Now that the introduction to the Sega Megadrive/Genesis is out of the way, it’s time to introduce the best which retro gaming can offer. Before I continue with this ‘Puyo Puyo’ introduction, I must admit that I’ve started this game only at the tail-end of 2007 and I don’t own the original cartridge but I have played it over an emulator. However, I’ve aced the game on the regular setting in early 2008 and feel that I could comment on some aspects of the game with the understanding of some issues new players may face.
I’m partial to "Gens", though, since it doesn’t consume that much of RAM as compared to "Kega Fusion" as the latter does choke up my surfing activities and other simultaneous programs running on my laptop. This shouldn’t be an issue if you have at least 1GB of RAM anyway. "Fusion" does have a higher compatibility rate with Sega CD and Sega 32X games and this is the topside of these 2 favorite emulators. "Fusion" also has a better Sega CD performance over its counterpart with regard to save games and save states. I’ve got both to complement each other, but as I’ve said, if you’ve got the hardware resources to splash; go for "Fusion". The audio features for "Gens" is cool, by the way, and the recorded WAV dump is nothing short of manufacturer quality.
Having picked your choice of the top 2 emulators in my view (you can try others as well), the next step would be to acquire the ROMs to play with. I personally pick ‘Romnation’ as one of the places to go for these. While there are many advertiser banners and ostensible spyware activity going on, it’s probably one of the safest sites to access. Hell, if you’ve got any original Windows OS (XP or Vista), just get Microsoft’s Windows Defender and you’ve got yourself one of the better anti-spyware detectors around.
Be sure to choose the ‘Roms’ section at the site and highlight the ‘Genesis’ Roms section. I honestly don’t know what the exclamation marks at the end of the ROMS meant e.g. Urban Strike (U) (!) although the ‘U’ clearly stands for ‘United States’ and is a Genesis-emulated ROM. Where possible, I’d try to get the (J) for Japan versions as most of the original releases for Japan contain vastly uncut versions i.e. certain elements of gameplay which otherwise can’t be featured in the Genesis version of the game (The U.S versions can also be quite different in terms of gameplay experience to an extent, conversely speaking). Follow the instructions of the emulators you’ve acquired and you’re ready get cracking!
- Puyo Puyo introduction:
The developer for ‘Puyo Puyo’ (Japanese: ぷよぷよ) is the now defunct Compile. The seminal idea of the characters for ‘Puyo Puyo’ comes from Compile’s very own ‘Madou Monogatari’ (魔導物語) whereas the gameplay for Puyo Puyo comes from conceptual ideas drawn from other leading puzzle games of the day.
In case you were wondering, the same gameplay concept for ‘Puyo Puyo’ has been rebranded into other notable franchises such as Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog spinoff, "Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine" and Super Nintendo’s "Kirby’s Avalanche". It’s not too difficult to imagine that linking four entities of the same colour together and proceeding with the same formula throughout the game stages which get nominally tougher as the gamer progresses (with faster speeds at which the coloured entities drop) would easily get another game being published, don’t you? Actually, not really – while "Puyo Puyo" lays the basis of which other similar games could also adapt, the sequel "Puyo Puyo Tsu" (ぷよぷよ通) offers a wonderful, new playing experience which affirmatively confirms that the sky’s the limit as far as the creative and innovative side of the human race is concerned. (More on Tsu in another entry).
You can read a write-up of "Puyo Puyo" here.
- Gameplay Presentation and Layout:
Since this is a puzzle game, the entire game screen is the same for all levels (with some totally unimportant background graphical changes which doesn’t affect gameplay). The game screen is quasi-split screen where your play area is on the left whereas your opponent’s is on your right side of the screen. Each ‘vessel’ measures (6 x 12 [width x height]).
- Playing the game (Rensa and Ojama):
I’d presume that you’d have read the basic Puyo Puyo article on Wikipedia. The most basic thing you should be familiar of is the ‘rensa’ or chain. At least 4 beans (or more) of matching colours in horizontal or vertical (but not diagonally matched) would be eliminated off your vessel and results in ojama (garbage) which would be sent to your opponent. Ojama is a nuisance as they are colourless, grey beans (hence the Robotnik terminology of refugee beans) and therefore cannot be combined with your own other coloured beans to create rensa. Ojama, in technical terms, disrupts your efficiency (as well as the opponent) to create these chains and closes up some channels completely, forcing you to create new coloured strings afresh to stay in the challenge. Ojama can be eliminated by adjacent instances of rensa (again, not diagonally affected).
Ultimately, your perpetual aim would be to create so much ojama in your opponent’s vessel that they cannot act upon these nuisance with their own fresh beans and eventually get overwhelmed by the bean tide falling from above. Since the opponent can also do the same to you, it’s always in your favour to eliminate enough ojama to clear up blocked channels where you could unleash ‘fluent rensa’.
The beauty of "Puyo Puyo" is not so much about simplistically eliminating ojama in your game area and sending them to your opponent – it’s about creating a chain reaction of several rensa (called "Fluent Rensa") so that much, much more ojama can flood your opponent’s space.
