My family is a bit of a split-puzzle household—I’m a longtime fan of Puyo Puyo, while my wife is more of a Tetris player—so when Puyo Puyo Tetris came out in Japan in 2014, I made it my mission to pick up a copy on my next visit to the country. It was an incredibly curious attempt by Sega to bring two legendary puzzle games together into one, and at the time, I swore it’d never make it over to these shores.
Well, Puyo Puyo Tetris has indeed come our way—albeit only on two of the seven platforms it’s been released for. While there’s pretty much no video game that needs an introduction less than Alexey Pajitnov’s block-dropping challenge of speed and skill, Puyo Puyo is far lesser known to Westerners thanks to scattered English releases and varying branding. (Early games were reworked into Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine on Genesis and Kirby’s Avalanche on Super NES, while some later games were retitled Puyo Pop.) Puyo Puyo is a similar concept to some other puzzle games—pairs of colored icons drop down, and matching four or more together make them disappear—but Compile’s series has always stood out thanks to a combination of well-crafted gameplay, an impressive level of multiplayer competitiveness, and a cast of colorful characters.
Both Tetris and Puyo Puyo build themselves around the “simple yet deep” concept, and that’s part of why the bringing of both games together in Puyo Puyo Tetris works as well as it does. This idea working wasn’t a foregone conclusion—sure, they’re both puzzle games, but they play very differently—yet there’s a nice level of balance that comes out of the meeting. Tetris tends to allow for faster gameplay while offering up smaller payoff; Puyo Puyo is more complicated to set up your strategies, but can result in chains that throw far more garbage blocks at your opponent in the end.
The default play style in Puyo Puyo Tetris is simple—two to four players face off, and each can pick whether they want to play Puyo Puyo or Tetris—and that balance keeps things fair for everyone no matter who picks which. Of course, these days, that alone wouldn’t be enough for a release like this, so Sonic Team has included a number of other modes as well. Either solo or with opponents, you’ll be able to pick from Fusion (both types of pieces fall onto the same playfield), Swap (you’ll play both types of games at once, swapping back and forth between each), Party (items that cause different effects to appear as you compete for the highest score), and Big Bang (pre-set patterns are continually offered up, and if you can clear them without messing up, you’ll earn points to damage your opponents). Meanwhile, when playing on your own, you’ll have access to the Challenge mode, which gives you Endless Fever, Endless Puyo, and Tiny Puyo for Puyo Puyo, and Sprint, Marathon, and Ultra for Tetris.
The standard Versus mode is highly enjoyable—no matter if you’re playing a combination of the two games or simply concentrating on either one—and Challenge is a nice way to mix things up for yourself, but the other modes are hit and miss. Swap is easily the best, as the pressure of switching back and forth and having to keep track of both playfields mentally provides for some frantic yet fun action. Big Bang will probably end up being the most mixed in opinions, but I honestly liked it, especially as it helps train your mind on possible strategies and techniques. Party, on the other hand, I came away luke-warm on, while Fusion is just a gigantic mess. I understand the desire to directly combine Puyo Puyo and Tetris in a game called Puyo Puyo Tetris, but it simply doesn’t work.
For any of us with a competitive spirit, both Puyo Puyo and Tetris are at their best when played against others, and Puyo Puyo Tetris supports multiplayer both locally and online. When in the same room, up to four players can either connect together with their own Switches, or up to four Joy-Cons can be linked to the same Switch for playing on the small screen or a television. Herein lies the biggest problem with Puyo Puyo Tetris on Nintendo’s latest console: quick and easy multiplayer anywhere is such a perfect feature to have, but the Joy-Cons absolutely fail the game. Analog sticks of any type are simply not precise enough for two games requiring minute piece placement, while the SL and SR buttons are a nightmare to hit while trying to hold your controller steady to have that accuracy. If you delve into the options, you can change around the configuration to use the buttons for movement and analog stick for rotating/dropping; it works much better, but get ready for some serious retraining of your brain, and don’t expect more casual players to be able to use that set-up. (Meanwhile, when using both Joy-Cons together, those d-pad replacement buttons are a godsend.) If you’re on the PlayStation 4 instead, you’ll obviously have less options for playing anywhere, but with four DualShock 4s, you’ll no doubt end up with the far better “serious play” experience.
