Many years ago, I spent a number of summer afternoons in the Rich’s department store near my family’s seasonal cottage as my parents shopped at various places within the encompassing plaza. Although that spot has since been replaced by a Walmart and the electronics department is no longer in the same area, I still have vivid memories of heading straight for the retail Game Boy unit and playing “Tetris” until my neck was sore. Of course, I wouldn’t consider myself a world-class player by any stretch. However, I’m still quite capable of building a solid well and chaining back-to-back Tetrises in a flash.
By contrast, I have absolutely no exposure to the world of “Puyo Puyo.” The franchise, which is a spin-off to the RPG “Madou Monogatari,” never really flourished outside of Japan except through anonymous rebrandings such as “Kirby’s Avalanche” and “Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine.” As a result, I was curious to learn about its mechanics and see how well they could mesh with the familiar gameplay of “Tetris.”
Enter “Puyo Puyo Tetris,” a crossover which blends concepts from both games together through assorted modes supporting up to 4 players simultaneously. Having debuted in Japan back in 2014, the title released worldwide on the Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch in April. In theory, the idea should appeal to the casual crowd while presenting some unique challenges for accomplished veterans. But can it deliver in practice?
You wanna battle? You must be crazy!
With a heavy focus placed on battling, it should come as no surprise that “Puyo Puyo Tetris” puts a great deal of emphasis on both local and online multiplayer. Fortunately, there’s a plethora of rule sets and customizations that range from basic (such as head-to-head Tetris) to complex (like a hybrid mixture of Puyo Puyo and Tetris).
The simplest form is aptly titled Versus. Players choose between either Puyo Puyo or Tetris then play their respective game accordingly. Attacks are triggered in standard fashion (either by clearing horizontal lines in Tetris or popping blobs in connected groups of four or more in Puyo Puyo) and can be leveraged more effectively with combos (in Tetris) or chains (in Puyo Puyo). Players are eliminated as their boards overfill and the last one standing is the winner.
Swap is similar but slightly more complicated. At the beginning of the match, players start with either Puyo Puyo or Tetris based on a random coin flip. After a finite amount of time, everyone changes to the opposite game. Player technically have two boards, so this process repeats until each’s active board overfills. As with Versus, the last one standing is the winner.
Fusion is definitely the most intriguing but arguably the hardest to understand. In this mode, Puyo Puyo and Tetris are actually played on the same board. Tetriminos (that is, the pieces in Tetris) are very important here as they can be pushed to the bottom regardless of where blobs are positioned (they are pushed to the top) and garbage pieces (which are crushed and disappear in the process). Additionally, line clears and blob chains can be combined within short intervals to launch devastating attacks towards the opposition. Once again, players are eliminated once they run out of space and the last one standing is the winner.
Switching gears, Party is a wilder variation of Versus where the goal shifts to obtaining the highest score within a fixed time period. The wildcard is that each player’s board always contains a power-up piece that can be activated either by clearing one of the Tetris rows it’s occupying or by popping an adjacent Puyo Puyo blob. Power-ups include bonuses that can help a player or disturbances that can throw off other players. Although overflowing the board does not eliminate a player or disqualify them from the match, doing so does grant extra points to all other players.
Finally, Big Bang is essentially a test of speed and competence as you try to clear numerous preset boards. When selecting Tetris, this begins with a single shape and multiple rows containing holes that can be filled with different rotations of that shape before expanding to a larger subset of pieces and more intricate board textures. When selecting Puyo Puyo, you only get one chance to chain each board once you lock a pair of blobs that triggers any popping. After a set period of time, the player that generates the most garbage damages the others relative to how they performed in comparison. The winner is determined once all but one have sustained the maximum amount of damage.
Besides local and online multiplayer, each of these modes can be played individually with 1-3 computer opponents. On top of that, there’s an endurance option that allows for endless head-to-head competition against the computer until you’re eliminated. In this scenario, a new computer player cycles in whenever the prior one is defeated, but you retain your board(s) indefinitely. It’s also worth noting that all of these permutations support teams except endurance, so you can create any configuration of teams with up to 4 people so long as there are at least 2 teams active.
