The original Puyo Puyo Tetris is one of those games I have to keep coming back to just to make sure it actually exists: Puyos… and Tetriminos? In the same game? And there are a good selection of different ways to mix the two together and they all work? You’re kidding, right? That’d be as ridiculous as SNK’s iconic samurai Haohmaru appearing in Bandai-Namco’s Soul Calibur or Devil May Cry‘s Dante guest starring in a post-apocalyptic Atlus RPG. And yet a quick go was all it took to convince anyone Puyo Puyo Tetris’ once-unthinkable merging of two puzzle game titans was more than an attention grabbing novelty: the game was an absolute joy to play – real lightning in a bottle magic – and we were all left with very sore thumbs and wondering why we’d been made to wait so long to play a crossover that now seems so very safe and obvious.
So what’s Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 to do? Should it keep things safe and simple, risking boring those who already played Puyo Puyo Tetris to death? Or should it reinvent the wheel, changing as much as possible for the sake of being new above all else? What about finding the middle ground… and risking pleasing no one at all?
Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 decides from the off to carefully identify everything – everything – that worked well last time and leave it the heck alone. The interface may look a little more sleek, the sunny yellow that dominated the original’s screen transitions has been toned down to a cooler blue and white combination, and a few other minor bits and pieces have been ever so slightly adjusted or rearranged but on the whole anyone who’s already played the first game (and considering the wealth of ports and general popularity the title enjoyed that’ll be just about everyone) will find the same modes – Versus, Swap, Party, Fusion, and Big Bang as well as all six solo challenge games – in more or less the same places they were in last time and behaving the same way they did before. Adventure mode still has same three star ranking system, the same characters have the same relationships they had last time, and while the background artwork for the story scenes is all new some of them are so similar to their equivalents in Puyo Puyo Tetris I had to switch back and forth between the two games to make sure anything had changed. With all this in mind it’ll surely come as no surprise to learn the shop makes a same-y return with the same unlockable Puyo/Tetrimino shapes as before (I’m a big fan of the Morolians myself), you can still purchase alternative voice clips for each character just like last time, and the biggest shake up around is the addition of page after page of purchasable icons to customise your player avatar with.
Thank goodness for that.
Puzzle game sequels have this horrible tendency to add features for the sake of creating an easily identifiable selling point, some new twist shoehorned in regardless of how perfectly balanced everything was last time. Consumers demand nebulous more at any creative cost and reviewers ruthlessly mark games down for reiterating previous ideas no matter how much fun they may have been the first time around – and to be fair there’s normally some merit in that line of thinking: who doesn’t want to see the old step to the side so a new idea has the room to breathe or a well-worn concept given a fresh spin? The difference here is that we are dealing with two giants of the genre that have already been there, done that, and released a chart-topping music track decades ago. We’ve had spherical Tetris, angry sunshine Puyo, well-based 3D Tetris, curry Puyo, massively multiplayer competitive Tetris, dungeon-crawling Puyo, and so many other reinventions listing them all would bore us both to tears. It’s no accident both Tetris and Puyo Puyo keep coming back to the most immediately recognisable versions – the best versions – of themselves so very carefully reproduced and then riffed on here long after every other outlandish idea has already been and gone.
And this is why the all-new Skill Battle mode sticks out like a sunbathing Santa. In this mode the goal is to reduce the other person’s HP to zero rather than fill their side of the screen with garbage blocks (which does damage their health but also clears their board), using various character-based skills to either help you or hinder your opponent as the match goes on. To do this you’ll first need to assign three characters to a team, each bringing their own stats (health, attack, defense, and so on) to your small party as well as individual special moves that can then be activated at any time during the bout at the push of a button so long as you’ve got enough MP to do so. Further customisation comes from equipping cards dropped at random during Adventure mode to bolster your team’s stat pool, some of which offer additional special effects on top of the usual improvements. It’s a flawed idea on a fundamental level, matches ending with more of an “Oh.” than a “Yes, I won!”: This mode’s whole everything runs counter to the quick thinking and player excellence through practise that sits at the heart of both of these puzzle games. Is it really a battle of skill if you can level up characters to make them stronger and equip superior abilities, winning because you used a more powerful move more often rather than played better? No, it isn’t. I wouldn’t say Skill Battle was so awful that it wasn’t worth at least a quick go to satisfy your curiosity, but it never stops feeling like the sacrificial new that allows the rest of the game to keep running as normal.
