As Ubisoft recently put paid to the idea that you ‘can’t ruin Tetris,’ there was an air of uncertainty to Sega’s Puyo Puyo Tetris as a concept. How would mashing two styles of puzzle game into one package work? Would one or both suffer a quality hit by association? Such fears seem ridiculous now because Puyo Puyo Tetris is a delightful puzzler.
You know what Tetris is, of that there’s little doubt. Arguably the greatest puzzle game of all time, it’s a name that’s engrained into popular culture despite being fronted by little more than a bunch of lifeless shapes (like TNA, but y’know… popular). Puyo Puyo on the other hand is a lesser known quantity, though if I say the words ‘Dr.Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine’ and you let out a fearful cry, you’re technically remembering Puyo Puyo (known as Puyo Pop in the West), a series with a 26-year history and is Sega’s half of this mashup. It’s a Vs puzzler where you have to match four or more colored beans to ‘pop’ them from your screen. Do this enough, and in combination, you burden your opponent with extra clear beans that can only be eradicated by linking them to a colored chain of four plus.
Tetris may be the more recognisable name, but the majority of Puyo Puyo Tetris owes a debt to Puyo Puyo. Game modes tend to lean toward the vs aspect of that series, and the cheery-looking Japanese characters that you face in single player, and choose for your avatar in any mode, are Puyo Puyo stalwarts (Tetris gets a set of characters in this design, the rest are established Puyo Puyo ones). Tetris gets dragged into this setup and binds with it surprisingly well, to the point where it feels almost as natural as it does novel.
After you’re swiftly met with the main menu, you’ll see a bunch of quickly accessible modes that contain Tetris, Puyo Puyo, and a mix of the two (most of which focus on multiplayer and vs AI battles). It’s fair to say some of these fusions are a touch intimidating at first, so a first stop for anyone unsure about exactly what is required should head to the lesson mode (tutorial basically), which gently eases you into understanding the rules of each mode. From there, the Adventure mode is a good shout if you want to put that practice into practice as each ten stage series of challenges utilize the breadth of Puyo Puyo Tetris’ modes. It has a story too, which sees the Puyo Puyo gang encounter their Tetris counterparts and see both be equally befuddled by the other’s favorite puzzler. The odd amusing line aside, it’s a largely shrill annoyance that lingers in your memory only because it might give you a headache. Mercifully, you can skip them and just concentrate on the challenges.
AI in all, Puyo Puyo Tetris is an odd one. It ranges from ridiculously dumb to fiendishly tricksy, but not in the progressive, consistent manner you’d expect. Even with a bit of understanding under your hat, there’s difficulty spikes that are maddening. It’s not that they’re impossible, just that they require a fair bit of trial and error as the AI pulls miracle after miracle out of its puzzling arse. In these moments, it feels far less like a whip-smart AI rival outfoxing you, and more like the game trying to stunt your progress. As I mentioned, it isn’t something that will stop you for too long, but the fact I came out of these encounters eventually without feeling I’d done anything different means luck plays a huge part in this issue due to the random nature of when shapes/colors will appear.
Elsewhere in the myriad modes we have Challenge, which has a series of timed/scored scenarios, and these are the best parts for a single player experience, providing the perfect meal of immediacy and a swift bite-sized gameplay loop; but Puyo Puyo Tetris is supposed to be about multiplayer, and the vs modes are where things get tasty.
Vs modes allow 1-4 players (or a mix of players and AI, if you’re short) to duke it out in the various versions of Puyo Puyo and Tetris. Highlights include Party mode, which allows you to link power ups to cleared lines/beans that hinder your opponent in a variety of ways, then there’s Big Bang mode, which gives you both a short time to rack up a better score than your rival and with enough of a points gap, you can deplete their energy bar a bit (or a lot) before moving onto the next round. This goes on until someone’s bar is completely decimated.
Mix mode sees both Puyo Puyo‘s beans and Tetris’ Tetrominoes being used in the same game board, and while it’s amusingly novel for a bit, I found it to be one of the least satisfying of the modes. It’s a case of ‘They did it because they can, not because they should’. The best use of both sets of pieces in the same mode goes to ‘Swap’ which gives the players two boards (one for Tetris, one for Puyo Puyo) that you can only control one of for 20 seconds at a time. It’s frenetic combustible multiplayer action at its finest as you juggle trying to rack up enough cleared lines and beans to fill your opponents boards, whilst simultaneously trying to ensure you don’t suffer the same fate. Swearing and hollering aplenty awaits any ‘friendly’ competition you and your friends may have.
Local multiplayer is without doubt the superior way to play Puyo Puyo Tetris. Online is solid enough, even if it does seem a bit hollow against strangers, but there’s a better sense of satisfaction in screwing over friends sitting in the same room. The game may cater for online and single player, and do so to a competent (if inconsistent) level, but this here is the source of Puyo Puyo Tetris’ strength.
There’s a remarkable amount of things to do with or without friends in Puyo Puyo Tetris, and the sheer variety and random nature of both puzzlers makes for a clear cut winner in multiplayer terms. For around £20 this is pretty good value, and importantly, the spirit of both Puyo Puyo and Tetris remains intact whilst being tied to something fresh and inventive that revitalizes both. It’s a shame the single player’s AI is so erratic, but otherwise, this is a perfect family game for players of all abilities and understanding, which is a key component to the success of any multiplayer-focused game.