RadioSEGA‘s a great, independent online fan-centric channel featuring Sega hits 24/7 with podcasts showcasing the best tunes, mixes, and commentary on everything Sega-related from Alien Syndrome to Bayonetta. From time to time, there’s something they play that I’ve never heard of before or haven’t in a long while — Sega’s got a lot of music to play through — though there are a few audience favorites that always pop up like Puyo Puyo. But just what was Puyo Puyo?!
I did a little digging to finally answer just where that tune came from and its roots go way back to a game of the same name. A development house called Compile created it for the Japan-only MSX, releasing it in 1991, and Tokuma Shoten (once a titan in entertainment publishing — they published everything from magazines to movies) releasing a Famicom version. And it was Sega that brought it to the arcade in 1992.
According to the entry at the Puyo Nexus Wiki, an archive for everything Puyo Puyo related, Compile’s founder, Masamitsu “Moo” Nitani, was apparently inspired by Tetris and Dr. Mario borrowing a few of those elements in creating Puyo Puyo.
He also added something of a story to the game featuring Arle Nadja who hails from Compile’s Madou Monogatari RPG series where she’s a kindergartner in a magic school learning the ropes. In Puyo Puyo, she apparently has learned a new spell that can convert four or more creatures of the same color into energy and plans to defeat Satan with it. But before she can do that, she has to battle through a host of other characters from the series standing in her way!
In the arcade, Puyo Puyo ran on Sega’s System C-2 hardware which, according to System 16, was largely the same hardware that ran in Sega’s Mega Drive/Genesis home console. The CPU was a bit faster and there’s no Z80 running the sound — the Motorola MC68000 drove the sound created by Yamaha’s YM3438. The board was pretty versatile and ran a large selection of titles such as another Tetris clone, Columns, and its sequel, along with the shmup, Thunder Force AC. For their home audience, they’d literally be getting arcade copies to play at home which is how Sega wanted it.
Battles are the “falling block” kind of gameplay that Tetris made famous. Instead of blocks, you get two colorful, living blobs called Puyo that turn into energy when four or more are linked together. As these fall towards the bottom of the play space in groups of two (Puyo Puyo), players can rotate them to create columns, try and set up formations, and attempt to link up and combine as many links as possible before landing on other Puyo or whatever the lowest layer is. If you land part of a horizontal pair of Puyo, the “dangling” end will fall straight down to whatever the next layer might be.
The screen is split into two empty, vertical spaces separated by the score table and the face of your opponent as they react to both their good and bad luck. As players progress in the game, it gets harder as Puyo begin falling faster. Making a link with four Puyo will erase them from your side and send them over to your opponent as uncolored Puyo which can’t be linked with anything. The only way to erase them is the hopefully create a linked chain that erases, taking out any uncolored, adjacent Puyo. Once the stack of Puyo reaches the top leaving no room left, that player (or opponent) loses.
Players can pick what difficulty they want to start the game on. A “Beginner” mode gives the player three opponents to try their skill against while “Normal” brings out thirteen. “Difficult” mode skips the player ahead to the fourth battle.
Puyo Puyo’s a tough game — the AI is pretty smart and a full game from start to finish can last quite a long time. The cut scenes in between each round, and the face of your opponent during the “battle”, also add quite a bit of color to what might just be another Tetris clone, but Puyo Puyo has quite a bit of character to set it far enough apart to stand on its own and spark a franchise that has continued across generations from the Mega Drive to the Wii and PSP.
Unfortunately, it has also been mostly a Japan-only franchise with few exceptions such as Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine for Sega systems in 1993 and Kirby’s Avalanche for the SNES in 1995. Both were repurposed for the West, donning more familiar trappings as opposed to being a direct copy featuring chibi Madou Monogatari characters that few would have known anything about since the RPG series never made out of Japan. The arcade version’s story was extensively altered to accomodate Western audiences (along with a bit of the voice acting). And even after coming out on Nintendo’s Virtual Console for the Wii and featuring online multiplayer support in 2011, it stayed on Japan’s side of the market.
A lot of people in the West remember Compile for games like Zanac on the NES or The Guardian Legend which was published by Broderbund. Compile ran into tough times later on in the 90s and in ’98, Sega got the rights to the Puyo Puyo series and its characters. Although Compile did more work with both Puyo Puyo and Madou Monogatari, Puyo Puyo would become wholly owned by Sega in 2000 and that’s pretty much how its been since then for the series.
But thanks to RadioSEGA, at least you can hear the theme song.