If online is more your style, Puyo Puyo Tetris has a nice selection of features. If you’re hungry to crush foes under falling Tetriminos/Puyo, Puzzle League gives you ranked matches where your Rating and Regional/Worldwide leaderboard placements will rise or fall depending on your success (or failure). As per usual, playing ranked games doesn’t offer up much in the way of options beyond quick match, but you can thankfully set filters for which mode types you do—or don’t—want to play, along with opponent connection strength. If you want to keep things a little friendlier, Free Play lets you set up public or private rooms with customized rulesets, and you can even lock your room to either Puyo Puyo or Tetris. Finally, there’s a built-in system for saving, watching, or downloading replays, and while that may seem like a strange idea for a puzzle game, trust me, it’s not. Whenever you get totally trounced by an opponent, take my advice: save the reply, and watch their field instead of your own to learn from them. In my time playing online both pre- and post-launch, I got the chance to go against players from the U.S., Japan, and Europe, and everything seemed to go perfectly fine on my end throughout.
Puzzle games live or die on their core gameplay, so the “fluff” that’s added beyond is typically just that to me—fluff. Puyo Puyo Tetris has a single-player adventure where you’ll meet the cast of the game while going through a variety of trials or versus face-offs. If you’re the kind of person that likes that kind of stuff—like those out there who demand that fighting games have arcade modes—it dutifully serves its purpose. In terms of the actual narrative, however, outside of a few legitimately charming moments here and there, the back-and-forth conversational cutscenes felt like textual vomit. Nothing these characters are saying matters in the slightest most of the time, and like some other Japanese-developed games, you’d swear the writers were getting paid by the word given how much unnecessary chitchat there is. (Continuing down the Sega/Atlus path of sharing-hating stupidity, Sega of Japan doesn’t want you to spoil the Adventure mode in this game by streaming it—which makes me laugh and laugh.) The characters as well just held little charm for me, a far cry from the earlier days of Puyo Puyo when I looked forward to all of the between-match skits and cast interactions featuring Arle and crew. When you look at games such as those, or Tetris DS with its lovingly-integrated Nintendo elements, Puyo Puyo Tetris feels like a hugely wasted opportunity tossed aside for more continuation of the annoying anime-ification of Puyo Puyo. Also, it really would have been nice to have had the Japanese voices as an option, if for no other reason than the Puyo Puyo attack call-outs sound to strange to me in perfect English.
Again, though, those things are of little consequence in the long run for a puzzle game that’s focused on being a puzzle game, and neither Tetris nor Puyo Puyo have been tainted here. A few of its modes may not click, and I wish there had been a higher level of imagination in its modes and personality, but Puyo Puyo Tetris is strong where it needs to be, offering enough to do both solo or multiplayer to make you want to keep this release around for years to come. I’m really glad this game is finally getting its chance here in the West, and if nothing else, maybe tagging along with Tetris will get Puyo Puyo more of the recognition that it deserves.
Puyo Puyo Tetris seemed like an unexpected crossover when it first hit Japan in 2014, and it still does now that it’s come to the West. And yet, the idea has come together wonderfully, providing a release that has a lot to offer for fans of either game or simply the puzzle genre in general.
E10+ - Everyone 10+
|Puyo Puyo Tetris is available on PS4 and Switch. Primary version played was for PS4. Product was provided by Sega for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.
Mollie got her start in games media via the crazy world of gaming fanzines, and now works at EGM with the goal of covering all of the weird Japanese and niche releases that nobody else on staff cares about. She’s active in the gaming community on a personal level, and an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming, consumer rights, and good UI. Check her out on Twitter and Mastodon.