You see, Fluent Rensa is obviously more difficult to execute than regular rensa. I’ll try to explain this in simple terms although it’s best to see it for yourself as to how it can be done.These can be created by stacking beans at certain positions of your gaming space (I’ll call this area, the "Vessel") and when one rensa is triggered off, the bean(s) at the top of the eliminated rensa would drop down, potentially creating another rensa with its affiliated colour. The wondrous thing about Fluent Rensa is that it can go on for a long way; depending on how much you can envision and the right time with which you wanted to trigger it off, having accumulated enough.
Fluent Rensa is often (but not necessarily) a result of intentionally not creating common rensa. Yes, abstaining from intentionally forming that 4 bean connection at every casual opportunity is the first vital step to creating Fluent Rensa. For a clearer example, as in the tutorial in-game, you can see that vertical stacks of 3 same-coloured beans high are first formed (e.g. Yellow, Green, Blue). (The auto-tutorial can be triggered off by not pressing anything at the start screen). Here’s a simplistic view:
X=Empty game Space
l= Game Wall]
While the dropping combos from above would not necessarily be the colour you intended, you can set it aside for now (that’s why it’s important to leave space for unnecessary combos from above) and continue concentrating on collecting 4 of such 3-bean same-coloured vertical stacks. You’ll also need a horizontal row of same-coloured beans (e.g. Red), each Red bean holding up another colour bean the same one as the one immediately below it, thus:
[where R= red bean]
As you can see, the red bean(s) act as a divider between the potential rensa. By making a rensa of the red and eliminating it, it’d trigger off the beans above to create subsequent rensa of their own. Remember, however, that this is the most optimistic situation and may not be always available as other colour combos may also drop from above, disrupting your rhythm at building these up. The Wikipedia example also presents a rather good situation where dropping rensa would also fire off a chain reaction.
There are no hard and fast rules concerning Fluent Rensa. Sometimes, your opponent may have just jammed your channels with ojama and you may have to adopt an alternative strategy which is survival; or the colour you were hoping for just won’t come from above.
Fluent Rensa may also throw a spanner at your opponent’s strategy by spawning enough ojama to block off his potential rensa and would flood his vessel. Some opponents, however, have a good backup plan of their own and can reverse the situation if you allow them to. Adversely speaking, you’d have to remember that your own foundation has got to be strong. In this context, your foundation has to be made up of many ready-to-go rensa stacks (3 beans) instead of scattered beans all over the place where you can’t form enough same coloured beans to save your skin.
You can have a look of what ojama can look like in the pictures uploaded below. Also note how long chains can create the orange ojama rocks which can burst the opponent’s jar!
Again, you can read the Wikipedia writeup on this topic. Alternatively, you can also get to know more of the characters here.
Basically, you control a young female sorceress named ‘Arle Nadja’. The centre of attraction would be the ‘Puyo beans’. According to this site, Puyos are the medium which the characters from ‘Madou Monogatari’ utilize to cast enchantments and other attacks, hence the challenges of the different stages in the game itself. I believe that by themselves, they just fall down from the sky for these characters to weave their magic and send trouble to their adversary in duels.
A supposed translated text of the game can also be found here, as I can’t read Japanese. They seemed pretty credible if little else could be said of what the developers had in mind when constructing the plot of the game. You could probably get a good insight as to what sort of enemies you’d be facing in the game.
A brief run-down:
- Arle Nadja – Protagonist of the game. Her mission in the game is to defeat an evil nemesis called ‘Satan’ (now, you’d probably know why the more cheekier ‘Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine’ made it into the United States instead of this game). In the mini-adventure, Arle encouters strange creatures and twisted fiends who stand in her way (some versions dictate that these creatures are not minions of ‘Satan’ and are merely obstacles). The penultimate enemy, Rulue, however is a confirmed minion of ‘Satan’ and Rulue’s servant, the tough Minotaur is presumably aligned with ‘Satan’ as well. Arle’s dialogues with her adversaries along the way shed some light into her somewhat naive but well-meaning character although one suspects that the developers were recycling most of the material. She also revealed a tender side of her (romantically embarrassed) as shown in the cut scene where she asks the impressive swordsman Schezo as to what he wanted from her and he casually told her that she’s the one he wanted – or more like the sorcery powers she has. Overall, her character in the game is possibly the most likeable and can serve with continuity in the game’s plot.
– Training Missions –
- Skeleton-T – the earliest enemy. He was shown consuming some brew (actually, herbal tea) which he claims would make him invincible although he’d be clearly fooling himself. The easiest adversary in the game.
- Nasu Grave – an eggplant (?!) wearing square glasses. Easy to beat although he does start building up chains of beans if you’re not careful.
- Mummy – a typical Egyptian Mummy. Since he’s the last of the creatures featured in the Training Mission, you can expect a slightly stiffer challenge.
