Puyo Puyo Tetris – Review
Puyo Puyo Tetris is the moment that I discovered that I have been playing Tetris wrong my entire life.
In my original dabblings with Tetris (occurring in the back seat of a station wagon on a long cross-country adventure from California to Texas), the premise seemed simple – clear lines of blocks as frequently as possible to ensure that you do not inadvertently build a gargantuan tower that obstructs your view and erases your entire existence. So my natural inclination was to make sure that I maintained momentum and cleared one line at a time to keep the tide at bay.
Puyo Puyo Tetris decided that the best way to coerce that horrible assumption out of my head was to have a bear in a lab coat drop random blocks in my delightfully-crisp Tetris window. Apparently, these are “garbage” blocks. I could not agree more; what absolute garbage.
Admittedly, I am partly to blame for this, as I chose to mess around with some of the Solo Arcade features of the game before I delved into the story mode. Doubling back to some of the helpful (read: straddling a fine line to patronising) tutorials cleared up some of my misconceptions. This is where I discovered the strength of the game resides in dramatic flourish; clearing multiple lines of Tetriminoes or multiple formations of Puyo reaps greater rewards to you and greater punishment to your opponent.
You need to accept that, no matter where you go in the game, you will be battling another player. It could be the AI, or the friend holding another Joy Con, or a friend many towns away. Aiding this battle context is the utilisation of playable avatars – characters that have been present in the Puyo Puyo series for many years, and others developed specifically for Puyo Puyo Tetris. As a bonus, the avatars’ interactions with each other drown out whatever nasty words you or your friends are actually muttering to each other. The mix of brutal strategy, wrapped in saccharine graphics and voice acting, makes it a snug fit for the Nintendo Switch as the console tries to cater to a gaming future filled with short bursts of intense concentration in a family-friendly environment. I could see how some players may tire of the upbeat dialogue and remixed Tetris theme (How did they harmonise this into C Major – arguably the friendliest key signature in Western music?!).
Versus mode aside, the other game modes add variations to the battle premise. Big Bang provides players with a health meter that acts as a “timer” to clear puzzles as quickly as possible and have your score converted into damage points against your opponent. Party adds items that either buff you or mess around your opponent (the thinking man’s Mario Kart 8). The one most advertised in promotion is Swap – a mode that gives you a Puyo board and a Tetris board, and thirty-second bursts to clear as many lines as possible before swapping to the other board. This one is the most fast-paced, the most stressful, and the most fun to fail in the company of others.
The story mode has seven chapters, each containing ten stages that have you either battling an opponent or occasionally completing a solo challenge. This has a very “Captain Toad” feel to it, as each stage vies for your attention to clear additional achievements and honour your completionist tendencies. Leaving my mention of the story mode to the end is quite intentional – you could grab a quick stage here and there to begin, but after that, you could happily frolic to the other game modes without feeling like you have missed much. Scrolling text with voiceover (rather than animated cut scenes) make it a bit of a chore to get through – it is the one aspect of the game that feels a little too forced, but is also easy to overlook or avoid and still feel as if you have your money’s worth.
I guess that is where some people were really unsatisfied with Puyo Puyo Tetris – it felt like a very high price point just to play a game that Western kids have been playing (cheaply) in one form or another for a couple of decades. The only reason why I cannot continue to support that argument is because this game is so well polished. This is a game that just feels complete in its provision of options to players, and taking up any of the game modes against any foe warrants the price tag. I can pick it up invaluable minutes of spare time, play in friendly bouts with others, or be seriously engaged and strategic – either on a large screen or on a tablet. It does not feel as if anyone is significantly disadvantaged in how they choose to approach Puyo Puyo Tetris, and that is something that I haven’t said about many games recently that have tried to balance the solo/co-op/online experience.