These modes are generally what I consider the heart of the game and where I believe it really shines. Obviously, multiplayer with actual people is preferred and I’d argue that local action is better than jumping online. The integration with the Joy-Cons on the Nintendo Switch version in particular is superb and really makes playing with others very easy and accessible.
My one minor critique here would be that Fusion feels less like a union between Puyo Puyo and Tetris and more like playing both games separately on the same board. It might have been interesting, for example, if you could use blobs and tetriminos of the same color to pop Puyo Puyo groups somehow. But I could also imagine potential nightmares where certain logistics could make things too convoluted, so perhaps this is the best that could be done from an implementation perspective.
Adventure mode: A puzzle in itself
Aside from everything described so far, there’s an adventure mode which details the worlds of Puyo Puyo and Tetris as well as how they ended up merging together. When Ringo and her friends notice tetriminos falling from the sky, they use the power of Puyo Puyo to transport to the Spaceship Tetra. Confused and scared, they are introduced to Captain Tee and the members of his crew (who, in turn, teach them the ways of Tetris). After getting acquainted, the groups join forces to track down who is responsible for bridging the two worlds and causing massive disruption.
Despite going into this with an open mind, I was still disappointed with how this mode turned out. For starters, the reason behind why either of these franchises need a story is lost on me. I suppose the origins of the Puyo Puyo universe would explain why the characters themselves exist. Of course, they would certainly make sense given the context of the parent franchise. That being said, I thought that the majority were annoying or didn’t bring anything substantial to the table. Suketoudara and Lemres were some of the lone exceptions. Maybe it could be due to localization, but the charm was definitely lacking more often than not. Also, the approach of tying every interaction to a battle is mediocre at best. For example, how does battling solve the problem of getting a panicking dog to calm down? The concept simply doesn’t work here in most instances. Last but not least, the use of individual trials in between acts that contain dialogue seemed to serve no meaningful purpose. Alternatively, I felt this entire mode could have been reworked as a challenge mode. This would have cut down on the unnecessary aspects while providing a more straightforward and streamlined experience that engages players in the proper manner.
But wait, there’s…more?
Speaking of challenges, there’s a set of special solo modes that collectively make up the challenge section. Without elaborating too much, these include Endless Puyo (which is basically just single-player Puyo Puyo), Tiny Puyo (similar but with smaller blobs), Endless Fever (preset Puyo chains with a fixed time limit), Marathon (150 lines of Tetris or optionally endless until the board overflows), Sprint (a 40 line speedrun), and Ultra (an all-you-can-clear 3 minute affair). While it’s great to have these options to choose from, I think they’re probably misclassified. Ideally, I would have liked for them to be batched together into a more general ‘Solo’ group while all of the multiplayer modes would go into an approximately named ‘Battle’ category. These changes would allow for the aforementioned rebranding of the adventure mode which, in turn, would ensure that the focus lies strictly on the gameplay and not any miscellaneous distractions.
One last feature that I do want to acknowledge is the inclusion of various lessons pertaining to Puyo Puyo, Tetris, and Fusion. The tutorials are broken down by levels – beginner, advanced, and expert. While the Tetris exercises were not as helpful to me personally, I can easily recognize how valuable they might be for someone unfamiliar with the game. On the other hand, I found the Puyo Puyo and Fusion instructions to be much more applicable. When it came to Fusion in particular, I was able to learn some techniques that were not immediately apparent simply by playing. As trivial as they may seem, I would definitely recommend them before diving into anything else.
Negligible flaws hardly detract from a fantastic collaboration
When all is said and done, most of my gripes with “Puyo Puyo Tetris” have minimal impact on what is otherwise a well produced combination of two classics in the puzzle genre. The game is arguably the best iteration of Tetris I’ve ever played as well as a solid introduction to Puyo Puyo. Although some of the solo offerings may have missed the mark and the Fusion mode can be difficult to comprehend, the multiplayer fun is unmatched and the replay value is seemingly endless.