Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 had a leg up from the start of the project. It’s simple: Puyo Puyo Tetris was already very fun. What do you add? What do you change? There are things that can go wrong along the way, but ultimately there’s still Puyo Puyo Tetris in there.
Which is good! Because the things that were added and changed don’t really offer a lot.
First, a primer on Puyo Puyo Tetris, in case you regrettably missed the first one! Combining world-favorite puzzle game Tetris with should-be-world-favorite Puyo Puyo, it offers a lot of modes that mash these together in different configurations. Play one against the other! Play both at once on two swapping boards! Maybe even play both at once on one really weird-looking board! Just… play some solo Tetris if you want! The first game did its best to include all the ways you’d want to bring the two together.
This is why Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 is in such a tough spot. Including the original’s modes is certainly good, and landing on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X means you can pick the game up natively on your new platforms. (Though in our time with the PS5 build, we can’t say we’re seeing any technical improvements.) But a new game generally needs new reasons to play. The package has a few attempts, but they feel halfhearted and half-baked.
The primary new option here is Skill Battles. In this mode, you’ll equip a party of three characters and a few item cards, and use special abilities and puzzle combos to deplete foes’ HP. This is a very cool idea! Games like Tetris Battle Gaiden and Puyo Puyo~n showed how cool special abilities can be in puzzle combat. The Japan-only Puyo Puyo Chronicle put RPG elements into Puyo Puyo with solid results. So if the team really committed to the idea, it could carry this sequel.
And therein lies the problem. While it’s an interesting concept, the implementation here in Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 is lacking. The grind to level up characters is long and doesn’t feel rewarding. You have to battle — usually other people, as the game itself only offers limited, repetitive options to gain experience against the AI — to even build up your hit points to last long enough to use any skills at all. It discourages experimentation, since every new character you unlock comes in underleveled and hits to your base stats are rarely worth trying something new.
The suite of abilities is uninspired, generally offering the same six minor board clears or stat buffs. Building a team is like building a Magic: the Gathering deck, but all that’s available to you is a 2/2 creature in each color and a few damage spells. Grind up your team? Then you get… more powerful very basic stuff. It misses the appeal of a system like this, and it misses it a lot. But at least it’s a fair fight, right? The game’s producer, Mizuki Hosoyamada, told us that the team put a lot of work into balancing, but in our experience, high-level players are finding the Tetris side of things ludicrously overpowered.
The Adventure mode is back in Puyo Puyo Tetris 2, once again offering one-off challenges held together by a quirky story. It’s a bit hard to follow and harder to invest any emotion into the twists and turns, but hey: it’s there! The adventure map is a lot less linear this time, though really only in presentation. The result is that it’s hard to move around and find your next battle sometimes. Thankfully, there’s a “shortcut” menu that just lists events in a grid. With how much we just ended up using that, maybe the normal map itself was wasted effort.
As for the battles themselves, there are some quirks. There are some challenges that make you play worse to last longer to get the three-star ranking. There are some difficulty spikes that you can push through by skipping levels after failing, which at least lets you get through it but doesn’t feel great. These can be a fun diversion to challenge and build your skills, but the mode as a whole feels disjointed and unpolished.
Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 does include some new things in the mix that are a bit more pleasant. There are online leaderboards for single-player modes like Endless. You can customize your avatar and pieces with a lot more visual options, like we saw in the competitive play-focused Puyo Puyo Champions. You can even change the Tetris blocks to look like Puyos and Puyos to look like Tetris blocks! It’s thoroughly confusing. Which can be fun once or twice!
And it’s charming! It’s still very charming. The Puyo Puyo franchise has stuck to a signature aesthetic over the last decade or so, and it works well in Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 to both capture the energy of the game and retain legibility of the board in fast-paced play. The character animations are cute. Battle voice clips are still repetitive, but in an endearing way. Tetris may dominate most of the competitive balance, but the sights and sounds are still unrepentantly Puyo.
But ultimately what you’re getting with Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 is more of the same things you enjoyed last time. They’re very good things! But many players may find that the first game already offered all the high points of this sequel, and that the new modes don’t offer very much to rekindle their interest.
Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 releases December 8, 2020 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series and Xbox One, with a PC launch sometime after.