Today's launch of Puyo Puyo Champions makes more sense when you know its Japanese title - Puyo Puyo eSports. This is Sega's attempt to push the cute puzzler into the competitive sphere. Initially similar to last year's (on PC at least) Puyo Puyo Tetris, this game offers a smaller range of modes and features, but at a fittingly reduced price and a laser-focus on online multiplayer. There's detailed blow-by-blow replay breakdowns, some subtle tweaks to the rules and new tournament options, but sadly no T-spins. Below, a noisy and slime-filled launch trailer.
Puyo Puyo Champions is aesthetically nigh-identical to the earlier Puyo Puyo Tetris, with most of the same characters and voices returning, plus a few fresh faces. The biggest addition to the game is the new Fever Mode, an alternative rule-set encouraging more conservative play. By clearing 'junk' Puyos from your screen (sent by your opponent's attacks) you fill a gauge. When it tops out, you're given a pre-built combo to clear, making for a quick and easy counter-attack. It's a mode that encourages stacking up big combos for a major offensive, rather than whittling down enemies.
Being a budget-priced spinoff aimed at a more competitive crowd, it's not too surprising that it lacks Puyo Puyo Tetris's many party modes and enormous single-player story campaign. It's straight-up matches against AI for practice here (up to four-way, although 1v1 is the competitive standard) up until you go online. Right now there's no indication of how many players are online and playing the PC version, but its predecessor is seldom shy of a couple hundred players around at most times. Still, I wonder how much of a market there is for pro Puyo Puyo play on PC.
As a curious aside, did you know that Puyo Puyo has a dark and bloody past? No, really, I swear nobody's legs are being pulled here. The characters that went on to define the series, including Arle and Schezo, first appeared in a PC98 dungeon crawl RPG called Madou Monogatari. Here's sweet puzzle-fiend Arle throwing down with the irritating swordsman Schezo and, err, violently decapitating him. Surprisingly, this isn't even the end of the fight. Clearly, Puyo Puyo Champions is missing out on the fatalities that the series built its reputation on. Who needs Mortal Kombat?
Puyo Puyo Champions is out now on Steam and Humble for £8/€10/$10. New or more casual players may want to stick with the more expensive (and expansive) Puyo Puyo Tetris, £15/€20/$20 on Steam and Humble.