Puyo Puyo: The Come Up
After decades of western inactivity, Puyo Puyo games are dropping one after the other. How do they stack up?
When it rains, it pours, huh? There was a time in the not-too-distant past where the mere thought of Sega localizing another Puyo Puyo game seemed utterly hopeless: while the series maintained a broad audience and massive merchandising clout in Japan, none of the sporadic attempts to reintroduce this arcade puzzle staple to western audience had any lasting impact, and many feared that the last window of opportunity had been sealed shut by the rise of hyper-monetized casual puzzle games. The audience had moved on and the publisher had given up, and so must we. Oh well.
Come 2020, things are looking very different. Thanks in no small part to a timely and surprisingly successful collaboration with Tetris, the Puyo Puyo series has managed to ascend from a place of nigh-irrelevance to one of modest popularity. More and more people recognize the name, know the rules, know the tactics. Tournaments and meetups assemble at fighting game events and conventions without anyone batting an eye. The characters — the characters! — have gained a profile and audience all their own; the Cranky Food Friends days are behind us. There's plenty of room to grow, but it's a nice place to be.
Most immediately, there are a hell of a lot of Puyo Puyo games floating around at the moment: the old, the new, the timeless and the ones inserted into Yakuza games to annoy trophy-hunters. To the uninitiated, a Puyo's a Puyo's a Puyo and that's that, but something tells me a lot of people are going to be looking at these games with a more curious or discriminating eye in the near future, so I've provided a breakdown of the strengths and weaknesses of each of the Puyo Puyo games currently circulating on modern platforms so that you might best choose whichever version suits your interests, or just to help people spot the difference.
Unfortunately, I haven't been able to ascertain which version will give you the edge when Arle comes to Smash, but I'm sure it'll be obvious once she's announced. Enjoy!
Puyo Puyo Tetris (Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PC)
This unexpected falling-block mashup immediately became a cult import item upon its release in Japan in 2014; buoyed by this unanticipated demand and eager to capitalize on the impending release of the Nintendo Switch, Sega ended the decade-plus series drought and released Puyo Puyo Tetris worldwide in 2017, thereby re-establishing the Puyo Puyo franchise overseas in a big way and supplying one of the sleeper hits of the Switch launch window. Who knew a co-sign from the world's most popular puzzle game would carry so much sway?
- Variety! Puyo Puyo Tetris offers a substantial number of multiplayer and solo modes for both puzzle types that range from the traditional to the ridiculous, so whether you want something to sink your teeth into, relax with or just mess around with a few friends, you'll be able to find something to enjoy right away. Moreover, the hybrid modes, be they the game-switching Swap mode, the chimeric Fusion mode or just straight Puyo vs. Tetris, aren't just throwaway novelties — combining both games feels more natural than one might presume, and the Swap mode in particular is an ingenious inclusion and quite possible the finest alt-mode ever produced for a Puyo Puyo game.
- Story! The popularity of Puyo Puyo's poppy and unabashedly silly characters has played no small part in maintaining the series' longevity in Japan, and PPT's story mode will give you the most substantial introduction to the world and tone of Puyo Puyo of any of the games in this list, offering a surprisingly lengthy story mode with full English voice acting, should that interest you. (The PC version features dual audio; the Switch and PS4 versions are English-only.)
- Players!: This is the game with the most owners and the most active players, particularly on Switch, so your chances of finding online games on a whim are generally going to be higher than with other games (with some caveats...)
- It's Tetris! You like Tetris, right? Of course you do, so in the event that you don't gel with Puyo Puyo at all, you'll be left with a perfectly fun and versatile version of Tetris that offers the traditional local and online multiplayer modes that other current versions of Tetris happen to lack.
- It's Tetris... Ultimately, most players are more familiar and therefore more comfortable playing Tetris, so if you do get bitten by the Puyo Puyo bug you're going to have to wade through a ton of Tetris players between straight Puyo matches, and you'll soon learn that Puyo vs. Tetris games of a certain skill level are unambiguously weighted in the Tetris player's favor, so repping Puyo can be a frustrating experience.
- The matchmaking ain't great: Whether you like it or not, this game is going to regularly match you with players way outside of your skill level, and on the platforms with fewer players that'll invariably mean being matched against veteran players who are probably going to wipe the floor with you.
Puyo Puyo Champions (Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)
Released in Japan as Puyo Puyo eSports, this version of the game is a bare-essentials package tailored around competitive play and ease of supply for grassroots tournaments, for which there is substantial and sustained demand; in the rest of the world, it's called Puyo Puyo Champions and it's aimed at people who don't want to pay retail price for a puzzle game, I guess.
