Pokémon Puzzle League Review - Screenshot 1 of 3

This review originally went live in 2008, and we're updating and republishing it to mark the game's arrival on Switch as part of the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack.


For those who have dabbled with Puzzle League, this is obvious information, but please bear with us. Tetris Attack, the SNES game, was a westernized version of the Japanese game Panel de Pon, which starred its own cute cartoon characters. Tetris Attack removed all of these and replaced them with characters and enemies from Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (and was relocalized for Japan as BS Yoshi's Panepon). However, released in North America in 2000, Pokémon Puzzle League was the first game under the 'Puzzle League' banner, with characters from the Pokémon anime spicing up its addictive block puzzling.

So, what we have here is another block puzzler, but here the blocks slowly rise up from the bottom of the screen (if you're really good and want to speed it up, you can command a number of rows to rise up at your will). The game is more like Columns than Tetris, as the objective is to line up a row or column of three identical blocks.

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Because the blocks appear on their own, you can't turn or move them in mid-air or anything like that. Instead, you switch the position of two blocks next to each other with a cursor you move across the playing field. You cannot swap two blocks above each other, however, and if you move a block over a ledge it will drop down.

If you can string together a combo, a large coloured block will be dropped in the opponent's field, sort of similar to Puyo Puyo's garbage beans. If you make a small block that touches the large block disappear, the large block will turn into a whole bunch of small blocks for you to use, and if the large block is big enough then it might also split into small blocks plus a slightly smaller large block. Blocks! And if the blocks reach the top of the playing field, you lose!

It's not like that's all you can do, though — this game's got a ton of modes. There's a standard one-player mode, where you try to keep going as long as possible and there is also a 3D mode here where you play on a field that looks sort of like a cylinder and the blocks wrap around. There's also a score-chasing single-player mode where you play for two minutes and score as high as possible, plus two story modes.

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In one, you basically go through the events of Pokémon Red / Blue / Yellow, battling the various gym leaders and Team Rocket. In the other, Team Rocket steals your Pokémon, and you must battle them numerous times in "challenge" levels, where you simply must get the blocks down under a certain line. In Puzzle University, you must clear a pre-made field within a limited number of moves. Of course, you can also play against a friend.

As we mentioned, the game is based on the original Pokémon anime. Aside from the obvious use of characters like Ash, Brock, and Misty, this also means that, yes, the game has a ton of voice acting and music from the series and movies. However, this game was first released in 2000. Since then, all voice actors on the English show have been replaced, so newer fans may find it sounds a little different from how they expected. There are also actual cutscenes which are similar to the show: quite a feat for the N64.

Quite aside from the excellent puzzling on offer, Pokémon Puzzle League is also a hell of a nostalgia trip if you remember catching episodes of Ketchum and co. before school when it first aired, or if you've got any memory at all of the Squirtle Squad, Jessie and James and their talking Meowth, or any other part of the series now known as the Indigo League.

Conclusion

Pokémon Puzzle League is really just Panel de Pon / Tetris Attack with a Pokémon makeover, but far from being a bad thing, it makes this an even more thrilling puzzler. Panel de Pon fanatics will have the time of their lives regardless, but the Pokémon wrapper helps draw in and hold the attention of new players long enough for the puzzling to grab hold. With the added Pokémon anime nostalgia factor that's grown over the decades, there's even more reason to investigate Pokémon Puzzle League if it passed you by all those years ago. It's still the same old game, and it still rocks.