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Review: Puyo Puyo Tetris (Switch)

Recently, my time has been devoted to two games on the Nintendo Switch: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Puyo Puyo Tetris. I’ve stated my praises for Nintendo’s premium port of an already fascinating entry in the long-running racing series, so it’s only fair that I also shine the spotlight on the puzzle crossover that’s also been eating up my hours. This hybrid was previously released a few years ago on the Wii U, 3DS, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, and Xbox One…in Japan.

I hadn’t been much of a Puyo Puyo fanatic, but I love me some Tetris, so I was curious about the title ever since I heard about its release overseas. It seemed so weird to me, and I mean that in a good way; I wanted to play it and see what this strange Japan-only game could offer. Fast-forward to now, and I’m in possession of a localized copy of the game for my shiny new Nintendo console. Who would’ve thunk?

 

Story

One thing that immediately stuck out for me was the cast of characters Puyo Puyo Tetris has in store. After all the modern Tetris releases I’ve seen that lacked any sort of real soul to suit its signature gameplay, it’s a breath of fresh air to finally play a new one with a sense of charm. But why are there characters in the first place? Well, each entry in the Puyo Puyo series has a story to tell…for better or for worse. In Puyo Puyo Tetris‘s case, there is an “Adventure” mode that has its own tale taking place over a series of levels that take advantage of the different gameplay modes in the title. If I were you, though, I would just skip the cutscenes and go straight to the gameplay.

I understand this is a localized version of a Japanese game, but man does it show! It’s like if a Saturday morning cartoon was rewritten at the last minute for making too much sense. The plot itself is thin and kind of lacking in actual conflict; a group of individuals (representative of Tetris, apparently) in a spaceship find themselves in another dimension (Puyo Puyo), and those from that dimension try to help get them back to where they came from. I’d be more annoyed with the cliched premise – that didn’t even need to exist since Tetris never has any of its own characters to begin with – if it weren’t for the massive amounts of nonsense that occurs throughout the story. Here’s a short list of moments that come to mind:

  1. At the very beginning, the game’s protagonist, Ringo, suddenly wishes for her friends to fall out of the sky.
  2. There’s a person in her school that looks like a talking bear, and he makes strange expressions when he’s excited. None of this is explained.
  3. For whatever reason, some of the characters like to point out the “ridiculously tight jumpsuit” one of the characters apparently wears.
  4. The “Dark Prince” is shown to be a pansy that only exists to be a pansy. Why is he called “Dark Prince”?
  5. There’s a character that solely exists to spout innuendos. This is a puzzle game rated E10+.
  6. In space, there’s a talking fish creature who does nothing but make awful fish puns. He bears no relevance to the plot and is quickly forgotten.
  7. Tetris/Puyo Puyo battles are used for anything but actual fighting. In some cases, they even serve as therapy!
  8. Two of the crew members on the spaceship are an annoyed girl and a robot. The girl sees the robot as her dad. Make that of what you will, because the game certainly won’t analyze it.

Yeah, it’s safe to say I’m not a fan of the writing. Maybe it made more sense before it was brought to Western territories? Either way, it’s a puzzle game, and it doesn’t matter in the long run. I just feel that if there had to be a story at all, it could just be something simple without spiraling into something so chaotic.

Graphics

That said, I think the characters themselves have potential. Not only do the characters have distinctive personalities, but the visual designs they sport are colorful and memorable. Puyo Puyo Tetris in general has a playful use of color and detail that I haven’t seen from a Tetris title since the Nintendo DS days. There’s only so much a puzzle game could offer in the graphics department, but the game does what it can to deliver an enticing atmosphere. Poppy backgrounds, stimulating effects, and the aforementioned memorable characters make for a fun-looking and inviting game.

Audio

On one hand, I think the voice actors do a good job of suiting their respective characters; it’s clear they had fun in spite of the painful Adventure mode script. On the other hand, I kind of miss the unintentional hilarity the Japanese actors bring to the table (“Loooooove Tetris!”), making me yearn for a language select option. There are a handful of music tracks that play in-game – one for each gameplay mode – but they are fairly catchy and don’t necessarily get tiring even after many play sessions. Of course, the best part of the sound department is how the sound effects always click. From the soft plops of the “puyo” to the clearings of Tetris waves, Puyo Puyo Tetris don’t disappoint.

Gameplay

Who doesn’t know Tetris by this point? You stack up distinctly shaped blocks and create rows to eliminate said blocks. Tetris has been on literally every game device known to man, and its Switch debut doesn’t throw a wrench into its winning formula. What it does throw into it is Puyo Puyo. Then again, it’s probably the other way around since this is a main installment in that series. In that case, the last time Puyo Puyo was ever seen outside of Japan was with the release of Puyo Pop Fever for the Gamecube and DS. If you’ve played any releases of Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine or Kirby’s Avalanche, though, you may know how Puyo Puyo works.

In Puyo Puyo, the goal is not to clear lines; rather, players connect colored “puyo” together. If four of the same color connect, they pop. Since Puyo Puyo is a competitive series, however, the idea is to create chain reactions from connecting “puyo” together in strategic fashions. The chains would result in “garbage puyo” dropping into the opponent’s window. The “garbage puyo” cannot be used for the player’s benefit, and can only disappear if it touches a line of four being cleared away. There’s a bit more of a learning curve to puzzle-solving with Puyo Puyo than there is with Tetris, but the results are just as gratifying.

Due to the competitive nature, there’s a bigger emphasis on versus play than in typical Tetris entries. There are still solo marathon modes for Puyo Puyo and Tetris, but they are bare in comparison to the modes found in the main menu. I imagine they are selectable from the title screen for warm-up purposes. The Adventure mode can also feel like practice (especially during the very easy trial levels), but it offers enough variety to be fun in its own right. It’s also good for dipping your toes into the batch of gameplay modes.

There are five modes of play. There’s the ability to battle with either Puyo Puyo or Tetris skills, a mode that adds power-ups into the mix, a mode where both games swap around for a period of time, a mode where both games are literally fused together within the same window, and a mode where players have to continuously clear “puyo”/blocks as fast as possible. All of them play greatly (although that last one does leave little room for error), and things are bound to get real intense if both players bring their “A” game. Don’t have anyone to play with you locally? Take your prowess online!

And this is why I’ve gotten almost as addicted as I have been with Mario Kart. Like Nintendo’s flagship racer, the online multiplayer randomizes the gameplay modes to keep sessions from getting repetitive. Given the genre these games hail from, it’s hard to not experience the Tetris effect all over again!

Verdict

Overall, Puyo Puyo Tetris is a remarkably solid release that I’m glad to see make it out of Japan. The story may have been absolutely bonkers and nonsensical, but just about everything else makes up for it. Besides, it’s a puzzle game; puzzle games can be addicting, especially when Puyo Puyo and Tetris are those games in question. Definitely pick it up if you are a fan of either series.

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