Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Puyo Puyo Tsuu


Look at this. Puyo Puyo Tsuu for the Mega Drive, an iteration of one of the best puzzle games ever made. A game you all need to play, but yet I can almost guarantee nobody will, mostly due to its failure of its aesthetics to appeal to anyone. First impressions are key, and Tsuu looks like another piece of worthless Japanese tat. Isn't it great that looks can be deceiving?

A franchise which began life on the MSX before becoming famous in the arcades, Puyo Puyo is an iconic puzzle series which has you form piles of coloured blobs in a Tetris-esque fashion. Connecting four or more matching coloured blobs together will have them removed the from the field, and you will be scored points. All blobs are affected by the force of gravity, paving the way for potential combos used to mess with an opponent and score more points. The typical objective is to stay alive as long as possible, using chains to crush your enemies and bring glorious prosperity to the land.

If this sounds or looks familiar you're likely accustomed to the ways of Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine on the Sega Mega Drive, or Kirby's Avalanche (Ghost Trap) on the SNES. In those situations, Compile's product was localised for a western audience, and life was grand. Both are based on the 1992 arcade edition of Puyo Puyo which is a damned good puzzle game, but it was clear that the original Japanese incarnation wouldn't go down well outside of the border.

And they were mostly right, because whereas the arcade version merely translated text and audio, the Mega Drive and SNES versions gave the game a complete makeover, and are significantly better products for it. In fact, it's one of the few occasions of hands-on localisation that I can get behind - this game was broken in the eyes of westerners and Sega/Nintendo's influence fixed it. Great job.

Most home ports of the arcade Puyo Puyo were successful, so Compile were quick to make a sequel, Puyo Puyo Tsuu in 1994 (it's a pun on "two" - it's a light-hearted series). Tsuu is often considered the greatest Puyo Puyo game of all time - it refines what was seen in the first by making it more competitive, and you're left with a frantic but very well built puzzle game. The most important element of the second game is the ability to counter your shots - if you're about to be crushed, you can wipe out some of the incoming fire by launching a few combos of your own.

Yet despite presumably stronger sales and ports to a dozen different systems, Tsuu was never localised. In fact, were it not for a Virtual Console release in 2008, it would still be a Japanese exclusive today, and this is despite Tsuu's efforts to set a new standard for the series. Every Puyo Puyo game since has based itself off Tsuu, but most have suffered a similar fate by being shut out from the world, even games released as late as last year. I find the whole thing a great shame.

But it's not surprising, because games like Puyo Puyo Tsuu are designed poorly. What stops these games from being released internationally is the need to replace big chunks of the game to appease western consumers. Tsuu for example, has you play as young girl named Arle, battling all sorts of anime nobodies in a quest to do something (just like most other games in the series). Everything is ugly and orange, and whenever anything remotely interesting happens you can expect screaming and shouting in high-pitched Japanese.

The cultural references are everywhere, and even if they weren't, the aesthetics aren't particularly pretty - this stuff is completely lost on foreigners and most importantly, it suggests the series is for little girls or the mentally unwell, not the wider gaming public. Tsuu is actually worse than its predecessor in this regard, as Arle speaks for both players in this one and can become very tedious, very quickly. Compile actually made a conscious decision to include more voice samples in this one, and they removed an option to turn them off. That's progress!

And of course, the Mega Drive version can't cope with voices, so things become distorted and incomprehensible. The process of talking also leads to a few milliseconds of lag while the console devotes some resources to cope. Life is a bit better elsewhere, particularly in the arcade original, but what annoys me about this situation is that Compile didn't learn from this - future games involve more talking and the revamp seen in Puyo Puyo (Pop) Fever increases the amount of squeaky children. These efforts to taint their own series creates a cast-iron guarantee they'll never be seen in the west.

The graphical style is also in place to give the impression that the characters are "cute". I'm always worried by the man who claims underage Japanese girls represented in cartoon form are attractive - always fun to watch that demographic on your own in a bedroom I'm sure. The graphics are generally better than the game's predecessor regardless - blobs are more animated and there's added special effects, I just don't understand why Compile felt the need to make visuals designed to appeal to one nation.

As with all Puyo Puyo games, things get crushingly difficult after a while, and only the very best can survive without using a continue. It's also a game that occasionally likes to play the stupid card, becoming unresponsive as things speed up, but thankfully less so than the the previous Puyo Puyo encounter. Tsuu also has better music than the original Puyo Puyo, but I still favour DRMBM over most of what the series has to offer in this regard.

Though there's certainly an argument against the need for Tsuu - it scraps the solo modes and doesn't make massive strides over its predecessor, it still stands as a fine game worthy of your attention. It's just this obtuse and maybe even offensive way of thinking which I don't like, dictating that because you were born in a different continent, you'll hate puzzle games with a burning passion. I personally love puzzle games like these, yet I have to admit I'd be embarrassed buying a Puyo Puyo game over the counter, solely due to the signals the aesthetics give off. Tetris has never had a problem - I don't know why Puyo Puyo insists on giving itself one.

2 comments:

  1. I actually took a stroll into puyo nexus last week and gave myself a nice nostalgic tour through the history of the series again.

    Wouldn't be great if a puyo puyo fangame based its sensibilities off MBM while still providing additional gameplay options from later titles in the series such as Tsuu and Fever? I might even pay good money for something like that.

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  2. I don't have any problems with sexy looking anime girls! Not even on Puyo Puyo!
    I... Hope! =)

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