A revised version of this article, with pictures, can be found here.
"Watch me now!"
Title: Puyo Pop Fever (Japanese title: Puyo Puyo Fever)
Developer: Sonic Team
Date Published: February 4, 2004 (Japan), February 27, 2004 (Europe), June 2004 (North America)
Platforms: Sega Dreamcast, Sony Playstation 2, Nintendo Gamecube,
Microsoft Xbox, Arcade, Apple Macintosh, Windows PC, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, Sony PSP
ESRB/PEGI Rating: E/3+
No. Players: 1-2
Puyo Pop Fever is Sega's first attempt at bringing the popular Puyo Puyo puzzle franchise
to the current generation of home consoles (if we don't include the Dreamcast in the 'current
generation'). Since Sonic Team inherited the franchise from its creators (Compile) a few years
back, each incarnation of the game that they have developed has displayed progressively more of
their individual style. Puyo Pop Fever attempts to reinvigorate the franchise by introducing an
entirely new art style and characters, as well as some (relatively minor) gameplay innovations.
Puyo Pop Fever's protagonist is a ditzy apprentice magician called Amitie. Amitie attends
a magician's school (note the Harry Potter influence) and wants to become 'a wonderfully clever
magic user' (note the amusingly stilted translation from Japanese). To this end she challenges
everyone she meets (schoolmates, teachers and various unsavoury characters) to play Puyo Pop.
Amitie's chief rival is the snobbish Raffine (a playable character on the harder single player
courses), and her teacher is the dreamy (as in, seemingly on Valium) Ms. Accord, who is
compelled to deliver around half of her lines through a cat hand puppet for reasons unknown.
Puyo what now?
For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with Puyo Puyo, the gameplay involves dropping
pairs of small jelly blobs with eyes (Puyo) into a pit, with the intent
of joining together chains of four or more blobs of the same colour, which then disappear. As
with Columns, gravity makes the remaining Puyo fall to take the place of their vanquished
brethren. This can lead to chain reactions of disappearing Puyo. The game is fundamentally
competitive, with the player always playing against an (either human or CPU) opponent. When
one player successfully makes a chain, Ojama (colourless nuisance Puyo) are dropped into the
opponent's pit. Increasingly elaborate chain reactions act as 'spells' that cause increasingly
large numbers of Ojama to fall. However the other player can create chains to counter these
attacks. The first player to fill their pit loses.
Puyo Pop Fever introduces some variations to the classic Puyo Puyo game rules. Groups of three
or four Puyo occasionally drop (the 'four' piece taking the form of a large 2x2 square puyo of one
colour, whose colour can be changed with the 'rotate' button). The biggest change is the
inclusion of Fever Mode. This is a special mode which is activated when a player fills their
Fever meter by making consecutive chains. In Fever Mode the player is taken to a seperate game
pit which is primed with Puyo arranged to set off a lengthy chain reaction. The player has a few
seconds to place a Puyo to trigger the reaction. If they succeed this causes a massive attack
to the enemy player, otherwise the Fever Mode pit is cleared and the player is presented with
another arrangement of Puyo. This process is repeated until the player runs out of Fever time. Success of failure in this mode can turn the tables on the other player, and lead to a long, fraught battle of wits and reflexes.
By now it should be apparent that this is essentially the same game that we've known and loved in
all its previous outings. In terms of presentation however it is a radical departure. Puyo Pop
Fever is excessively cute. Admittedly, Puyo Puyo, with its bizarre, superdeformed RPG characters
was fairly cute, but Fever turns it up to eleven. The characters are drawn in a
brightly-coloured comic book style that brings to mind the Powerpuff Girls and Junko Mizuno
illustrations (and if we're being slightly poncy, could be described as superflat).
The largely static cutscenes are accompanied by saccharine American voice acting. Amitie spouts
insufferable valley girl slang ("Get really real!"), and the other characters are all given
distinctive personalities by what seems to be a small but highly versatile voice team. Some of
these are quite amusing. The skeleton character (a long-time Puyo stalwart) has been reinvented as
an outrageously camp fashionista ("Call the fashion police!"). An onion-headed character can only
say the word "Onion!" with various inflections (similarly, a frog can only say "Ribbit!"). At one
point the original Puyo heroine (Arle) makes an appearance, with a voice that seems to be a parody
of her Engrish exclamations in the original games ("Fiyyya! Ice-u Storm! Gu-gu-guh!").
Puyo Pop Fever's twee music, large-print cutscenes and general atmosphere of kiddiness will
probably be too irritating and embarrassing for some Tom Clancy-weened male gamers.
I found them pretty much tolerable and in keeping with the theme of the game, and I don't consider
myself to be all that much of a fey hipster poseur. (Or one at all, in fact.)
Any good, then?
There are some minor niggles with the game that might further dissuade some players who already own at least one Puyo-variant. There is no way to turn off the new rules in single player mode (while Fever Mode is, in my opinion, a welcome addition, three- and four-Puyo groups and being allocated different pieces than the enemy player introduce too much randomness), although the multiplayer mode is fully configurable. The controls can be slightly cumbersome on an analogue pad, but not disasterously so. The maximum number of players is two, although three of the host platforms are accustomed to multiplayer games supporting up to four players (and Puyo Puyo 4 also allowed this).
Although the game has been developed as virtually identical versions for four seperate platforms (thanks to the magic of Renderware), not all of these versions are available worldwide. The Dreamcast version is understandably not available outside of Japan (as the Dreamcast is no longer officially supported by Sega in the West). More annoyingly, it turns out that the Playstation 2 version will not be released in the US, as a result of SCEA's ludicrous and unconscionable policy to block games with '2D' graphics from release in their territory (which has also, so far, robbed American players of the Playstation 2 version of Viewtiful Joe as well as various Metal Slug games).
Distribution drama aside, Puyo Pop Fever is well worth picking up at its mid-range price point, whether you're an existing Puyo fan or just not one yet.
Official site: http://www.sega-europe.com/fever/index.html