Puyo Puyo Tetris 2’s idea of normal is crisp, colourful, and welcoming, like a blast of chirpy chiptunes under Sega-blue skies. All your old favourite characters are back and waiting to play whatever combination of Puyo Puyo and Tetris you’re in the mood for with the majority of the cast and background battle art for both sides unlocked from the off meaning the out of the box experience feels fully-featured and whole just as it is, Adventure mode offered as a pleasant option to indulge in as you see fit rather than a lengthy chore holding the rest of the game hostage. Not that anyone could possibly mind playing through another amusing swirl of two puzzle worlds colliding, every cutscene raising a smile and a good variety of battles coming thick and fast. The story is a sequel to the original – not that most of the cast know it when they get back together – and it’s also as humorously self-aware as it ever was, which is actually incredibly difficult to pull off without it reading in a “Haha isn’t this all very stupid” way. Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 a breezy tale where the daft nature of these eccentric scenarios and the equally ridiculous characters that inhabit them suit the tone of the script perfectly.
And this is why the game is able to once again get away so easily with its infinitely absurd array of descriptive text, luring you in with relatively normal examples such as *thinking sounds* and *eerie chuckle* before unleashing – I stress this is a direct quote – narration like *a squeal so pure and childlike, reminiscent of a simpler time to which we can never truly return* on you as if it was the most natural thing in the world. I think the last time I screencapped so much dialogue just so I could savour it later at my leisure I was Miqo’te-deep in Final Fantasy XIV. It certainly helps that the English cast’s delivery of these fun lines is as wonderful as it was before, the voice actors being given the time necessary to properly emote those daft sounds and deliver the lines with the pacing and pauses good comedy requires. Japanese voice acting is also available for anyone who’d like to hear an alternative take on the content, but in this instance it’s a nice extra rather than an ear-saving necessity.
And if you ever find yourself struggling you can either skip an Adventure stage (without missing out on any post-battle dialogue) after failing it once or spend some time in Puyo Puyo Tetris 2’s cheerily helpful tutorial area, which much like the rest of the game is largely unchanged because there was no need to change it: It’s a clear and welcoming bit of assistance, taking the time to explain everything from the absolute basics – even pausing for a moment to point to a puzzle piece just so everyone knows what a “Puyo” or a “Tetrimino” is – to genuinely advanced techniques that’ll test just about everyone to some extent. These tutorials are entirely independent of each other, split into Puyo, Tetris, Fusion, and Skill Battle categories and then further broken down into Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced, and no assumptions of any outside or prior knowledge are made in any of them. This does mean that, yes, you get told what the left and right buttons on a controller do more than once if you decide to watch each mode’s beginner tutorial, but it also means nobody ever falls through the cracks, nobody’s ever thoughtlessly left behind by a game that didn’t bother to take a couple of sentences to explain something “obvious”. But as great as that all is the true gem here is the new “Problem” mode for the standard Puyo Puyo and Tetris game types; one hundred preset scenarios for each series taking players from colour-matching fundamentals right through to seemingly impossible t-spin maneuvers. Best of all these tests can be tackled in any order, saving you from getting stuck forever on that one damned thing you can’t quite manage or wasting any time going over skills you honed years ago before getting to the parts that actually make you think.
This is where the Puyo Puyo Tetris 2’s magic really lies: It’s not in taking two very different puzzle games and squishing the two together, it’s in taking two very different groups of puzzle game fans and squishing those two together. Story mode’s Labrador-like “Yeah! Go for it!” attitude combined with the practical help on offer for players of all skill levels and the game’s easygoing “Play the bits you want to play, the way you want to play them” approach makes for a title that enables everyone to spend time with whatever’s most fun for them whether that’s a casual bit of lunchtime Puyo Puyo or crushing all opponents in the game’s online arena with rensa‘s worthy of sharing on social media. It takes real guts to make a sequel like this, one that recognises the strengths of its predecessor and refuses to meddle with proven success for the sake of being different, although it does leave potential players asking Sega one very scary question: “Why should I buy this if it’s just more of the same?”.
The answer’s simple: Because it is more of the same. It’s more of the same zingy, charming, expertly balanced joy as last time, a game that bar one misjudged new exception serves as a beautifully crafted and infinitely replayable love letter to two towering monoliths of one of gaming’s oldest genres.
[Switch version tested and shown. This game was provided free by Sega for review purposes.]