Looks can be deceiving
I’ve been an avid fan of puzzle games for quite a while now. I cut my teeth on Tetris when it first showed up on the NES and Game Boy. I spent dozens of hours practicing with the wonderfully charming Tetris Attack (and later on in life its original Super Famicom version Panel de Pon), and I got super hooked via MAME on the Magical Drop games and Money Idol Exchanger from the Neo Geo realm. Sadly, Puyo Puyo has eluded me for a great deal of my life – until recently, anyways.
Originally released on the MSX and Famicom Disk System in Japan way back in 1991, Puyo Puyo was a puzzle game made by Compile using characters from the Madou Monogatari RPG series, also by Compile. The game premise is simple; slimes called Puyos drop from above, and the player has to match 4 to get them to disappear. Puyos can be stacked so that they can chain together after clearing them, and this is the key strategy to being a good Puyo Puyo player. It sounds simple, but it takes quite a bit of practice to make some good chains. The challenge has always been a big draw for the Puyo Puyo games.
Delicious Sega Goodness
Though it’s an arcade port, the original hardware was very Mega Drive-ish. Puyo Puyo looks and plays 16-bit through and through.
The series was wildly popular, spawning 25 games to date, but strangely enough they never really left Japan – untouched anyways – until 1999’s Puyo Pop for the Game Boy Advance. That was developed solely by Sega though; Compile wasn’t involved with that one. Chances are though, that if you’re a retro gamer and like puzzle games, you may have already played a Puyo Puyo game in disguise before then. Did you like Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine? Kirby’s Avalanche? Timon and Pumbaa’s Bug Drop? Those were all reworked and retooled Puyo Puyo games for the western market. 2014’s Puyo Puyo Tetris was an excellent game as well but is another Sega-developed game.
For many, 1992’s Puyo Puyo arcade game is where it’s at, along with its Mega Drive release (which became Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine here in the west). Co-developed by Compile and Sega, this version of the game was built primarily around competitive play. There was an English arcade release, albeit with some localization changes here and there. Thankfully, M2 has worked their Sega voodoo magic and added the original Puyo Puyo arcade release to the SEGA AGES library, and even with being 27 years old, this game is still a blast to play.
“Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for centuries”
Each round of SEGA AGES Puyo Puyo is preceded by each of the characters smack-talking one another before the big throwdown.
After being greeted by the ever-so-fancy SEGA AGES intro, players can choose between going straight into the arcade game or setting up an online match. Playing online is a blast, but be warned, SEGA AGES Puyo Puyo pros are a different breed of puzzle gamer! For much of my review, I spent time in the standard arcade menu. Picking the arcade menu brings you straight into the original game, presented in standard 4:3 aspect ratio with some nice background wallpapers filling in the letterboxed edges. Graphical options such as scanlines, smoothing, and changing the wallpaper are all available in the options menu as well, though I prefer the default pixel-perfect approach. Players can choose to play solo against the computer or share a screen and play with a friend.
Each round is preceded by a little skit involving the main character, Arle, and her opponent. They’re all pretty silly, with characters such as a giant talking fish with arms and legs and some sort of weird elf-type thing with a single, giant foot trash-talking Arle before the match. After a brief back-and-forth, the match begins. As noted earlier, Puyos fall from the top of each of the player’s sides of the screen, and mixing and matching them to make 4 and chain them together nets points to each player. On the competitive side of things, clearing Puyos produces “Nuisance” Puyos – blank Puyos that cannot be matched together and are essentially bricks that interrupt your opponent’s (or your) chains. Nuisance Puyos can be cleared, but you have to make a new combo to clear them out before your Puyos stack to the top. If your screen gets full and you can’t clear it out – you lose the match.
IT’S A TRAP.
Don’t be fooled by the cutesy graphics. This game’s difficulty – even on normal – is BRUTAL.
Rolling off of that, if you’re not a seasoned SEGA AGES Puyo Puyo player you’re going to lose – a LOT. I played on the default normal difficulty, and after only the first match, there was a stark contrast in the CPU’s skill level. They began quick dropping Puyos left and right, and making chains quicker than I could keep up at first. I struggled to reach the 4th round, and while I’m not a Puyo pro by any means, I’m far from a beginner. You can adjust the difficulty via both the options menu and when choosing a course in Arcade mode, though the latter will only let you play the first three stages on the easier course. SEGA AGES Puyo Puyo is insanely fun and addictive, but the CPU difficulty out of the gate can be a little overwhelming at first.
Goby needs to lay off the Creatine.
Despite some brutal CPU difficulty, Puyo Puyo is amazingly fun and addictive to play.
Despite the somewhat harsh difficulty, M2 has done a phenomenal job of porting this classic for everyone to play on the Switch. The graphics are sound are perfectly emulated, and the extra options to configure the game to your liking are plentiful and intuitive. With local and online competitive play, and online rankings and leaderboards, there are plenty of reasons to keep coming back for more. If you got $7.99 to spare and a puzzle itch that needs scratching, you can’t go wrong with this quirky little blast from the past. Just be sure you spend some time practicing first. You’re going to need it.
Final Verdict: 4 / 5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed); Publisher: Sega; Developer: M2; Release Date: August 22nd 2019; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $7.99
Full disclosure: A review copy of SEGA AGES Puyo Puyo was provided by the Publisher.