)
★★★★☆ (4)
★★★☆☆ (3)
★★☆☆☆ (2)
★☆☆☆☆ (1)
☆☆☆☆☆ (0)

I calculate these ratings based on a number of different considerations for each category. I try my best to be as consistent as possible, taking into account the judgements I have made on pervious games and experiences when taking on a new review.

Accessibility:
I consider this to be the most important part of my reviews. I want VR to be accessible to ALL people, regardless of mobility and other potential restrictions. I am privileged to not have any physical limitations myself, so I aim to use that privilege to test these games and experiences so folks who need certain accessibility accommodations can get some sort of idea of whether or not they will be able to enjoy them. Pointing out accessibility shortcomings in VR experiences also has the added bonus of encouraging developers to take this aspect more into consideration as they create new content.

When issuing my accessibility rating, I take the following considerations into account:

  • Can you play it while sitting down?
  • Can you play it while lying down?
  • Is there an option to play one-handed?
  • Is there UI scaling or other low vision support?

Experiences will only be granted an accessibility rating of 5 stars if the experience can be enjoyed with only one controller while the user is lying horizontally. So far, very few VR experiences fit this criteria, and none of them are interactive games. I would like to see this change in the future.

Community:
This review category is important because many spoonies experience social isolation as a result of their debilitating and often inconsistent symptoms. While VR may not be able to fully replace the need for in-person social interactions, it certainly alleviates some of the loneliness and isolation associated with homebound life. Connecting with others (even complete strangers) in VR has greatly improved my quality of life. Even in certain VR experiences where there are multiplayer options that do not include direct communication between players, the feeling of community is palpable and comforting.

When issuing my community rating, I take the following considerations into account:

  • Is there a multiplayer option?
  • If so, is there voice chat or other direct communication between players?
  • Are there leaderboards which encourage competition?
  • Is there a strong community outside of VR, such as active and engaging social media pages or a Discord server?

Replayability:

  • Once you beat the main campaign (if there is one) is there a reason to return?
  • Are there mini-games/ challenges?
  • Is it a roguelike (procedurally generated for a unique, new playthrough each time)?
  • Leaderboards also factor into this rating, as they encourage players to compete.

Immersion:

  • How much does the game draw you in?
  • What are the quality of the graphics?
  • Are there glitches? If so, how frequent are they?

These are all based on my personal experience, which of course may differ from yours. My reviews, like all reviews, should be taken with a grain of salt and consideration that this is a point of OPINION, not hard facts. If you disagree with my reviews for any reason, I highly encourage polite discourse in the comments section expressing your take on the VR experience in question. A diverse forum of different opinions is important for folks who want to learn about what is being reviewed so they can make their own educated decisions.

Thank you for taking the time to read about how I’ll be writing reviews on this site! I’m hoping to have my first review finished and published here soon. Please consider following this blog, or follow the SpoonieVR Twitter account to be notified when this and other articles go live.

How many spoons do those everyday tasks I listed in this article cost for you? Leave a reply below and share your spoons ratings! It’s really insightful to see how everyone’s conditions affect them individually!

A Spoonie’s Guide to VR

First and foremost, if you’re unfamiliar with the term “spoonie”, I highly recommend you check out Spoon Theory. Long story short, “Spoonie” is a moniker adopted by the Chronic Illness community. “Spoons” are a metaphor for the limited energy we may (or may not) have to spend on any given day. Some days, we may have no spoons at all- or even negative spoons. Oof, those days are rough.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term “VR”, you should know that’s short for Virtual Reality, and this is something which I have fallen head over heels in love with since October of 2019 when I bought my very first VR headset, the original Oculus Quest. At the time, I had bought the headset for one reason and one reason alone- “Beat Saber”. It’s a rhythm game where you use dual light sabers to slash at cubes as they fly towards you to the beat of a song. If you’ve never seen it before, check this out:

The girl in the video used mixed reality software to show herself playing the game, but you get the idea! My plan was to use this as a way to get myself to increase my physical activity. It seemed like a good motivational tool to inspire myself to move more, so I took the leap and spent the money on the headset even though I fully expected it to be a gimmick-y toy I might get bored with after a little while. With the vision issues I have due to my Optic Nerve Hypoplasia (ONH), I wasn’t even sure if VR would be effective in my case. Still, I made the decision to gamble on VR, and I am so glad I did.

