Four Cheers for the UnderdogBy Chad Serrant
For Game Boy Advance
Puyo Pop, developed by Sega, is one great example of a puzzle game. The “easy to learn, yet difficult to master” mantra is intact. This game has been released at least three other times in North America, so those who have played its previous incarnations will quickly dominate this version.
Blobs (or Puyo, as the game calls them) fall from the top of the screen. Rotate them so four of the same color touch, and they pop. Of course, bonus points are awarded for destroying more than four at once, and bonus points for chains are even better. When fighting an opponent, the bonus points turn into clear puyo that fall on the opponent. The clear puyo usually ruin the opponent’s attempts to clear the field. If the field fills up, that person loses.
The basic gameplay rotates around one-on-one matches, so speed, reflexes and planning are necessary. There are some formations that guarantee more points and more clear puyo on the opponent. But slow players will be buried before they can finish off that six chain they were planning.
The basic story mode concentrates on Arle and her pet Carbuncle finding pieces of a pendant. And as any story mode in a puzzle game requires, Arle has to play Puyo Pop against everyone she bumps into.
Luckily, Sega knew they couldn’t really make a serious plot based on this, so the story makes fun of itself. At one point, Arle meets an elephant that warns her “None shall pass!” Arle replies, “I know, I know. ‘None shall pass unless we play Puyo Pop,’ right?” “Hmph, “ he retorts, “I hate when people steal my lines!” The story is very light-hearted and the ending is as silly as it should be. When a story designed for young kids has an incubus, a minotaur, and a dancing fish, the writers knew what they were doing.
The computer opponents have good AI. The opponents use different techniques and methods. Some opponents like to store their puyo on the side, and then use it as surplus ammo, while others attack immediately. The puyo fall faster as the game progresses forcing the play to react faster.
Also, hard puyo appear, and they require more effort to clear. The 46 stages should provide a good challenge to most players. And if that isn’t good enough, there is a difficulty setting and an extra sixteen stages to try out.
The multiplayer modes feel just like a single player match, except you can trash-talk and expect a response. The new four player modes get a bit hectic, but you can have a four-way with a single cartridge. You lose some of the graphics and sound if there is only one copy of the cartridge, but it’s a small price to pay.
The controls are simple enough. The control pad moves the puyo and the A and B buttons rotate the puyo. Like other puzzle games, the controls are simple and intuitive.
The graphics are bright and well-drawn. Being a puzzle game, Puyo Pop wasn’t designed to be some kind of graphics monster. There is some scaling present with the “YEAH!” sign that appears in the victor’s field, but that’s about it in the “fancy graphics” field. But the story pictures and full-screen portraits make up for that easily. The characters have sound clips that play when they make large chains or when a pile of puyo drops on their field, and the stage music stays light-hearted yet upbeat. Few will complain.
Puzzle games are usually on the lower end of the video game spectrum. For some reason, Tetris has been the only really popular, mainstream puzzle game. Sega has released this game before as Kirby’s Avalanche and Robotnik’s Bean Machine, neither of which ever really caught on. But, the existence of two similar games does raise the “been there, done that” issue. Those who have played either of those games will know how to play Puyo Pop, and may blow through the game with little or no effort. If you can’t find your old Super NES or Genesis, though, you’ll definitely want to give this game a look.