Movie Sleuth Gaming: Puyo Puyo Tetris - Reviewed

Outside of some specific niche titles, it is not commonplace in the modern era for large delays between the Japanese and worldwide game releases. For decades there was a devoted base of fans chomping at the bit to import the newest Japanese titles months before release, and it became a point of pride. Looking to 2017, with digital sales on the rise and extremely risk-averse publishers, most games have worldwide release dates. As a whole I would consider this a good thing, but I think there is some nostalgic novelty that younger gamers have missed out on. Maybe that is old man grousing, but it was certainly an interesting experience that people who didn't get into games until the late 2000s missed out on. These newer trends are exactly why it was such a surprise to the announcement that Puyo Puyo Tetris was making its way to North America after being released in Japan more than two years ago.

Various streamers and game outlets imported the game back in 2014 and they nearly inspired me to do the same. I mostly sate my Tetris needs via Tetris Battle Gaiden for the Super Famicom and the functional, but at times frustrating, Tetris Ultimate that Ubisoft released in 2014. They are all fine and dandy, but the brightly-colored style and Japanese sensibilities of Puyo Puyo Tetris intrigued me, and I was excited to get my hands on it. I’ve wanted access to modern Tetris on the go for some time, and with Puyo Puyo Tetris on the Nintendo Switch I got exactly that. Similarly, those sick of carrying around their Neo Geo Pocket Color can get their Puyo fix on new consoles and on the go as well. The game is great in those respects alone, but the what I discovered was that it was not only great Tetris game for short play sessions and local multiplayer, that also offered an interesting new experience to me in Puyo Puyo.

While I have played a fair amount of Tetris in my days, Puyo Puyo was still something of a mystery to me. It wasn’t the mainstay that Tetris was in the US, and in fact only had a handful of options over the years. I have found Puyo Puyo to be quite challenging and less approachable than tetris, but still fun and rooted in good game design. I think if it was more common in the US from an earlier era I may have a more inherent understanding of it, but I can’t say I spent much time playing Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine or Kirby’s Avalanche all that much as a young person. Similar to other quick puzzle games of the era, it involves matching and stacking to build combos and clear your board. Still haven’t quite grasped most of the the more subtle elements of the gameplay, but after some time with the adventure mode I have a working knowledge that has led my experiences to move away from frustrating and towards fun.

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The Swap mode has players tackle two game boards, swapping every 25 seconds

Unfortunately, Puyo Puyo felt less colorblind friendly than expected for a modern game, as a colorblind individual I had a serious struggle differentiating the blue and purple puyos. Most games, Puyo Puyo included, combats this issue by having symbolic differences between puyos in addition to colors. Unfortunately in this case, the differences in the eye shapes is almost as challenging to identify at a glance as the colors themselves. For the average gamer this is unlikely to be an issue, but being someone with a color impairment I found all modes involving puyos an above-average challenge. Folks with different levels or types of colorblindness may not have an issue, but it is one worth noting and something that I have a lot of experience with. There is a colorblind mode available and I found it helpful, but I still dream of a day where I can play a game like this without fussing with settings.

The story mode is silly and fun, definitely some shades of WarioWare in both its cartoony design and esoteric tone. The story is rooted in some ‘lore’ from the Japanese series, but it felt totally out of nowhere to myself and most American fans. They spent a lot of time and effort recording english voice acting for the story, but wound up with something in the quality of a cheesy kids cartoon. I appreciate this from a production standpoint, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t err on the side needless. There is some story to it, but I mostly just found the story mode an excuse to mix up my play sessions instead of falling into the trap of just playing more Tetris.

The Adventure mode can get a little.. weird.

Puyo Puyo Tetris contains a handful of extra modes, special challenges, and play-styles to keep things interesting. Fusion Mode combines both Tetris pieces and Puyos on the same board. It is an  overwhelming but a neat idea. I found that it was mostly just another Puyo Puyo mode with the occasional tetromino, but I am glad they are stretching to do something interesting. After a few hours with the mode I don't think I really grasped secrets to victory but the gameplay and moment-to-moment action was intense enough to keep my attention.

Puyo Puyo Tetris is simple, robust, and fun. It fills a void in modern game libraries as a much needed injection of more old-style fast competitive puzzle games into the newest console generation. If you are a Tetris lover, it's worth owning just in that respect. If you are looking for something new, Puyo Puyo presents an interesting new challenge. If you come for narrative or a meaningful depth of emotions, you should know by now to look elsewhere, but the story does have its moments. For my money, this budget title is a must have, I look forward to more friendly competition on the couch and sharpening my skills online.


-Justin Wicker