Puzzler Essentials: Puyo Puyo Tetris

Puyo Puyo Tetris is cause for great celebration, particularly for those of us who have been missing certain aspects of “the good old days” of gaming, whenever those might have been in your personal opinion.

Why is it noteworthy? Well, numerous reasons: it’s one of the few Puyo Puyo titles to have made it West without significant modifications or complete rebranding; it’s a reinterpretation of Tetris that doesn’t suck (EA and Ubisoft, pay attention); and perhaps most importantly, it’s a standalone puzzle game that not only isn’t a microtransaction-riddled, play-throttling mobile phone game with infuriating touch controls, it also got an actual, honest-to-goodness physical release. In fact, in the case of the PlayStation 4 version, the physical release is, oddly, the only way to get hold of a copy.

It’s also an absolutely cracking game, so let’s take a closer look at what it offers to puzzler aficionados.

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Puyo Puyo Tetris is, as the name suggests, a mashup between two rather different puzzle games: longstanding, well-known classic Tetris, in which you drop pieces made of four blocks in various arrangements in an attempt to create solid lines; and the slightly lesser-known but still well-respected Japanese puzzler series Puyo Puyo, which involves matching groups of like-coloured blobs (the titular Puyos) in connected, orthogonally adjacent clusters of four or more.

These two puzzle games might not sound like things that go particularly well together, as aside from their common mechanic of things dropping from the top of the screen, they both play quite differently. But the genius of Puyo Puyo Tetris is that it pushes them together in a variety of different ways, each of which require you to learn a slightly different way of playing, and among which pretty much every kind of player will doubtless find a favourite approach.

In terms of single-player content, Puyo Puyo Tetris offers plenty to do, despite primarily being marketed as a multiplayer game. There’s a significant “Adventure” mode, which provides a rather silly but charming story (voiced only in English, sadly, for those who would have preferred the original Japanese audio) coupled with a linear sequence of levels, each of which offer a different challenge. Sometimes you’ll be playing a versus match against another character; sometimes you’ll be taking on a timed challenge in which you have to complete an objective against the clock; sometimes you’ll be playing one of the game’s more unusual modes.

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To add longevity and additional challenge for experienced Puyo Puyo and Tetris players, each level in Adventure mode allows you to earn up to three “stars” based on your performance; a single star is awarded simply for completing the level, while second and third stars are awarded for completing it in more advanced ways — beating an opponent with a score above a certain threshold, for example (surprisingly difficult, particularly in the early stages, where your opponents kinda suck, to put it politely) or achieving objectives more quickly. To obtain 100% completion in Adventure mode, you’ll need to get three stars on each and every level.

Elsewhere, any of the game’s multiplayer modes — which we’ll discuss in a moment — can be played in single-player against bots, while some dedicated single-player modes are provided in the form of “Challenges”. Here, there are three variations each of Puyo Puyo and Tetris, with both offering “endless” modes to play for as long as you can survive; Tetris’ “Marathon” mode initially claims to simply end after you clear 150 lines, but provides an optional setting that allows you to continue for as long as you can manage, as in the game’s original incarnations. (Edit: I previously incorrectly stated that Tetris’ Marathon mode did not have an Endless option. Apologies! – Pete)

Puyo Puyo Tetris is a game designed to be played against opponents, though, whether those opponents are human or bots. And it’s in the competitive modes where the game truly shines its brightest.

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The simplest way to play is Versus mode, in which each player either plays Puyo Puyo or Tetris as normal, and performing well in each drops appropriate garbage on the other player to make their lives more difficult. In this mode, players who feel like they are particularly strong in one of the two games can focus on what they’re good at without distractions; the way the garbage blocks work seems nicely balanced, despite Tetris being somewhat more fast-paced in comparison to Puyo Puyo, which requires lots of forward planning to excel.

The next step on from this is Swap mode, in which each player has both a Puyo Puyo and a Tetris board, and the game switches back and forth between them at regular intervals. Setting up Tetris line clears or Puyo Puyo chains to go off after the action switches away from the relevant game rewards you with a Swap Combo bonus, and this is your main means of attacking in this mode. It’s a fast-paced, frantic mode, and switching back and forth between Tetris and Puyo Puyo requires a mind that can quickly adapt to new challenges, as well as a good sense of timing to get those Swap Combos.

