Puyo Puyo Tetris Review
Multiplayer puzzle gaming at its finest
It’s difficult to imagine a game being repackaged and tweaked ad nauseam for decades without losing its luster; even the classic and timeless puzzle game of Tetris. Yet Sega has largely managed to tap into the magic that makes this addictive little game so appealing, just as countless others have attempted with mixed results. Not only this, but they’ve also coupled the game with their own hit puzzle franchise, Puyo Puyo, creating a puzzle gaming concoction of enjoyment. And while this charming Japanese blob-based game isn’t quite as enduring as its blocky Russian counterpart, it adds an immense dose of content and rounds out a solid pick-up-and-play puzzle experience. Puyo Puyo Tetris might be the most fun you’ve ever had fitting blocks together and matching colored blobs.
You can choose to jump right into a quick marathon session of Tetris, or a first-to-three matchup of either Puyo Puyo or Fusion. Normal VS mode, as you’d probably expect, proves to be the most barebones, but still provides its share of intensity. Tetris is, well - it’s the same old Tetris the vast majority of gamers already know. It requires simply that you piece together blocks to eliminate rows, trying to do so in as quick and effective manner as possible. The concept of Puyo is a little more difficult to grasp, but clear cut once you get the hang of it. Your objective is to simply match four of the same colored blobs together. Where things get interesting, however, is the behavior of the Puyos. Multicolored Puyos enable higher points through chains, as eliminating one color with cause the remaining blob to drop and clear others that match its color. With some creative thinking the some planning then, you can strategically place groups of two or three of the same color, and trigger chain reactions which can net you massive doses of points from these combos. Just like in Tetris, you’ll need to juggle speed with efficiency along with a high frequency of chains, not just for racking up your score, but to use as ammunition to fire at your opponents in the form of rising rows of grey Tetris blocks or the obstructing grey Puyos.
The third option in the quick-start menu, Fusion, combines the two games into a hodgepodge of puzzle hybrid insanity. The game throws both Tetris blocks and Puyos at you, which you must work with and sift through at once in order to eliminate pieces through various methods. Unlike the standalone games, which simply call for the elimination of rows of tiles, or clusters of four Puyos, this hybrid mode is a bit harder to wrap your head around at first and demands entirely new strategies. However, it becomes more straightforward once you’ve played around with this strange clash of gameplay styles and its obscure dynamics.
Proceeding onto the main menu, you’ll find right from the outset that this game is absolutely brimming with content. Among these options are both solo and multiplayer arcade, which allow for an immense variety of different gameplay modes and styles for up to four players. You’ve got a traditional VS mode, Swap mode - which throws phases of both Tetris and Puyo Puyo at you during one session, as well as the aforementioned Fusion mode. Swap mode comes to the forefront as one of the game’s strong points. Swapping between Tetris and Puyo Puyo gives the game a quicker sense of pacing and keeps things feeling fresh. It also adds a new dimension of challenge, as you must force your brain to constantly switch gears. In the midst of juggling between the two games, the screen of your previous game will remain active until the piece has finished dropping. This means the actions of your previous game can sometimes lead to eliminations and combos which you can compound with during your current game. It certainly competes with Fusion for most befuddling game type, at least at the outset. The default timing of the swapping between modes is a bit too swift for my liking, but, like many other elements, it can be tweaked quickly in the settings screen. Overall it stands out as one of the Puyo Puyo Tetris’ main attractions, as it gives you a relatively equal dose of both of the solid games it has to offer.
There is also the entertaining and colorful Party mode, in which players compete for the highest score within a given time limit while using items to rain hell on their unsuspecting opponents. These items are triggered by eliminating pieces that touch them, and range from abnormally shaped Tetris pieces, to “searchlights” that hinder your vision, as well as a rapid-paced fall speed. They exist essentially to disrupt your opponent’s performance in various ways, and can easily lead to slip ups as you try to sidestep these random elements, adding an interesting new dynamic to the game. They don’t quite appear to have a major effect on the AI, who seem to brush off assaults of them rather easily, but against real opponents, they usually prove effective, and make for some amusingly chaotic moments.
You’ve also got the odd but entertaining Big Bang mode, which starts you right off with patterns of preset Puyos or Tetris blocks that are essentially set up to maximize your scoring. Once you’ve cleared these patterns, your cumulative score will translate into firepower, which will be flung at your opponent’s screen, whittling down their life bar until they are defeated. While this was a bit strange to get use to, there was something uniquely fun about the ambiguous nature of this one, making for an exciting finish as players often can’t tell who has the upper hand until the very end.
Additionally, Challenge Mode in the single player menu comes with yet another palette of game types to fool around with. These run the gamut from surviving through endless waves, to trying to clear pieces within a given time limit. The Challenge games mainly stress notching high scores, which make them all the more enticing to return to in order to try and top your previous run. A highlight for me here was Tiny Puyo, in which an endless stream of miniature Puyo trickle from above, allowing you to have some fun with eliminating several pieces and potentially trigger some epic combos.
