By Jaime Skelton (MissyS), Editor-in-Chief
I was never an arcade kid. Growing up poor, I was lucky enough to have a console or computer to game with, but my father was always making sure I had video games in my life. While I had plenty of experience with Tetris (and more with Dr. Mario), Puyo Puyo was something I didn’t encounter until my college days, when I had the luxury of haunting nickelcades on the weekends. Still, I wasn’t daunted when I installed Puyo Puyo Tetris. How hard can it be to learn a puzzle arcade game?
The sacchirine, cheerful, bright welcome screen of Puyo Puyo Tetris betrayed me. The game is everything it should be: energetic, easy to play, true to its two founding titles while expanding into the modern gaming society of online multiplayer. Yet every time I played, I ended up walking away a little more bruised in my ego than before.
Falling From The Sky
Statistically, you probably know what Tetris or Puyo Puyo are if you’re reading this review, but let’s not discriminate. Tetris is a classic puzzle video game, in which blocks (tetriminos) fall from the top of the screen into a rectangular playing field. These pieces can be moved and rotated before they are finally placed at the bottom of the field, stacking on top of each other. The goal is to keep the board from filling up (causing a game over) by clearing full lines filled with tetriminos. Puyo Puyo is a similar puzzle video game, in which blobs (puyos) fall from the top of the screen; however, they must be cleared by grouping those of similar colors in groups of four or more.
Of course, if both these games were just that simple, they’d not have captured gamers’ attention for decades. Both games feature multi-player modes, in which clearing lines on your side sends ‘garbage’ to the other side – a tactical ambush which can harry your opponent to the brink of defeat. Over the years, the franchises have continued to develop, adding various challenge modes and small improvements that keep the spirit of the original games in tact.
Luckily, Puyo Puyo Tetris comes with a series of tutorials on both Tetris and Puyo Puyo if you’ve never played, or are just rusty. A third tutorial for Puyo Tetris Fusion is also available. This mode has puyos and tetriminos falling into the same field, with their respective clear requirements; however, the mode also benefits from Tetris’ ability to “hold” a block, as well as the ability of tetriminos to smash puyos below them.
These tutorials are pretty fair and great for beginners, but they are also slow and lack interactivity. “Hands on” learning would fair much better for these games, especially as Puyo Puyo requires a pattern-building mindset that isn’t taught as well as it could be. Those experienced in Puyo Puyo might agree with me that teaching the 3-1 Stairs pattern first may be traditional, yet fails to compensate for other building patterns necessary when a puyo falls that doesn’t fit the mold.
Let’s Go on an Adventure!
Puyo Puyo Tetris offers multiple modes, starting with the single player story campaign “Adventure.” Adventure is an alternation of story cut-scenes and specific game challenges, spread out over the course of multiple acts and stages. Each stage also has a three star ranking as often found in modern mobile puzzle games, encouraging players to ‘master’ the stage by reaching three stars.
The story itself revolves around two casts of characters: Ringo and friends, who come from the Puyo Puyo World, and Captain Tee and friends, who come from the Tetris World. Someone out there, meanwhile, wants to see these two worlds merge into one – causing puyos and tetriminos to appear in other worlds! How will our crazy cast of heroes solve such a dilemma?
By having Puyo Puyo and Tetris battles, of course! In the early stages, players are challenged to simple Tetris or Puyo Puyo versus battles. Later stages will begin to complicate things by having Puyo vs. Tetris battles, Swap battles (in which players have two boards, one for each game, that swap out every 30 seconds), Big Bang challenge modes (pictured above), and more.
Eventually players will face the titular Puyo Tetris Fusion mode (also known as PuyoTet). As mentioned earlier, this mode features both puyos and tetriminos in an interesting blend of mechanics. Either style of block can fall onto the board, and each style of block must be cleared under its original conditions – that is, tetriminos must be cleared by forming a complete row, while puyos must be cleared by forming groups of 4+ in the same color. Some blocks will also fall which alternate between tetriminos and puyos, and only ‘lock’ into one form once they have fully fallen into place. Additionally, there are single and double tetrimino blocks, which make it easier for them to be placed and fill gaps.
This game mode borrows more heavily from the Tetris side of things. It features the Tetris “Hold” mechanic, which allows one game piece to be held indefinitely for later use. Tetrimino pieces can also be used to smash puyos below it. This causes the tetrimino to fall ‘through’ the puyos, pushing them off the board and falling to rest below them. It also causes the puyos to fall on top of the tetriminos from the top once the block is locked into place. This can cause some clever use of tetriminos to chain puyos, and can also be used to clear garbage puyos (no garbage tetris blocks are used).