- Tried-and-true competitive modes: Champions' two rule sets are based on Puyo Puyo 2 and Puyo Puyo Fever; they're the rules people like and the ones serious players have requested for a while, and they're replicated quite accurately.
- Lesson mode! Champions is the first modern localized Puyo Puyo game to feature a substantial amount of in-game content designed to introduce players to commonly-applied strategies and advanced techniques, so you won't necessarily have to rely on external resources or being ground to dust online in order to up your skill. (If you already own Champions and didn't notice the lesson mode, check to make sure you're running the latest version.)
- Improved matchmaking: It's still far from perfect but Champions' online rating system isn't the complete coinflip offered by Puyo Puyo Tetris and it'll make a genuine effort to match you with players around your level before dumping you with the killers.
- Value! Champions is budget-priced and is routinely on sale or available for free as part of one promotion or another — I believe it's just a few bucks right now, as it happens.
- Lean, multiplayer-focused package: By design, Puyo Puyo Champions has an economic suite of single-player options and next to no real character-centric content; it was designed as a nexus for more serious or competitive-minded players and as an affordable point of entry for newcomers, but if simply playing the puzzle game isn't enough to sustain your interest, you needn't bother with this version.
- Modest player base: Again, matchmaking features can only work if there's a substantial player base to draw from at any given time, but depending on your chosen platform and other circumstances like time of day or sales/free-to-play weekends bringing in new players, you may have no choice but to play against the maniacs. (The ratio isn't as lopsided as with PPT but again, when it comes to average player base, the Switch tends to be the place to be.)
Sega Ages Puyo Puyo (Nintendo Switch)
While this 1992 arcade release wasn't strictly the first Puyo Puyo game — it was preceded by a primordial, little-played MSX and Famicom Disk System version, released by developer Compile in 1991 — it was the first one to find mainstream success and the game that established the series' focus on versus play, silly characters and AI battles, so it's fun to look back at where the series found its footing and how much has or hasn't changed in almost 30 years
- Deja vu! If you grew up with any of the overseas reskins like Kirby's Avalanche or Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, you're sure to get a kick out of playing the source material and noticing what changed and what didn't, at least for a little while.
- The elusive English ROM: Sega Ages Puyo Puyo includes both the original Japanese-language arcade version and a second English-language ROM that they're not sure was ever officially released; the English version contains some really silly voice clips and other odd localization quirks that were never adopted elsewhere, so it's an interesting curio and a glimpse at what a genuine English Puyo Puyo adaptation may have looked like back in the day.
- It's a little undercooked: OG Puyo Puyo is by no means an unfun game but the seemingly small additions and rule tweaks introduced in the sequel made for a dramatically more strategic game, so it's harder to enjoy the original in the face of the alternatives.
- The netcode sucks: What can I say? There's a lot of lag. Sega really ought to fix this.
Sega Ages Puyo Puyo 2 (Nintendo Switch)
The first arcade game was an undisputed hit but Puyo Puyo 2's popularity in Japan was legendary, with the game going toe-to-toe with the likes of Street Fighter 2 for arcade dominance and with tournaments still running to this day; much of that explosive popularity can be attributed to some small but very smart system changes, including the "margin time" rule which causes the power of attacks to escalate as time goes on, as well as the very important "offset" rule which allows players to cancel incoming garbage with their own chains, thereby adding a whole new layer of baiting, defending and counterattacking to a system that was previously fairly linear. (The Sega Ages version literally just came out in Japan — as always, it's already equipped with English text, so import it if you like or wait a few weeks for the official overseas version.)
- It's a classic: The massive popularity of Puyo Puyo 2 fundamentally and permanently determined the design and format of arcade puzzle games from Tetris down and established a mechanical template for the series that has been augmented or complemented but never bettered. Puyo Puyo 2 is canon, it's for the children, it's forever. (It's also had almost zero presence in the west for its entire existence, so archival releases like this one are doubly welcome.)
- It's the genuine article: While later games include more modes and features and many also offer respectable facsimiles of PP2's mechanics and rules, there's no replacing the original game — just as Ultra Street Fighter II and Super Mario All-Stars didn't obsolete Super Turbo and SMB, there's no obsolescing the arcade version of PP2.