Most of these modes come with various levels of customization as well. Many can be played as a best of three vs an opponent, or as an ‘endurance,’ which allows you to take out as many opponents in one run as possible. You can choose to play one game while an opponent plays another. You can tweak the number of players, the amount of wins required per match, and even utilize or restrict the ability to hold a block or Puyo off to the side until the time is right to unleash it. This is a an interesting feature as it grants the option to maximize the efficiency of your Tetris or Puyo elimination tactics, though I found it quite easy to neglect, and largely unnecessary. You can even toy around with the aesthetics - which include a colorful and cartoony palette of different backgrounds, characters that act as your avatar during a match, Puyo/Tetris graphics that range from the retro to the obscure (billiard Tetris blocks, anyone?), along with an endless list of whimsical background music. The level of customization top to bottom is simply vast and helps to counterbalance the relative simplicity of the core gameplay elements.
Somewhat less notable, but still worth running through, is the game’s “Adventure” mode. It really isn’t much more than a series of single and multiplayer scenarios of Puyo and Tetris thrown together as a campaign mode. Still, there are ample moments of fun to be had within it, and it acts as a sort of stable linear core amidst an overwhelming smorgasbord of game modes scattered about. The stages are woven together by some basic cutscenes wrought with unnecessarily drawn out banter between a variety of characters. They don’t serve much of a purpose other than to give the game a touch of character and a “narrative” in the most simplistic definition of the term, but they can provide some occasional amusement when you want to slow things down a bit from the constant Puyo and Tetris grind. The campaign does a nice job of easing you into the various types of gameplay and showing you the ropes without feeling like a glorified tutorial. It also offers some incentive to return even after completion, as you can earn one to three stars depending on performance and achieving various objectives.
While the campaign demonstrates the fundamentals and game types, the online feature showcases just how fun and enduring the multiplayer functionality of Puyo Puyo Tetris can be. In this mode, you can jump right into a friend’s room, or try Free Play, which allows you to either pick a pre-crafted lobby or set up your with a multitude of options. These lobbies were oddly barren in my experience, which is a shame as this is the only mode in which you can pinpoint which type of game you want to play. Thankfully, there is also the Puzzle League option, which does a stellar job of throwing you right into a match with an online opponent, though unfortunately the match types are random. You are rewarded in victory through a ranking as well as credits which can be put towards in-game purchases. You are even given the option to save your replays online and watch others', which can appease both the showoffs as well as those to want to learn some techniques from other showoffs. Watching some of the top Puyo and Tetris players go at it really is a sight to behold.
The game’s controls are as solid and as varied as the gameplay. Several control styles are at your disposal to toy around with, which all but guarantees there will be a control scheme you will find comfortable. The only weakness that I can really speak of is the sensitive nature of the Switch’s joystick sometimes being difficult to use as a means of shifting around Tetris blocks. It doesn’t quite feel as tight, and there were moments during some fast-paced showdowns where I had accidentally used the fast drop feature rather than hitting right or left. Of course, a player using both joycons rectifies this, since you can utilize the far more precise directional buttons to move blocks. Though, when sharing one set of joycons and forced to engage in quick and precise maneuvers using a dinky joystick, this can occasionally become problematic.
The visuals and animations are simple but nonetheless manage to be visually appealing. Some crisp and colorful graphics populate the menus as well as the gameplay itself, taking on a cutesy anime vibe throughout. As mentioned, you can take advantage of a plethora of blocks and Puyo styles to keep things feeling fresh on the aesthetic front. It’s worth noting in addition, that you can visit a shop in the options menu and buy even more visual styles for your Tetris blocks or Puyos, in addition to some extra voice packs for your characters. The soundtrack doesn’t particularly stand out, but it comes with a vast selection of some upbeat and charming melodies, including a new rendition of the familiar Tetris theme. The diverse cast of cartoony characters offer some amusing voice tracks; not just during the campaign cut scenes, but they’ll also bark various lines during the gameplay when just about anything of significance happens. This is charming at first, though grows a bit old, especially when half of their remarks seem inaudible amidst the constant pummeling of the game’s sound effects.
Overall, Sega has put together an absolutely solid package of two very enduring puzzle games, each with endless variants, gameplay scenarios, and an array of visual styles to keep you playing. The juxtaposition of the gameplay styles of both titles help make for a well-rounded puzzle experience. You have Tetris with its fast pace, yet more relaxed and simplistic gameplay, and Puyo Puyo favoring a strategic but slower paced experience. The core gameplay of both however, proves easy to play, but tough to master, allowing its appeal to reach a large audience. This isn’t the type of game to sit down for marathon sessions, but with its wealth of content and pick-up-and-play nature, it’s a title that will likely still hold up long after you’ve burned through your copy of Zelda.