In the world of falling block puzzle games, I feel there are three franchises that could constitute “The Big Three” (or however you want to term it): Tetris, Columns, and Puyo Puyo. Great classics. All are fun and should not be missed. Columns holds a special place in my heart, but if I were to actually sit down and decide which franchise is best, I’d ultimately have to go with Puyo Puyo. On the Saturn I have two versions of the game: Puyo Puyo Tsu and Puyo Puyo Sun–the second and third entries in the franchise. They’re basically the same game, but Sun is better and has more meat to it, so I’ll limit my review to that. Don’t want a repeat of the infamous Columns/Columns III debacle… (What a dark day in Sharkberg history that was.)
Puyo Puyo is a game where two blobs (AKA “puyo”) fall down at a time. You can rotate them left and right (so they can be side by side or on top of each other). You want to get four of the same-colored puyo to connect to each other in order to clear them off the board (i.e. they “pop”). This means you can make lines, L shapes, and zig-zags with the puyo–which is a lot to think about, you know? You might want to draw it out right now if you’re a visual learner. The game is all the more challenging though in that you are always up against an opponent (be it a fellow human or a cruel and sentient A.I.). When one of you sets up a chain (i.e. having a set of popped puyo lead to the falling puyo above setting off another set of popped puyo, and so on), a penalty is rewarded to the opponent: a bunch of clear “garbage” puyo that take up space and can only be discarded by having a set of puyo popped next to them.
“Wait, this sounds kind of familiar,” you say. Perhaps you have played one of these games at some point:
These games are all Puyo Puyo, but the Western offerings you see here are only a drop in the bucket–or a puyo in the bucket (which is full of puyo goo)–compared to the eight thousand (or so?) games available in Japan. Japan loves Puyo Puyo! It’s even in the arcades there. And it’s no wonder–it’s one of the funnest competitive video games you’ll ever play.
Why is that? Well, I think it boils down to just how rapidly you have to keep shifting your strategy as you play each match. You have to be smart and fast to win at Puyo Puyo, and you have to not only be good at setting things up for a big chain–but you have to decide when you’re going to set it off. Keep working at it and you can pick up a huge score and flood your opponent’s playing field with garbage puyo… but wait too long, and you might end up getting all your meticulous planning RUINED when your opponent sends a few garbage puyo right where you were going to set your chain off. It’s a nail-biting and edge-of-your-seat death rally!
This isn’t super-important, but I’ll also note that the presentation of the various Puyo Puyo games plays a big role in how well it’s liked by its fanbase. I mean, the cast is just composed of RPG archetypes, but they’re incredibly goofy. You’ve got characters like the heroine who yells “FAI-YA” and “AISU-STOHM” for her elemental attacks, a smooth-talking (loser) Incubus, a fish with arms and legs, a Harpy who sings terribly, a tea-loving Skeleton, and–of course–Satan himself.
I guess there’s one thing left to mention. What’s special about this specific version of Puyo Puyo? As the name suggests, there are special sun-shaped puyo that you can include in the game. If you pop a set of puyo next to one of these sun puyo, you will send extra garbage puyo to your opponent’s board. Nice little bonus, right? Get a few of those in your next combo, and it’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) sun-shiny day!