The year was 1991. I was at college, spending my spare time in the pub and chasing after girls. This was also the year that the first ever Puyo Puyo title was released. I am now well into middle age, and spend my spare time sitting down with a nice cup of tea, but the Puyo Puyo series is still going as strong as it ever has. In all those years of growing old I have to admit that the series has passed me by, so it will be interesting to see just what this new game has to offer. Puyo Puyo Champions is developed and published by the lovely people at Sega.
For those of you who know little about the series, the gameplay of any Puyo Puyo game is very similar to Tetris. Coloured blobs (Puyo’s) fall from the top of the screen. Match four of the same colour together and they disappear. The main difference to Tetris is that you are battling against another player, and when you make a match you are disrupting their board by adding garbage Puyo’s, which will fill their play area and prevent them from clearing colours. More experienced players will work on creating chains, so that a single match will go on to create a second, then third, then fourth, and so on. The higher the chain is, the more it will disrupt the opponent.
Puyo Puyo Champions is the 2019 iteration of the game, and features two separate modes in Puyo Puyo 2 and Puyo Puyo Fever. However for a newcomer like myself the different rule-sets of each were not clearly differentiated, and playing each mode didn’t really feel any different either. The only thing that was obvious was that I seemed to get destroyed very quickly in Puyo Puyo 2, but I fared much better in Fever. The Japanese release of the game is called Puyo Puyo Esports, so this new iteration does seem to be squarely aimed at high level competitive play. There are options here to also play in single player and local tournament modes, but the basic gameplay is the same whatever mode you are in. For a newcomer like myself there is a distinct lack of a tutorial, and I had to go to YouTube for some kind of help in understanding why I was getting destroyed really quickly, and to learn the basics. The key to success lies in creating those large chains, and I found it took a lot of practice to be able to pull those off.
There are a wide range of customisation options available, including a vast choice of characters, level, game length, etc, so you can customise how you want to play. There didn’t seem to be a difficulty setting as such, but instead there is a handicap setting, which on its easiest setting gives you in-game pointers on what to do, and at it’s hardest will result in random garbage Puyo’s dropping. Again, for a newcomer this was really confusing and hidden, and there was a lot of trial and error in working it out. A top-level difficulty setting is really needed.
But down to my core experience of the game, and it was a mixed bag. On one hand I really enjoyed the gameplay, and the more I played, the more I learnt and improved, and soon found my way working up to creating a few chains and found myself winning some matches. But, at times it was also frustratingly unfair. On occasions I was planning ahead, laying my Puyo’s in such a way as to create a large chain, and then the CPU opponent would create their own large chain and fill my area with garbage, and win the game. It was all too quick for me to react, and it did feel that the AI was just too perfect in their ability. Playing online also made me feel incredibly inadequate, as most players on here were very skilled and ruthless.
This version of Puyo Puyo may just be too punishing for beginners of the franchise, and looking back at the history of releases, something like Puyo Puyo Tetris may be a more accessible starting point, but for more advanced and capable players Puyo Puyo Champions will be well received. It is a perfect game to play in very short bursts, and as it is only around the £8 mark I did also purchase on the Xbox One, as I really did want to improve my skills. But I definitely wouldn’t have done that had the price been over ten pounds. More experienced players will love this, and fans of Tetris 99 probably will as well, and I can definitely see where the inspiration for that game came from!
Me? Well I need a lot more practice.