Happily, my ONH didn’t impede VR’s effectiveness. I was BLOWN AWAY by how realistic everything seemed. Aside from the admittedly uncomfortable weight of the headset on my face, I felt completely transported to new realms of reality. After getting my fill of Beat Saber, I explored other VR experiences, such as the deeply touching and well-made digital recreation of the Anne Frank house, complete with interactable objects with historical details, all narrated by talented voice actors. Then, of course, there were more lighthearted options such as Mission ISS, and the myriad sports games available in the Oculus store. At the time, options were much more limited than they are now, but I was overwhelmed by the immersive quality of VR right away.

Then, I discovered something which I hadn’t even considered when buying the headset- social VR. Programs where you can go and interact with other real people in virtual environments. AltspaceVR was my first experience with this concept. It’s a platform which allows you to attend an event, host your own, or just chat in any of its amazing social hubs and user-submitted worlds. When I first dove in, there were a wide variety of events available, from casual discussion groups to meetups for religious purposes. The first one I decided to check out was a weight loss support group. I popped in, saw the other avatars which represent real people elsewhere in the world in their own headsets, and listened to the conversation until I was asked to introduce myself and say hello! This might sound dramatic, but I mean it when I say this was my first step into a new life.

Social VR has completely changed my life for the better. As a spoonie who is stuck at home most of the time due to limitations imposed by my eyesight and frequently debilitating symptoms, I used to isolate a lot. It was hard to get out and socialize with others (even before this wretched pandemic struck). I’m VERY introverted, so I got by alright, but it still weighed negatively on my mental health from time to time. Loneliness rears its ugly head for everyone eventually. Now, with the discovery of social VR, I have easy access to a social hub any time I feel the need to hang out with people. Transporting myself to a virtual café is as easy as strapping into my headset and pressing a few buttons, and the immersive feel of the experience is enough to sate my hunger for socialization. I even host my own weekly support group for invisible illnesses / disabilities every Sunday at 7pm EST. It’s been going strong for about 10 months now, and the people who regularly attend the meetups feel like my extended virtual family. I look forward to our gathering each week, and I would love to invite you to join us as well, with or without a VR headset! As long as you have a computer, you can access it. I’ve got a page here with all the details.

After a year of satisfaction embedding myself in the tight-knit community of social VR enthusiasts, I decided to upgrade to the new Oculus Quest 2 headset, which is lighter, more advanced, and somehow cheaper than the original Quest, which I have since given to my partner (NOTE: I am NOT sponsored by Oculus, nor am I affiliated with them in any way). Since the release of the Quest 2, the amount of content available in the Oculus store has EXPLODED. New games and experiences are being released all the time, and with the now increased accessibility to VR for most consumers (thanks to the more affordable price point), new users are flooding into the once sparsely populated venues I’ve called home for the last year. I think this is WONDERFUL, and I am ecstatic to see the VR community flourishing.

With the increased interest in VR, it’s becoming more mainstream. Shortly after discovering its possibilities, I’ve been a vocal advocate for VR as a way for the chronically ill, disabled, or otherwise homebound to connect with others and enrich their lives from the comfort of their own homes. I’ve been a recurring guest on a podcast where I’ve been adamantly advocating for VR as a therapeutic outlet for spoonies everywhere, and I continue to push for awareness whenever I can.

There IS one downfall that I’ve noticed with VR. The majority VR games require movement, and I know that can really whittle away at spoons fast. Throughout my time in VR, I’ve explored as many experiences and games as I could get my virtual hands on, and I thought it might be useful for my fellow spoonies to have a reference guide of reviews for each of the games I’ve tried, complete with a rating of 1-5 spoons indicating how much energy a game takes to play.

Thus, SpoonieVR was born! Not only will there be reviews from a spoonie’s perspective, but information about whether or not the game offers accessibility features, such as “one-handed mode”, UI scaling for limited vision, whether or not you can play while sitting or lying down, etc.

Currently, this site is run only by Sunny Ammerman, a.k.a., InsomniaDoodles, but I hope to welcome other contributors to join me in this mission! If you’re interested in getting involved, please send us an email via the contact form below, or reach out via Twitter!