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Puyo Puyo Tetris

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: SEGA
Release Date: April 25, 2017 (US), April 28, 2017 (EU)

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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Switch Review - 'Puyo Puyo Tetris'

by Brian Dumlao on May 26, 2017 @ 3:00 a.m. PDT

Two puzzle game juggernauts collide as Tetris and Puyo Puyo have combined to create a fun-to-play, fast-paced, competitive party game like no other!

Buy Puyo Puyo Tetris

Tetris needs almost no introduction. The puzzle game has endured for decades and single-handedly made the Nintendo Game Boy a success. Another classic puzzle game, Puyo Puyo, is a much bigger deal in Japan, but emulation and handheld releases have also given it a cult following in North America. Either game is a fine addition to any platform, but combining them into one title seems like an oddity. As demonstrated by Puyo Puyo Tetris, though, it apparently works very well.

For the few who are unfamiliar with the concept, Tetris is a puzzle game about creating and clearing out lines. Different configurations of blocks that are made up of four smaller connected blocks, also known as Tetriminos, fall from the top of the play area, and it is your job to guide them to the bottom in a way that they create one solid horizontal line. You can rotate the pieces clockwise or counter-clockwise and shift their position, but their movement stops once they hit the very bottom or one part of that Tetrimino hits other Tetriminos in the process. Once a line is created, it disappears, and all of the blocks above it fall to fill in the spaces. Completing lines gets you points, and you score more points if you clear multiple lines either in succession or simultaneously.

Those intimately familiar with the series will be glad to know that no new gameplay mechanics have been added to the vanilla experience, and the old additions still remain. The hold piece option and ghost placement are optional, so you can toggle them on and off, depending on your skill level. The fast drop is available for those who are accustomed to playing fast, which is somewhat of a requirement if you play versus games against skilled players who can give you a slew of garbage blocks.

Puyo Puyo needs some explanation. You're tasked with dropping a duo of multi-colored connected blobs called Puyos from the top of the playfield to the bottom, and you must connect four or more of the same color to make them disappear. Unlike Tetris, the Puyos continue to fall if there's empty space beneath them, so you can have the blue blob stop falling once it hits an obstruction, but the purple blob continues the descent until it also reaches an obstruction. The Puyos don't have to be completely horizontal or vertically lined up to disappear, but they can't connect diagonally. The game doesn't end if a Puyo reaches the top of the screen, unless it touches the area with red X marks.

Whereas speed and quick thinking are the keys to winning a Tetris bout, Puyo Puyo relies heavily on chains and planning. Performing single matches may clear the area or prevent garbage blocks from coming your way, but creating chains where color matches occur in rapid succession is the only way to ensure that you'll send a large pile of garbage to your opponent. It is also your best hope of winning, since some of the elements present in Tetris, like the fast drop and hold section, are absent.

Both core games are relatively untouched, so they remain addictive and fun. Puyo Puyo Tetris' big contribution is a mode called Fusion, which plays mostly like Puyo Puyo but has the additional options of fast drop and hold piece. After dropping lots of Puyos, you're given the chance to drop a few Tetriminos before going back to the Puyos again. You can't combine Tetriminos with Puyos to create lines or matches, but the Tetriminos change the rules of the game significantly.

Once a falling Tetrimino touches a Puyo, it'll squash all of them until it reaches either another Tetrimino or the bottom of the playfield, whichever comes first. You lose control of the falling piece at this point, but you get to control the next piece immediately, which can set you up for chains and combos once all of the pieces fall. Puyos that were squashed return to the playfield on top of the fallen Tetrimino. Keep in mind that this only applies to the regular Puyos; garbage ones disappear once they're squashed. Aside from this mechanic, Fusion adds some other variable pieces, like odd-shaped Puyos, larger ones that can change colors, one- or two-block pieces, and a Tetrimino that can change into a Puyo cluster and back again, permanently taking one form or the other, depending on when it's dropped.

On paper, the mixing of the two puzzle types seems like there would be lots of little things to remember, an issue that's a drawback for any puzzle game trying to gain mainstream acceptance. After all, puzzle titles should be simple to understand but difficult to master. In practice, though, it doesn't take very long for a player to get the basic gist of the mode and understand the nuances. Helpful tutorial videos are included, but if you're going in cold, you'll understand everything by the end of one match.

