Originally released in Japan in 2014, Puyo Puyo Tetris comes to the West as part of the Nintendo Switch’s second wave of releases. It’s also available on Playstation 4, but being a puzzle game it’s an obvious and natural fit for a device that offers handheld play. It also supports my inclination to play games and watch TV at the same time, which is no bad thing.
Puyo Puyo Tetris is a mash-up of two addictive and long-running puzzle games, that much is obvious. But it also tells the thrilling, and occasionally touching – no, seriously – story of friends, Amitie, Arle, and Tee. Together they must overcome various perils by harnessing the ‘yes we can’ powers of Tetriminos and Puyos. With sparky dialogue, and charming characters, Puyo Puyo Tetris’ story touches upon the timely subjects of displacement and friendship, themes that resonate in today’s social and political climate… erm, or something like that. It’s truly bizarre, and by far the oddest narrative I have ever experienced in a video game, never mind a puzzle game.
The whole thing is really just a shaggy dog story to guide the player through a series of challenges, and provide tutoring on how to play Tetris, then Puyo Puyo, and finally, both, at the same time.
Although the crazy story betrays the game’s Japanese origin, Puyo Puyo Tetris seems particularly skewed towards the Western market. Knowledge of how Tetris works is pretty much assumed, but the game’s Puyo Puyo aspects benefit from a more protracted and detailed tutorial that gradually explains the game’s idiosyncrasies. And I’m glad it does, because despite initial appearances, Puyo Puyo requires a completely different mind-set to the Russian standard. Whereas Tetris taps into my innate instinct to tidy away and compartmentalise, Puyo Puyo is much more about forward planning, and visualising emerging patterns and possibilities.
Puyo Puyo Tetris features quick play versions of both games, but once the extensive Adventure mode is completed you’ll find yourself spending most time in the Solo Arcade. There are six distinct modes offered up, with additional gameplay variations of each.
Versus offers the purest experience, with each player free to pick their preferred puzzle flavour. Fusion creates a chaotic mix of Tetris and Puyo Puyo on the same board. Party throws in various items and power-ups to aid in the pursuit of a high score. Big Bang is focused on clearing boards of specific Tetrimono or Puyo patterns against the clock, and Challenge features six further variants, including tiny-Puyo and endless modes.
My favourite, however, is Swap Mode, in which Tetris and Puyo Puyo boards alternate at regular intervals. Managing the two games at once is a mind bending challenge, requiring speed of thought and concentration. As you tackle one, you need to keep as many lobes as you can spare focused on the other, so you’re ready to respond when it comes back into play.
It’s a heart pounding experience made all the more intense by the game’s relentlessly cheery visual and audio design. Puyo Puyo Tetris is as loud as it is colourful, with not so subtle remixes of familiar tunes, ear piercing sound effects, and spoken dialogue snippets that affirm every successful move with a shrill yelp.
As well as offering up a comprehensive single player experience, the game also offers a number of local and online multi-player modes. However, a word of warning: although finding an online game is easy enough, winning one is something else entirely, with many opponents evidently experienced in high level play.
It may be a cute game, but it can also be brutal. Fortunately, you can also improve your skills by viewing recordings of other online matches. It’s a useful way to educate yourself with some of Puyo Puyo’s lesser known techniques
So, there’s a lot to like, but there are some caveats. Although not a full priced game, the eShop price of £34.99/$29.99 is definitely on the expensive side. That said, the digital version is absolutely the way to go, it being the perfect game to have stored on the Switch and ready to play whenever you have a few minutes to kill.
There’s also a downside to the game’s high production values. If you ever played Tetris to relax and wind down, you’ll find it hard to do so with this game’s continual assault on the senses. The constant chatter, and the relentless enthusiasm eventually becomes wearing – at least to this tired old man – and you’ll yearn for the dim screen of a Game Boy. The game’s use of HD Rumble also plays a part. Like Fast RMX, its force is so strong that I thought my wrist might fracture at any moment.
I don’t want to be too negative, though. These are nitpicks in a game that you’ll easily spend five hours playing just to complete the Adventure Mode, and following that you can look forward to countless more as you master the generous selection of other modes.