The ultimate mashup of the two games comes in Fusion mode, where you play both Puyo Puyo and Tetris on the same board. This is initially enormously confusing until you realise that the two games are handled almost completely separately from one another, with a few important exceptions. Most notably, dropping Tetris blocks can crush garbage blocks and fling Puyos up in the air, allowing you to move them vertically after they’ve been locked into place. Combos are also handled a little differently; rather than emphasising pre-planned chains as in standard Puyo Puyo, Fusion mode instead rewards Tetris line clears and Puyo Puyo colour matches performed in rapid succession, with particular emphasis on “Mix Chains” — combinations of both performed one after another. This is a complex but enormously satisfying mode, with things becoming enormously competitive very quickly; the way combos are handled is much more forgiving than in the other modes, so despite having a lot more to think about at once, it’s a mode in which it’s a lot easier to learn to play aggressively.

 

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Party mode offers a variation on Versus mode, in which each player sticks to one of the two games, but a twist is added through power-up items that appear in their respective play areas. Incorporating these into line clears or Puyo matches either benefits you or does something unpleasant to your opponent — and the unpleasant things are a lot more creative than just “drop garbage” this time around. One power-up prevents your opponent from rotating pieces for a few seconds, for example; another forces them to place their next few pieces at the maximum possible drop speed; the most fiendish in my experience are the spotlight, which temporarily completely obscures the play area aside from a moving light beam, and a nasty surprise specifically for Tetris players in which their dropping shapes are temporarily made out of five instead of four blocks.

Arguably the weakest of the multiplayer modes is Big Bang, which is essentially a fast-paced multiplayer take on a “puzzle mode”. Each player is provided with a predefined layout of either Tetriminos or Puyos, and must clear the screen without making any mistakes. If you clear more screens than your opponents, you deal damage to them, and vice-versa. It’s a fast-paced, fun mode, but the trouble is it’s just a bit easy, especially when playing against the computer; a single-player Endurance mode tasks you with surviving as long as possible against an endless string of bot opponents, but they’re all so terrible (and don’t appear to progress in difficulty) that you could potentially be playing this mode for hours. That said, the one key benefit of playing this mode is as a kind of “training” exercise to learn how to spot potential Puyo chains in particular: the predefined layouts are things you could learn how to put together yourself and take full advantage of in the more freeform types of match. This is arguably a better means of getting practical experience with advanced techniques than watching the tutorials, which tend to assume ideal circumstances that very rarely, if ever, exist in a live match.

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Each mode allows you to select from a number of different characters, though this only really has a gameplay effect in the Fusion and Party modes, where each character has different power-ups, pieces and attack patterns. Elsewhere, the difference between characters is purely aesthetic: the characters have peculiar battle cries as they produce chains or multi-line clears, and visual flourishes add to the feeling of the characters competing against one another. It’s all in good fun, however; despite the liberal use of the term “battle” to describe a match between opponents, you get the impression that everyone is enjoying themselves a great deal, and this feeling is rather infectious. It’s also amplified considerably in Adventure mode’s story scenes, where you have the opportunity to get to know each of the characters even better over the course of the cartoonish events of the narrative.

Don’t expect any heartstring-tugging, emotional scenes or great revelations about any of these characters over the course of the story — this game is pure, family-friendly, cartoonish fun through and through — but there’s still plenty of charm and characterisation across the story, the characters’ callouts in battle and their visual presentation. The inclusion of the characters in the overall experience — including both returning favourites from past Puyo Puyo games and new additions to the cast — makes everything feel rather warm, friendly and approachable, which is a pleasingly entertaining contrast with how utterly cutthroat the competition can get when playing against others. But it was ever thus in this kind of game, and Puyo Puyo Tetris is merely carrying on a long and proud tradition of the cutest games being by far the most vicious.

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Puyo Puyo Tetris marks a proud return to form for standalone, premium puzzle games, and should absolutely be part of any self-respecting Switch or PS4 owner’s library. It’s charming, challenging, enormously addictive and incredibly respectful to both its pieces of source material while successfully evolving them both in new and surprising directions.

It is, in short, a wonderful mashup of two already wonderful things, and you should go and buy a copy right now if you haven’t already.


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