Puyo Puyo (pronounced "pyohh pyohh") is a venerable puzzle game series in Japan, spawning many titles on many platforms ranging from the MSX 2 home computer to the Wii; the games occasionally turn up under the Puyo Pop moniker in the West. The colorful characters are drawn from another Compile game series, the dungeon-crawling RPG Madou Monogatari, which explains why our heroine wears armor and her opponents are strange creatures like mummies, demons and fish with arms.
This was the series' first CD-ROM appearance, and the music is excellent -- bouncy and charming, without becoming obnoxious during lengthy gameplay sessions; a separate soundtrack CD was released in Japan. The characters are introduced with short, fully-voiced cartoons before each level, and while the character dialogue is in Japanese, the performances are lively, so it's not hard to get a general feeling for the characters' personalities. And the character designs are a lot of fun -- I really like this strange little guy, who's sort of an elfin boy atop a single giant foot:
The menus aren't hard to navigate -- in fact, the technical stuff in the options mode is completely in English:
There's even a full-featured controller test:
And one of those hidden treasures -- if the game is started with the original 1.0 system card, rather than the Super CD-ROM card required, the game presents a cute error screen complete with indignant voice-over:
As far as the game itself goes, it's a very polished presentation of Puyo Puyo. There's a single player-vs.-CPU story mode, a two-player pick-your-character contest, and an infinite mode where the pieces just keep falling until the player is overwhelmed. The gameplay is generally the same in every mode, with difficulty ramping up as appropriate -- the goal is to join four colorful little jellies together, with extra points (and opponent penalties) racked up for chain reactions.
In single-player mode, the opponent's face is displayed, and goes through quite a gamut of animated reactions to the developing situation. The game's not easy either -- this screen where I appear to be doing quite well (on the left) is just the first round of the three-level tutorial mode:
The challenge ramps up fairly quickly in the game proper -- it becomes important to rotate and place pieces as quickly as possible to stay ahead of the opponent and be the first to send nasty pileups over to the other side. Eventually (or not so eventually) Arle meets her match:
Puyo Puyo CD is great fun and would have translated well to the US market -- it's another missed opportunity for NEC, who seemed determined to bury the TurboGrafx-16 under a stack of generic action games. I'm another one of those diehard TG-16 gamers who eventually had to become PC Engine gamers to get access to the platform's best software. This one has a permanent place on my to-play shelf.
If you're interested in a little Puyo Puyo fun,the easiest game to track down is Sega's retrofitted conversion Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine for the 16-bit Genesis. But if your collection cries out for Eastern flavor, Puyo Puyo CD will run on the American TurboDuo or the Magic Engine emulator, and you may be able to find it at this affiliate link.