2018 has been a good year for video games. From blockbuster epics to smaller indie experiences to inventive takes on VR, the breadth and variety of games that came out over the last 12 months is astounding. To celebrate, Verge staff members are writing essays on their own personal favorite games, and what made them stand out above the crowd.
How could I pick a single favorite game of this year? 2018 has been incredible — for my money even better than 2017 overall. Monster Hunter World was a masterful update to my favorite series; I can’t get Red Dead Redemption 2 out of my head; Celeste is one of the tightest 2D games ever made. Those are just the first three that come to mind, but I’ve played 14 out of the 15 games on Andrew’s excellent list and basically loved them all.
But when I really think on it, there is one game that stands out for me on a personal level. There was only one game released this year that I know I’ll be playing for as long as the hardware exists to do so. A game I’ll remember 2018 by. A game that truly got me. That game is Tetris Effect.
To be honest, I felt like Tetris Effect would be my game of the year the second it was announced. If “things Sam Byford likes” ever comes up as a Family Feud topic, you could definitely do worse than to guess “Tetris,” “VR,” and “Tetsuya Mizuguchi.” But the execution is better than even I had hoped. Tetris Effect takes one of the most beloved games of all time and elevates it to pop art, taking the player on an incredible cosmic journey that feels like nothing else.
Weeks before Tetris Effect was unveiled, I interviewed producer Mizuguchi about another of his games that I deeply love. Lumines came out as a remaster on various platforms this year, but I heard from Mizuguchi about how it was originally and specifically designed for the PSP. Tetris Effect doesn’t quite have that luxury in terms of game design: Tetris remains Tetris. But just as Lumines wouldn’t have worked on a Game Boy, Tetris Effect wouldn’t have worked on a PSP. It’s a maximalist audiovisual experience designed for a giant 4K TV and expensive sound equipment — or even better, a VR headset.
Tetris Effect is still great on a TV. The initially unusual choice to make the play field so small allows you to parse the block layouts at the same time as taking in the visuals, and everything has a really crisp, clean look that sparkles in high resolution. But VR is something else altogether. Dolphins dart around your field of view, neon street signs whoosh past your head, and you’ll fly up and above the clouds all while managing to concentrate on the falling blocks with an even greater intensity.
Like Lumines, Tetris Effect is essentially an album: a sequenced collection of music with a beginning and an end. My one concern about the game was that I wouldn’t appreciate it on this level. I was disappointed by Mizuguchi’s last major work, Child of Eden, which had a similar interstellar-hippy-rave aesthetic to Tetris Effect, but leant a little too heavily on earnest J-pop for my taste.
I needn’t have worried. Tetris Effect’s soundtrack is mostly fantastic, and a perfect fit for the game. Coming from Hydelic, who also composed the music for the new Area X segment of Rez Infinite, it’s a diverse, pulsating score that deploys various vocals and genres to great effect throughout the game’s running time. I would buy the heck out of an OST release, though the in-game theater mode isn’t a bad substitute.
In a year packed with staggering achievements like Red Dead Redemption 2, one of the most engrossing, exquisite, and expansive games ever made, I can understand why some people might not think that something like Tetris Effect could compare. “It’s just Tetris,” I can already see the commenters typing. I get it.
But… well, yeah, exactly. It’s Tetris! It’s perhaps the most iconic video game of all time. Something that has been played in all corners of the world for decades. Something I grew up with. Something I dream about. And Tetris Effect is a stunning, beautiful, moving new way to play it. No other game released this year will simultaneously stimulate both sides of your brain like this. What more is there to say?
It’s Tetris. And it’s much more than that.