To say I’m excited about Sega localizing Puyo Puyo Tetris for the Switch would be an understatement. This long-running puzzle series has seldom seen release in America, with the last major new game being Puyo Pop Fever for the GameCube back in 2004. Certain other moments of attention for the series, such as its part in the Sega Classics Collection, are welcome, but when they’re compared to how many releases this franchise sees in Japan it’s unfortunately paltry.
Every few years gets a new, milestone connected iteration or a spinoff with a cast of characters that continues to grow. Call it a matter of cultural taste, or poor timing, or any other number of things. Puyo Puyo has just never had a fighting chance stateside; there were even a few instances when its localization was rebranded to star Dr. Robotnik, or even Kirby, in an attempt to make them more accessible or popular. But all that’s set to end, with this colorful cast of characters set to get another chance to shine, and on Nintendo’s newest platform no less!
At the heart of the series is its core puzzle gameplay, where pairs of tiny blobs called Puyos fall onto a playing field to be arranged by the player. While one could theoretically clear them as they fall by matching up colors as soon as possible, Puyo Puyo instead rewards players who carefully arrange their playing field to create chain reactions. These chains happen when a set of Puyos is cleared and gravity takes hold, making the others fall into place again and again.
There’s an innate and exhilarating satisfaction that comes from a planned multi-chain coming together and the game’s sound and visual flair increases this to slot machine levels of sensory feedback in the best of ways. When you manage these larger chains, field obstructing gray Puyos will fall on your opponent’s own field which not only bring them closer to running out of space if they’re not quick, but also can get in the way of their own planned chains. It reads like many other puzzle games on the surface and I won’t pretend to be an expert at this kind of gameplay– but once you see this in action it’s clear that Puyo Puyo is in a league of its own.
Aiding all of this is the game’s stylized cast of characters, who much like Sonic the Hedgehog saw a visual overhaul around the turn of the century. This deliberately cute style might play into what keeps the series from reaching a noticeable level of popularity in America, but it’s a massive hit in Japan. There’s even a free-to-play game called Puyo Puyo Quest for mobile and arcades (yes, a free to play arcade game) centered on leveling and collecting both series mainstays and characters designed solely for these titles, showing just how well the marriage of time-tested gameplay and eye-catching visuals pairs. And it’s definitely time-tested, with characters dating back to the Puyo Puyo games in 1991. While certain characters date back to a separate dungeon crawler RPG series, at this point they’re synonymous with the puzzle games that really made them famous.
Series heroine Arle outranks many of Sega’s other characters in terms of staying power and her mascot-like companion Carbuncle fits right in amongst other simple and cute characters like Kirby, or the also Sega owned Chao, in terms of aesthetic. These two stand at the front of a host of other cuties, oddballs, monsters, and even the Prince of Darkness himself to form an ensemble of recurring faces within Sega’s already respectable lineup of characters. What other series exists where a fashion-minded skeleton, a club-wielding onion, and a four-limbed fish all get to be playable? While PuyoTet’s cast seems to be a greatest hits of the franchise’s more human characters, it’s still a great variety of personalities from over 25 years of Puyo popping history. Getting to see these faces, some of them for the first time in English, has me waiting for any and all Puyo Puyo Tetris footage just so I can see how their localizations are done.
Over the years, the gameplay has had small refinements and tweaks until it found its groove in Puyo Puyo Tsu (the version found in the Sega Classics Collection), with other styles of play and more novel concepts coming in from game to game, some more respected and maintained than others. Of these more come-and-go styles, one that’s stuck around is Fever. Anyone who played Puyo Pop Fever back in the day knows what I’m talking about, with that game being the introduction of the manic feature. Here’s how it works: Once a player fills a meter by clearing Puyos, the field will flip to a preset arrangement that can usually be chain-cleared with a single move. Once it’s cleared, a new arrangement with a new move will come, allowing players to rapidly get chains and matches as long as their reflexes are on point. A clutch Fever can completely turn a match, raining down gray Puyos to the opposing field and giving players a rush of confidence once things flip back to normal. It gives even fresh players a chance to pull off a huge combo, making the game more exciting and accessible from a casual perspective.
Purists have usually been able to turn the feature off or ignore its own, sectioned off mode as well for a more bare bones and competitive match. Puyo Puyo Tetris will be bringing Fever along for the ride, among other modes centered on Puyo playstyles and Tetris traditions. This versatility of play is one aspect of the game I’m most looking forward to, as I can see myself and friends hopping from mode to mode in an almost triathlon-like competition while I focus on the more diluted PuyoTet experience to test myself online.
That’s another reason why I can’t wait for this one: online multiplayer. Sure it’s a standard feature in pretty much any game these days, but this is the first online Puyo Puyo game to get localized. This will make maintaining these puzzle skills more plausible while the Switch’s new “capture” feature can make the eventual sharing of video a possibility. More exposure means more fans means more competition! While nothing beats couch-based local multiplayer for me, competitive games like this thrive on taking on as many opponents as possible to sharpen your skills and learn new techniques. Being able to do this with Puyo Puyo is a dream come true for me and plenty of others, as even if it’s not as immediately recognizable as the “Tetris” in the title I’ll be picking this one up for the Puyo love alone.
So there you go: the many reasons why I’m thankful to Sega for giving this one a chance. The original Puyo Puyo Tetris came out in 2014 and has continuously been at the top of my Japan-only title must buy list. I even live in Japan and I literally check game stores to see what price it’s running at on a regular basis, with the only thing having held me back is the faintest possibility of a localization due to the Tetris connection. My hopes were rewarded, and with it coming to Switch it’s even better. Keep an eye out for this one and you might just catch the Fever, too.
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