- Sega Ages! As always, the Sega Ages makeover adds a few thoughtful game-specific features that add to the accessibility of the game: there's a new extra-easy setting for the CPU AI, a very generous single-player rewind option, a sequential vs. COM mode that lets you fight all the characters without dealing with the arcade tower's stringent score requirements and, perhaps most usefully, a color settings menu that lets you alter the color and shape of each puyo and add dimming/transparency to the stage backgrounds for the sake of visual acuity or combating color blindness.
- Minimal characterization: One of the few criticisms of arcade PP2 is that there's little to no character interaction or dialog, and while this was remedied in most future ports, the arcade version remains as it always was. (The Sega Ages release adds a translated character profile screen, which is something, I suppose.)
- Netcode, maybe? The developers insist they've improved the online experience over Sega Ages Puyo Puyo and while I'm hopeful, I can't currently offer an evaluation either way. (I'd love to make an educated guess based on the netcode of the recent Sega Ages version of Columns 2 but I don't think a single person has or ever will play Columns 2 online.)
Super Puyo Puyo 2 (Nintendo Switch via Nintendo Switch Online)
The addition of Super Nintendo games to Nintendo's paid online subscription came with one left-field inclusion: Super Puyo Puyo 2, the Super Famicom conversion of Puyo Puyo 2 and currently the only import game available on NSO. One has to wonder why Sega would release a free version of a game they'd already announced they'd be selling on the same hardware in the near future, or why Nintendo didn't opt for their own Super Puyo Puyo reskin, Kirby's Avalanche, over an untranslated Super Famicom game, but believe me, I'm not complaining.
- Extra bells and whistles: The "Super" conversion of PP2 has a few new features over the arcade and Mega Drive versions, including OG Puyo-style comedic character intros, an additional truncated single-player ladder for newcomers, arranged music and the series' first-ever 4-player mode... but more on that down below.
- The NSO emulator: Rewind is a default feature for NSO NES/SNES games but it's something Puyo Puyo games have only offered intermittently in specific circumstances, so having it available here in a more generalized fashion is an extremely useful tool for practicing and learning chains, and it's something new and future Puyo games ought to regularly include.
- It's free(ish): If you're subscribed to Nintendo Switch Online then you already have easy access to Super Puyo Puyo 2, so why do you even need to weigh this up?
- The NSO emulator... Putting aside the quality of the online experience or lack thereof, the NSO SNES emulator doesn't seem to replicate multitap functionality, rendering Super Puyo Puyo 2's biggest new feature completely unplayable via this reissue.
- It's untranslated: Of all the Super Famicom games to dump on NSO without a translation, SPP2 is by far one of the least burdensome to play in Japanese, but it may still take you a little trial-and-error to figure out what all the menus and options do. (It also diminishes the value of the comedy skits if you can't read them, but that can't really be helped. Know this: the boss of the easy ladder, upon being confronted, lets out a hearty OH SHIT!)
- It's not SPP2 Remix: Compile's budget re-release came just a few months after the original and included some minor but nonetheless valuable tweaks, like an expert single-player ladder and the ability to play the 4-player mode against CPU without a multitap; it's a straight upgrade over the version available on NSO and one has to wonder why it wasn't offered over the vanilla version.
Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine (Sega Mega Drive/Genesis Classics collection for consoles & PC, Mega Drive Mini)
Sega's first real attempt to break Puyo Puyo overseas saw them strip out Compile's characters and replace them with an extremely tenuous assortment of characters from the Sonic the Hedgehog omniverse — a sound marketing tactic on paper, but seeing as Sega didn't release another Puyo Puyo game outside of Japan for another nine years after Mean Bean Machine, one has to presume it didn't take.
- Nostalgia! Of the many official and unofficial Puyo Puyo adaptations proliferated during the early '90s, Mean Bean Machine seems to be the one most people played and the one they're most comfortable with, so perhaps this version and only version will scratch some long-dormant itch that other versions can't reach.
- Robotnik & co.: The designs for Dr. Robotnik and his henchmen were taken specifically from the pilot episode Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon, and I guarantee you won't be seeing any of those goobers again anytime soon.
- Ubiquity! Sega's dumped this game in damn near every Genesis- and Sonic-related collection, so there's a good chance you own a copy without even realizing it.
- It's based on OG Puyo: Again, by no means is it a bad game but it lacks certain features that made future games deeper and more interesting, so it's a hard game to come to after playing PP2 or beyond. (Kirby's Avalanche is also based on OG Puyo Puyo, incidentally, despite being released late enough that it could feasibly have been a conversion of PP2 instead.)
- That Robotnik design is so corny Tell me I'm wrong, internet.