More importantly, the game mode is just as fun as either of the core games by themselves. Matches last longer due to the various ways that you can save yourself from a loss, but the new mechanics allow you to engage in much smarter play and even fix mistakes. Tetriminos are best used to push up Puyos, so the colored pieces line up better and create matches that would've otherwise not happened. The mode also retains the addictive nature of other puzzle games. Sampled among a small group of other players during this review, just about all of them wanted to go at least one more round, a sure sign that the game mechanics have hit the sweet spot.

The title screen presents the three main puzzle games modes (Puyo Puyo, Tetris and Fusion) front and center, letting you quickly get into a game without much fuss. If you want to delve into the main menu, the game is equipped with plenty of modes for single-player and multiplayer, both split-screen and local wireless varieties. Aside from the standard versus matches, you have Swap, which gives you a set amount of time to play with one game before swapping the playfield to the other game and then repeating the process. Party mode adds items to the mix, so making a match near them is the only way to activate it. Those effects are global, so you can't specifically target an opponent. With automatic drops, a spotlight that only shows your falling piece, an ice block to freeze other pieces and so forth, competitive games can feel even more chaotic. Big Bang is a hyper-fast version that specializes in counting line matches and combos. After the timer ends, the matches and combos are counted, with the excess from one player chipping away at another player's health meter. Finally, Challenge mode represents a true single-player mode, as you're tasked with creating chains within a time limit, clearing lines quickly, or getting a high score in a set time limit. Interestingly, this is also where you'll find an endless version of Puyo Puyo, but there's no equivalent for Tetris.

The best part about these modes is that you get to choose the puzzle game you're most comfortable with instead of having to play the one you like the least. Despite the speed and strategy differences between both games, it balances well by evening the pace at which garbage appears on the other player's side. Bouts feel like they're based on skill with a bit of luck thrown in. You have a number of customization options as your disposal for almost all of the modes, so everything from the look of the pieces to the individual difficulty are here to further level the playing field.

If you're looking for a single-player game with purpose, there's Adventure mode, a 10-world jaunt where each world is split into 10 levels. You're given a story where the characters of Puyo Puyo 20th Anniversary meet up with some original creations of the Tetris world to find out why their worlds are merging. It sounds like a semi-serious story for a puzzle game, but the characters do their best to make it as wonderfully goofy as possible. It also helps that the dialogue can sometimes be silly enough to make it work. From a gameplay perspective, it does a good job of giving you mini-challenges to acclimate yourself with both games and eventually learn the nuances and special tricks for each one. Having said that, the total amount of levels and cut scenes can make it feel like it goes on for a long time, but at least the near-endless amount of unlocks from characters to backgrounds to music tracks makes it feel worthwhile.

Rounding out the package is online play, which has a few features, including the ability to watch replays of other people's games. Ranked play is available, and the stats give you a rating as well as your worldwide and local rankings. Free Play is an unranked mode, and you can play anything that's available offline against other players. Puzzle League is ranked play, and you only have the option to play Swap mode. It should be noted that if you plan on going online, prepare to be creamed. Keep in mind that Switch owners in Japan had this game at launch, and the country had this game on other platforms for close to three years, giving them a massive advantage over North America. You'll still find a good amount of local players, and the online performance is perfect, so your losses can't be blamed on lag.

The presentation is downright bubbly. Colors are bright, and it's easy to tell pieces apart, even when playing in Fusion and seeing Puyos scattered in Tetrimino crevices. The art style matches the hard edges and simple designs of Puyo Puyo, leaning into the cartoon look with effective animations. The sound is equally upbeat, as you'll hear remixes of themes used in both games and provide a balance of relaxing and somewhat frantic vibes without actually causing you to get nervous about things. The voices are also well done, though some will lament that buying voice packs in the store will only lead to alternative sayings for the characters instead of giving you Japanese voices.

Puyo Puyo Tetris is a chaotic puzzle masterpiece. The mechanics of each of the core games remains untouched, so veterans of either one can jump in quickly. The interaction of the two games throughout the various modes blends in so well that the mash-up feels right instead of strange. The modes gives the player plenty to do, and the multiplayer is so expansive that there's bound to be at least one mode that someone will grow fond of. Fusion is where the challenge lies, and the blending of both core experiences into one hybrid mode is done so well that it's bound to get just as much playtime as the vanilla versions of the games it was inspired by. Though it is the only puzzle game on the system now, it is still the gold standard to which future puzzle games on the Switch can aspire. Unless you absolutely hate puzzle games, pick up Puyo Puyo Tetris.

Score: 9.0/10

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