November 2018 saw the release of a huge variety of video games. Reimagined nostalgia trips like the Spyro Reignited Trilogy and Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee/Pikachu revitalized interest in classic games while Battlefield V and Hitman 2 continued to evolve their respective series with new features and design principles. The computer card game Artifact was Valve’s first in-house developed game release in years, and Darksiders III saw Gunfire Games take the reigns of the underrated hack n’ slash/Zelda-like franchise. Many more games were released this month with one in particular catching an inordinate amount of media attention. Despite these varied stories, however, our Game of the Month award goes to a game that finds new frontiers for its genre, adds yet another killer app to the PSVR lineup, and welcomes its players with open arms and a soothing song. Our November Game of the Month is Tetris Effect.
Produced by Rez and Lumines creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi, Tetris Effect takes one of video games’ foundational “texts” and evolves it in new and unexpected ways. No one would have guessed that one of the oldest and on the surface simplest video games would thrive in virtual reality, yet Tetris Effect’s incredible production values make it essential for anyone with a PSVR set. An immersive and varied soundtrack that reacts to the player’s in-game actions adds a sense of tangibility to the gameplay that wasn’t present in previous iterations. The addition of Journey Mode, a series of challenges that progresses like an evolving story, gives the game an emotional throughline that injects meaning and variety into the traditionally repetitive formula of puzzle games. We might have expected revelatory VR experiences to come from detailed and explorable worlds, but it turns out that sensory immersion in exceptional music, wondrous visuals, and mesmerizing game flow is what truly makes virtual reality transformative.
Tetris Effect’s most important quality is not how it delivers the VR experience we’ve been waiting for or how it finds new ground for puzzle games to explore, but how it helps its players. We as a culture are still struggling to understand mental health issues and find ways to help those suffering from them, yet Tetris Effect has brought relief to many who struggle with anxiety. Various studies suggest that playing Tetris allows people to alleviate traumatic flashback memories and even at the game’s inception in the 1980s some psychologists viewed it as a possible tool to help people deal with addictive behavior. The beneficial cognitive effects of playing Tetris are often referred to as the “tetris effect.” This psychological term is the namesake of Tetris Effect and its captivating visuals and alluring soundtrack were designed to heighten these effects, resulting in a game that seeks to uplift and heal its players.
Of course, we would be remiss not to mention the game that garnered the most attention this past month: Fallout 76. A buggy and broken launch period followed by the game’s Power Armor Edition not shipping with advertised products followed by the leak of players’ personal information, Bethesda’s latest RPG has moved from one controversy to the next seemingly without end. We like to award Game of the Month to the game release that furthers or inspires the most conversations about video games, but Fallout 76 offered no significant discourse beyond Bethesda’s complete failure to read the room. Tetris Effect is the opposite. It offers help to people who have difficulty finding it, brings a gaming classic back to the forefront, and continues to push our understanding of virtual reality forward. There are no strings attached, no corporate meddling. In every aspect of its design, Tetris Effect is beautiful and meaningful. For that, we award it our November Game of the Month.