In life, some things just go together - like garlic and bread, sausage and mash, and cheese and onion (especially on crisps). Of course, by extension, there's plenty of things that should never be seen on the same plate too - like putting Bisto on your custard creams, despite what America's taste for 'biscuits and gravy' might suggest. However, sometimes a new mash-up comes along, and even though at first glance you may worry it might turn out to be a bit of a train wreck, it turns out to be something pretty special instead - like the new puzzler Puyo Puyo Tetris, a bright and colourful mash up of two popular puzzling behemoths, Puyo Pop and Tetris.
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A mix of two rather different types of puzzle games is a bit of an unusual idea on its own, but while we imagine most people are familiar with Tetris, there's every chance you may not have heard of the much-more-popular-in-Japan Puyo Pop. Just in case though, here's a quick primer on both. In Tetris, differently-shaped blocks fall from the sky, and it's up to you to stack them together as best as you can to create lines with no gaps. Complete lines disappear, earning you points, with the game carrying on until you mess up and end up filling the screen with blocks, at which point it's game over. Puyo Pop meanwhile swaps the faceless blocks of Tetris for bug-eyed blobs of various colours, which also fall from above - however, thanks to their more gelatinous nature, the pieces fall down to fill in any potential gaps along the way. Your aim here is to create groups of four or more blobs of the same colour to make them disappear - and if you're particularly crafty with your placement, you can create lengthy combos, as blob after blob falls down to fill in the gaps and make new matches, earning you plenty of points.
While most puzzle games simply offer a few bog standard time attack/marathon modes, Puyo Puyo Tetris is a little bit different, in that it actually offers a full story-driven Adventure mode. What begins as a day like any other in the town of Suzuran quickly takes a turn for the strange when a load of blocks start falling from the sky. Things soon get even weirder when high schooler Ringo suddenly finds herself teleported aboard an unfamiliar spaceship, which promptly fills with troublesome Puyo. An oddball adventure follows, taking in everything from talking animals to robotic fathers and overly tight jumpsuits, in which you'll clear many a line of Tetris pieces and pop many a googley-eyed Puyo; and sometimes, both together.
Between story scenes filled with lively interactions between characters, you'll have familiar Puyo and Tetris-based missions to complete, which run the gamut from battles to frantic speed-clears to high score challenges. Split over half a dozen or so worlds, with ten levels in each, there's plenty to get stuck into, although it is a bit disappointing that battles tend to dominate overall. Regardless of whether you're playing with Puyos or Tetrominos (the game will choose for you), the basics of battles are the same - both you and your opponent work to clear lines/groups, and for each you clear, a number of 'junk' pieces will be sent over to your foe. Designed to get in the way and make things harder for your opponent, battle modes tend to dissolve into a game of frantically trying to clear your way through lines after lines of 'junk' pieces, trying to delay your inevitable death for long enough that your opponent will cock up worse than you, and let you win.
But it's this over-reliance on battles that's arguably the biggest issue with Puyo Puyo Tetris - because if you don't like battle modes, you may find things a little hard going. Whether it's against a friend in a basic versus match, or a computer-controlled opponent in the story mode, battle modes, by definition, tend to feel phenomenally unfair to whomever is on the losing side. Once your screen starts to fill with junk pieces, it can be very hard to fight back - particularly in Puyo Puyo, which relies more on you setting up multi-stage combos to be in with a chance of winning, as the junk pieces tend to cover absolutely everything up. With either game, once your screen starts filling up, you're at a distinct disadvantage, while your opponent's free to keep sending you more and more - and the cascade of junk pieces can make it very difficult to turn things around. If you start losing, you have all of a few seconds to mount an elaborate comeback, or you've basically lost, which can feel phenomenally unfair and random at times. It's not necessarily a fault of Puyo Puyo Tetris as such, but more the precedent of the now-standard battle modes.
Fortunately, Puyo Puyo Tetris has a whole host of extra modes to get stuck into outside of the standard story mode - although many of them do crop up in the story mode too, as the odd mission here or there. For lone players, there's six different 'Challenge' modes to try your hand at, three each for Puyo Puyo and Tetris, with each being a variation on the standard formula. Endless Fever is a kind of puzzle mode, giving you preset arrangements of Puyo blobs to clear as fast as possible, in one long chain, while Endless Puyo does exactly what it says on the tin - a standard, play-as-long-as-you-can, infinite blob-popping mode. Finally, Tiny Puyo miniaturises the falling blobs to give you more Puyos on screen at once, which makes setting up combos a bit trickier. On the Tetris front meanwhile, you have the now ubiquitous Marathon mode, where you try to clear 150 Tetris lines as they fall increasingly quickly, whilst Sprint asks you to clear forty lines as quick as possible, and Ultra gives you three minutes to get as high a score as you can.
With regards to multiplayer, which the box rightly boasts as one of the main attractions of this "Frantic Four-Player Puzzle Mashup", you have quite a selection of modes to whoop your friends at - providing you're a-ok with battles anyway. There's bog standard Versus matches for both Puyo Pop and Tetris, where you battle to clear lines/pop Puyo and send junk over to your opponent to make their job harder, as well Swap mode for the indecisive, which functions in much the same way as the standard battles, except you swap between playing Tetris and Puyo Pop at regular intervals (thankfully, this is less confusing than it sounds). Big Bang meanwhile is a kind of battle-cum-puzzle mode on steroids, where you and your opponents race to clear as many of the set Puyo Pop/Tetris grids as possible, as quickly as possible, with the quickest off the mark - or whomever clears the set pattern with the fewest blocks left over - dealing damage to the others. Last, but by no means least, is Fusion, a brain-bending mash-up of both Tetris and Puyo Pop that sees you clearing both Tetrimino lines and popping Puyo blobs on the same grid at the same time. As you might imagine, this can get pretty confusing at times, making this arguably the worst of the modes on offer, purely thanks to the sheer complexity of having to manage both Tetris pieces and Puyo in the same game - something made all the more awkward when you have to fight against any junk pieces your opponent sends over too. Once you get your head around how it works, it isn't quite as jarring as it initially seems, but it still feels like an exercise in spinning plates - and one that, coupled with its steep, steep learning curve, never seems to fit together into one coherent game.
In terms of sheer quantity of puzzle-playing goodness, though, it's hard to go wrong with Puyo Puyo Tetris - with oodles of modes, both single and multiplayer, there's certainly plenty to keep you busy for a good long while. The story-driven Adventure mode is a nice touch, too, with sixty or so missions to work through whilst you try to get all the stranded characters back home, and get to the bottom of the strange goings on. However, some may find it a tad heavy on the battle modes, which can feel a bit unfair and random at times - but perhaps not as random and brain-bendingly confusing as the new Tetris and Puyo Fusion mode. Still, aside from a couple of missions in the Adventure mode, you can largely sidestep the awkward mash-up mode should you want to, leaving you with what is a solid and addictive collection of the two puzzling greats.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4