Overall it’s a fun story. The music, voice acting, and general cut-scene style reminded me heavily of Hyperdimension Neptunia. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, particularly considering the voice talent for Puyo Puyo Tetris is phenomenal and includes the talents of Cassandra Lee Morris, Christine Marie Cabanos, Max Mittleman, and more voices that have been heard in the Persona series, Danganronpa series, Fire Emblem, and other stellar video game titles.
I Get Knocked Down, and I Get Up Again
Of course, while Puyo Puyo Tetris also features a single player arcade mode, the real draw for most players is in multiplayer modes. The game offers both local multiplayer and online multiplayer. Local multiplayer can be found in “Multiplayer Arcade,” and this allows you to face off with frenemies at home, school, or office in many of the game’s modes, from Versus and Big Bang to Fusion and Swap.
Online Mode, however, allows you to play against others worldwide. “Free Play” allows you to join or host a match of any game type you like, without affecting your ranking – just for fun. “Watch Replays” allows you to watch the highest ranked replays of matches, uploaded by players through the game’s own replay save feature. These replays can be sped up or paused just like any video, and can be a great learning tool for those wanting to up their game.
And then there’s the Puzzle League, the competitive, ranked online multiplayer mode. From my experience, almost all online play was to be found here – few if any matches were ever found in Free Play. The mode allows players to filter the modes available, but seemed to default to Versus mode whenever I played. When in Versus, you can choose to play with Puyos or Tetris – and after learning the hard way just how complicated Puyo Puyo can be, I of course stuck with Tetris.
Unfortunately, the game’s matchmaking system is lacking. As you can see in the above screenshot, I was frequently matched off against players far beyond my meager skill level and newbie ranking. I was matched twice in a row with this player in particular, who certainly did assassinate me quickly. This meant, of course, that my ranking continued to drop. I expected it would – I am far from good at competitive Puyo Puyo or Tetris – but I at least expected I’d have a fair fight. And while some matches seemed to play swiftly, others, like my matches against this Assassin, had frequent lag which caused the game to simply hang constantly while it caught up with the action.
The PC Transition
“But wait!” a few of you might be crying, “Puyo Puyo Tetris has been out for years!” That is indeed true. Puyo Puyo Tetris was originally released in 2014 in Japan on consoles and handhelds, and only made it to North America and the EU in April 2017. It was only last month that the title made its way onto Windows for the first time in a global release.
The game itself has not changed really in its PC release, and outside of the lag – which sounds to be more of an issue in the PC version, based on community feedback – the only criticism must be in the mouse and keyboard controls. The mouse itself is sensitive, which can be great for gamers, but it does not work without also using keyboard controls (for instance, fast drop must use the space bar). Meanwhile the keyboard controls use Z, X, C, V or the arrow keys, plus shift, control, and space. The keyboard controls are the least sensitive and can be good for beginners or those with fat fingers who hit fast drop too often, but they’re awkward on the hands. As much as I tried to tolerate them, I ended up back on a controller every time.
The End of the Line: Great (4/5)
There’s no denying that Puyo Puyo Tetris is a great game. It offers a variety of modes and challenges for all styles of player, including the new Puyo Tetris Fusion mode, while staying true to its source material. It’s vividly built, a perfectly modern rendition of both games that continues the franchises harmoniously.
That said, there were three key flaws I found. The first was the lack of a true ‘beginner friendly’ mode or tutorial. The tutorials were several minutes long, and lacked any interactivity or way to speed them up, and tutorial matches would have gone father in teaching the game skills and basics. The second was two-fold in the Puzzle League, a combination of a poor matchmaking system that seemed to ignore ranking in favor of finding a match and the intermittent lag that caused games to stall for seconds at a time. The third was in the controls for mouse and keyboard, which were generally awkward and lacked the kind of one-handed support controllers have.
Despite these flaws, if you’re a fan of either games – or both – and haven’t yet gotten a copy of Puyo Puyo Tetris on another platform, it’s worth picking up for $20 on Steam. However, the competitive community seems like it will continue to lean away from the PC release due to the lag and controller issues; if ranked play is your jam, you might want to look to the console releases from 2017 for better community support.
And if you ever find me struggling to master the art of Puyo Puyo, you’re welcome to laugh.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.
Puyo Puyo Tetris Screenshots