Puyo Puyo Tetris Xbox One Review
The advent of digital downloads, combined with easy to setup multi-region accounts, means I have not felt the urge to import a game in years. If something niche pops up, there is usually now an easy way to get your hands on it. If all else fails, with some patience, a kind publisher should bring even the nichest of games to your chosen region at some point. Life always finds a way. Thinking back, it has been almost 10 years since I looked to the import scene to nab a game – with Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan (a Japanese DS exclusive), the last import I made that comes to mind.
In late 2014 I broke that streak, choosing to import Puyo Puyo Tetris after been severely disappointed by Ubisoft’s recent attempt at the franchise – Tetris Ultimate. That game felt incredibly stale and lifeless. It was Tetris locked up in a bleak, non distinct, hospital-like setting. It existed, and worked (kind of), but it felt cold and devoid of fun. It should not be possible to break Tetris, but Ubisoft almost did, so I had to look elsewhere.
Puyo Puyo Tetris certainly cannot be labeled stale. It is bursting at the seams with personality right from the get go – with even the trademark “SEGAAAA” intro screen getting a remix to sound even livelier. Before progressing further, it is worth highlighting most of the game – including its menus – are almost entirely presented in Japanese (with only sparse English words and soundbites used throughout). Panic may set in for some when faced with walls of unfamiliar text, but after just 10 minutes poking in the menus, I had some idea where most things were – although I did not know what anything was called. If you’d rather not blindly flail in the menus, I found the kind folk at PuyoNexus have a thoughtful article with almost all the menus translated. It’s a great help, but ruins some of the magic I was creating in my own head making up names for things.
I am pretty sure everyone knows what Tetris is, so I won’t be writing about how this section of gameplay works. You don’t need my help. You really should know by now! Maybe you are not familiar with Puyo Puyo though, so let’s talk about that some. Maybe you don’t know that you know it! Have you heard of Puyo Pop, Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, Kirby Avalanche, or Kirby’s Ghost Trap? All of these are games in the same franchise – and a lot are just the exact same game with slight changes and regional branding.
Regardless of their name, they all play in similar fashion. Two colour blobs fall from the top of the screen, and you move and rotate the blobs to stack them at the bottom. If four or more similar coloured blobs touch, they disappear. You’ll get points for your hard work, feel good about yourself, and continue. You may then look to set off chain reactions with multiple blobs, and feel even better. However, unlike the Tetris tetrominoes, Puyo Puyo’s blobs will fall into empty spaces if one is available underneath.
In truth, both Puyo Puyo and Tetris share many similar traits, but are also unique in their own ways. Puyo Puyo Tetris takes advantage of the eccentricities of both games with great aplomb, resulting in something magical.
With both the Puyo Puyo and Tetris ideals merged into one, Puyo Puyo Tetris offers many unique and exciting gameplay modes. In its simplest form, Puyo Puyo Tetris allows players to battle each other in games of Puyo Puyo and/or Tetris. The person who plays best can then toss junk pieces on top of their rival, making life harder. There is nothing revolutionary about that, but even though this is the most basic the game can get, playing these modes are still entertaining.
The game modes start to get more zany as you dig down. Another sees one player playing Puyo Puyo as the other plays Tetris. Like the more basic game, junk gets tossed to the other player for good play. As far as I can tell, the game seems well balanced to keep things fair (even though two totally separate games with unique rulesets are going up against each other). Another mode adds items into the fray, affecting opponents pieces in various ways – by not letting them spin, or turning the lights off on their board, making it harder to place pieces. Further down the rabbit hole is Swap mode, where both players play Puyo Puyo and Tetris alternately, with the boards swapping in and out mid-game (and sometimes mid drop), each time a timer counts down to zero. This mode can be quite hard to wrap your head around, as jumping between the line creation ruleset of Tetris, and the Match 4 of Puyo Puyo can be quite confusing.
Regardless of the chosen mode, there is always some craziness happening on screen. Good play means characters will continually shout some weird phrases, paired with similarly nonsensical on screen animations. There is a fish that shouts TETORISU everytime four lines are created – I thought I should highlight that important fact. If Sega were to ever localize the game for the West, I am not sure all the bombasticness would make it over intact. The fact the game does not play in my native language adds a lot to its stylings, and I think some of that appeal would be lost if I understood everything that was going on.
The ultimate head trip on offer is Puyo-Tetris mode. I am not even sure how to explain this, so look at this screenshot…
Puyo-Tetris mode combines both Puyo Puyo and Tetris into one brand new game, but tries to keep the ideals of both alive. Trying to understand the rules of this mode severely messed with my head – and I am not sure I fully understand it yet. In the mode, both types of pieces can, and will drop. The goal is still to create lines with Tetriminos, and match 4 with the blobs, but Tetris pieces can fall through the Puyo Puyo blobs (meaning blobs will always sit atop Tetriminos). Trying to quickly parse what each piece will do can be confusing. When playing either Puyo Puyo or Tetris separately, my mind instinctively has some idea what to do with each piece I get. But in Puyo-Tetris mode every new piece that drops makes me panic and freak out. I am sure I will learn to understand this mode in time, and even though I struggle to be successful at it right now, I still adore it’s inclusion in the game
Lastly, the game has an Adventure Mode – allowing Single Player vs CPU play. This is also the place where I have the least understanding of what’s happening in the world of Puyo Puyo Tetris. In this mode, the game tries to tell a story – introducing its long list of characters. I am sure the story told here is ludicrous, as there is a fish, a dog, and at times, a robot on screen (along with a whole bunch of Japanese text), but I cannot be sure. The Japanese text may be saying very serious things, and teaching me the meaning of life, but you cannot have those three things on screen if you want to be serious. So I instead choose to believe this mode is a mad fever dream. A fish, a dog, and a robot instantly makes things funny when added to it in my head. Incidentally, this review is now hilarious, as I have chosen to mention a fish, a dog, and a robot in it. You should be laughing.
I really love the nostalgia hit of going back to give classic falling block puzzlers another go years after release. I have copies of Lumines (11 years old), Wetrix (now 17 years old), and a copy of the Game Boy Tetris (a 26 year old game), ready to pull out of storage if ever the feeling takes me. Puyo Puyo Tetris is not only a fantastic modern day take on the genre, but I dare say it has everything needed to become a classic I will enjoy years down the line.
At the time of writing, the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game are not available digitally, and there does not seem to be a plan afoot to make them available either. Crucially, these two are the versions you really want, as they come with DLC ready to go on the disc. The handheld and last gen versions don’t have this option. Furthermore, with Ubisoft in charge of the Tetris license outside Japan, it is likely this game will never see the light of day on US or Euro shores due to messy corporate issues too complex to get my head around.
Ultimately, if you are at all interested in puzzle games – particularly one that is fun as hell with two or more players – then Puyo Puyo Tetris should appeal to you. It is a fantastic game that is well worth importing – even if, like me, you have not done so in quite a long time.