Video Games Review: Puyo Puyo Tetris (Switch, 2017)

Hoo boy. This review is gonna be all over the place. It’s going to be this way because this game, even as a concept, is all over the place.

You would think that, given that Tetris is already the most grueling activity a person can engage in, interrupting it with a quick round of the colour-matcher Puyo Puyo would be as if someone was doing you a huge favour. In practice, it feels like even more work.

Puyo Puyo Tetris is a cut-and-dry pitch from the marketing team if I’ve ever seen one. You can almost hear the line of thinking that lead to its creation.

“What if, instead of releasing them separately we just put Puyo Puyo and Tetris together in the one game!

“You mean, combine them in some way that would call for a radical and perhaps much-needed rethinking of two of the longest-running and most-beloved puzzle games in existence?”

“I was just gonna say ‘package them as a single game, call it a value add and let’s knock off early today,’ but your idea seems good too.”

And so, for reasons that are never made totally clear, an entire cast of who I believe are Puyo Puyo characters duke it out against a cast of Tetris characters I am certain did not previously exist, through time, space and several different game modes to solve the mystery of their clashing video game properties. They literally wrote a whole story to justify this game when simply having Tetris on the box does that for them.

The good news is that the Tetris formula remains unchanged since the excellent The New Tetris on the Nintendo 64. Tetris is, in my opinion at least, about as close as it gets to a perfect game.  This version of Tetris moves at a lightning pace which keeps your mind active and a bead of stress sweat constantly poised to run down your forehead and into your eyes. Even at over 30 years old, Tetris retains a language all its own, a complex web of shapes created by a total of only several different blocks. You begin to dream in blocky line art, solving line after line. It infects your mind, breaks you down and rebuilds a better, smarter you.

Puyo Puyo, on the other hand, just isn’t as much fun. At least in my opinion. This Puyo salt could be the result of playing through the story mode, which jumps you from Tetris to Puyo and back as it moves from scenario to scenario. All I wanted to play was Tetris and the game would make me endure round after round of Puyo before letting me go back, so much so I began to resent the little coloured blobs before me.

Puyo Puyo is a colour matching game. Joining four or more like-coloured blobs together removes them from the board, encouraging the player to set up and pay off chain reactions to rack up huge score multipliers. Mechanically, I mean, it’s fine and there’s a reason that the Puyo Puyo series has had such a long life. It’s genuinely satisfying to get a huge cascade rolling and watch it clear three-quarters of your screen.

The thing about Puyo Puyo Tetris as a complete product is that, despite the long, convoluted single player campaign, it has really been built with competitive multiplayer in mind. This is made clear in the single player mode, which functions as a showroom for each of Puyo Puyo Tetris‘ various new game modes.

There is one mode the single player introduces called Swap. Swap mode jumps you between two concurrent games of Tetris and Puyo Puyo every ten seconds. Being able to play both well when the timer is so short feels like a herculean mental task. Every swap required total cognitive reframing. If that sounds like it might do your head in, another mode called Fusion goes a step further by combining Tetris and Puyo Puyo pieces on the same damned board. This mode in particular never quite gelled for me. Every game got away from me really quickly and my board would quickly fill with junk.

Another area where its easy to tell that Puyo Puyo Tetris was designed specifically for multiplayer is that, when playing solo, your Tetris or Puyo board only takes up a small amount of the left hand side of your screen. There’s acres of screen real estate going unused where players 2, 3 and 4 would appear if they were to join a game. I reviewed this title on the Switch and, while not that big of an issue when the console is in TV mode, in Handheld mode it makes the game rather difficult to see. Playing this in Tabletop mode with four people, I don’t know how we’re all be expected to see our respective boards clearly.

I want to be clear — I really love the game of Tetris as it is represented here. You’ll never hear me turn down the chance to have Tetris on any device I own, especially a device I can take with me. Even on the Puyo Puyo side of things, the game is put together extremely well. It’s when the game tries, or worse forces, an overlap that things start to unravel. I do wonder if perhaps the melding of Tetris and Puyo Puyo isn’t quite the match made in heaven the developers envisaged.

Score: 6.5 out of 10
Highlights: Tetris still rules; Solid party multiplayer.
Lowlights: Your mileage may vary on the mashup game modes
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: SEGA
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii U, PlayStation 3, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita
Available: Now

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.