We’ve now reached the tenth game in the Sega Ages series, and it’s safe to say the project has been a resounding success. Over the course of the past year, Sega and the retro wizards at M2 have released a steady stream of old-school ports that have had us using the phrase ‘definitive version’ more times than anyone really needs to in a normal lifetime.
The likes of Out Run, Virtua Racing and Alex Kidd in Miracle World are permanently installed on our Switch, proving that some great games remain great forever. With Puyo Puyo, however, Sega and M2 have proved something else: that not everything touched by the Sega Ages brand turns to gold.
For the uninitiated, Puyo Puyo is Sega’s flagship puzzle series (we don’t talk about Columns any more), which was originally handled by Japanese developer Compile but was moved over to the big S in the late ‘90s. Chances are you’ve played a variation of it at some point over the years: coloured blobs called Puyo fall from the sky in groups of two and you have to stack them up.
When any four Puyo of the same colour touch they disappear, causing any Puyo above them to drop. The aim – if you’re good enough – is to think ahead and set up combos, making it so that when you clear some Puyo the falling ones land neatly into another match. Experts are able to do this to a ridiculous degree, filling the screen with the Puyo Puyo equivalent of a Rube Goldberg machine that, with the right Puyo, can trigger a cascading cacophony of combo cleverness. But most folk can’t do that, so don’t worry about it.
There have been something like 25 different Puyo Puyo games and spin-offs over the years, with each adding their own twist or improvement on the series. The main issue with this Sega Ages release, then, is that it’s a port of the original coin-op version of Puyo Puyo which Sega brought to arcades in 1992: of all the Puyo Puyo games available, this one probably has the least going for it.
Whereas many other versions of Puyo Puyo include things like an Endless mode (where you keep playing forever, Tetris style) or a Mission mode (where you have to pop all the Puyo before the time runs out), this original arcade release consists strictly of head-to-head battles, be that against a friend or a CPU opponent. If you don’t like the idea of trying to beat your opponents by forcing them to the top of the screen first, then there isn’t going to be much for you here because that’s literally all there is (though to be fair, this is generally considered the most popular mode among fans).
Naturally, it wouldn’t be a Sega Ages release without some jiggery-pokery added by M2 to make things more interesting, and Puyo Puyo is no different despite its relative lack of variety. One of the most notable inclusions is more of a confirmation than anything else: the English language version of the game has been a mystery for fans for many years. Arcade emulators like MAME have an English version – which changes the storyline and renames most of the characters – but the lack of information surrounding it means fans could never tell whether it was legit or a fan translation. This Sega Ages release includes both the Japanese version and the English (‘International’) version, which finally proves it was an official localisation. So that’s nice.
That aside, the other two major gameplay changes are actually features that were missing from the original Puyo Puyo but included in the arcade sequel Puyo Puyo Tsuu. The first is the ability to turn your Puyo anti-clockwise (in the original arcade release you could only turn them to the right). Naturally, this means you can now do a single turn to reach a position that would previously have required three turns. It’s a pretty bread-and-butter mechanic as far as puzzle games go these days but without it the game would feel even more archaic.
The other addition is the quick turn, a technique similar to the T-spin in Tetris that shouldn’t really be physically possible but gets you out of some scraps. If your piece is stuck in a nook and wouldn’t normally be able to turn, double-pressing the turn button will quickly flip the piece 180 degrees, essentially swapping the colours over. Again, this was originally added in the second Puyo Puyo game, which makes you start to wonder why that wasn’t the one ported over. And yes, for the purists out there, left turns and quick turns can be turned off if you want the untouched arcade original.
Truth be told, that’s it, really. It’s a series of head-to-head battles against either the AI or a pal, and that’s about all you get. There’s technically online multiplayer too but we couldn’t find an opponent for love nor money so can’t report on its stability: we appreciate it isn’t out in the west yet, but Japanese gamers have had it since March and we generally have no issues finding Japanese folk to play when we cover other games. Given that Puyo Puyo is more popular in Asia than it is in the west, that doesn’t bode well for its longevity online.
For many fans of the series, that’ll be perfectly enough for £5.99. For others, however, we’d recommend maybe pushing the boat out a bit further: there are two other options on Switch that cost a little more money but give you far more as a result. The most obvious of these is Puyo Puyo Tetris, which can be found for around £25 now and offers a wealth of solo and competitive Puyo Puyo modes, as well as a bunch of Tetris modes and some interesting fusions of both.
Alternatively, for around the same price you can get the Sega Mega Drive Classics collection, which boasts more than 50 games including Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. This is a westernised version of Puyo Puyo with the same competitive play plus the added bonus of an endless mode, and is to all intents and purposes the same experience as this Sega Ages release. Both options are obviously more expensive, but offer so much more than what is effectively a single game mode (assuming the online multiplayer won’t have legs).
The Sega Ages version of Puyo Puyo does the best it can with the source material it has, but that offered fairly slim pickings in the first place. A few optional tweaks to the controls make it a little less frustrating to play, but the reality is that compared to other Sega Ages offerings this has probably had the least work put into it. Puyo Puyo devotees will want it because it’s where the series all began, but everyone else should look into alternatives if they want to keep coming back for another one of those blob-dropping feats.