– Basic Levels –
- Draco-Centaurus – I don’t know if it’s a she or a he, but most sources claimed that she’s female. Since she’s the first regular level enemy, she doesn’t really pose much of a threat, casually allowing the player to build up chains as they please.
- Suketou Dara – If every edible fish looks like him, I’d swear off it for the rest of my life. This aggressive fish has muscular arms and has a pair of matching legs to go with his main fish-like body. The way he smiles when you’re deep in trouble is priceless although it also shows that he has a nervous indisposition when faced with the same (shaking his fist anxiously).
- Sukiya Podes – A monopod as in ancient literature. This one-legged creature isn’t all that fearsome although pitting skills against him could get rather intense.
-Advanced Levels –
- Harpy – female monster-angel. She’s like a siren with the song but her efforts are either too off-key or too high-pitched (resulting in the famous Megadrive ‘sore throat’ in "Puyo Puyo Tsu"). Be wary of her chain attacks especially when you haven’t been committing to many garbage beans to her channel. Attack her early and she’d have her game plan undone.
- Sasori Man – Scorpicore (scorpion man) armed with a spear. He wore an typically amused look but exudes little else. His gameplan is rather straightforward but he can unleash some unexpected chain attacks when your bean level is around the middle half of your vessel.
- Panotty – a pixie-like panpipe player (looks more like a flute to me). He doesn’t like being not commended for his musical efforts and it shows in the dialogue with Arle. I’d have trouble duelling with this character and he can present quick bursts of chain attacks which can throw you off balance.
- Zombie – ugly, mud-based creature. Is also a challenging opponent and you must rely on singular attacks to put more beans into his channel before he has time to accumulate all of them in the right places.
- Witch – female sorceress with a good sense of humour served with hearty titters. She is (surprisingly) easy to beat. Play your chains carefully and she’d be eating dust soon. But don’t let your accumulation of chains (rensa) take too long either. And when you already have the upper hand, play it slow to accumulate another series of lightning attacks to stem her comeback.
– Difficult Levels –
- Zo – Daimaoh – Indian elephant without an inkling as to his true strength, frightening nearby birds and even sweet Arle herself. Since this is another advanced level of gameplay, you can expect the tiles to drop in places which you may not exactly like. I think that there is no real secret to beating this old elephant – just allow yourself roughly 30 seconds to build up your potential rensa (chains) and unleash your attacks. He’s real tough, so watch out for his tiles’ screen from time to time.
- Minotaurus – Like the mythical creature, he can be rather imposing. He’s also Rulue’s bodyguard. I can’t suggest a sure method of beating him but you have to adopt the quick rensa attack strategy after he has exhausted his as he can hold his own rather admirably.
- Rulue- female sorceress. Jealous of Arle and reputably has a crush on ‘Satan’. She is also curiously easy to defeat, but you have to accumulate rensa early and shoulder her somewhat early attacks without being upset over the damage she has done to you.
- Satan – He has horns, fangs and wings to match. He invites Arle to join his band of evil brothers and was appalled when she refuses. Apparently, Satan has a mild crush on Arle. Now, this is the final level and if you’ve done well to reach so far, all I can say is that you’re pretty much on your own here. My strategy was to brace against his early chains then launch a similar counterattack. When you see him sweating profusely as he stems your garbage disposals, you’d have to play it quick and eliminate any chances of him making a comeback. Unlike Minotaurus, ‘Satan’ is quite poor at fending off garbage piled up high in his vessel, IMO.
Learning Curve: Easy to pick up, hard to master
Fun Factor/Addictiveness: ****
AI intelligence: **** (variable difficulty levels but generally quite good)
Graphics – Easy on the eye; cheery and colourful. The animation of the characters are somewhat stiff although their sprites are nowhere near dull. Some of the game play screens are boring and repetitive, but the overall bright outlook makes it comfortable on the gamer’s eyes.
Learning Curve – Not the hardest game around to pick up although mastering the game may take a bit more effort.
Sound – What I dislike the most is the same music playing itself to death over and over again from Level 1 to Level 8. What’s worse is that the music itself is not the kind you won’t mind listening to repeatedly (like Digger, for example). The other sound effects are normal and nothing out of the ordinary.
Replayability – Each game is a new game.
Fun factor – This category means how likely the gamer would be addicted to this game and start seeing Puyos in dreams. I’d give this a 4-star as this game has this uncanny ability to urge you to play more of it; to better your Fluent Rensa chains and to beat Satan’s ass now and again. This game was a qualified success in Japan and the world ever since.
AI Intelligence – A subjective rating here as most of the AI have been tailored to increasing level of difficulty. So, you can’t expect Suketou Dara to perform as well as, say, the Witch or even Minotaur himself. The best part is- each character has his own unique signature style which you can sort of guess when you’re up against them. Some opponents would choose to go for the cheap Rensa whereas most would build up the semi-chains for future torture to you.
Presentation – Good. I don’t read a word of Japanese other than those in Kanji format but the ease at which I can start playing the game is amazing. You can get down to the action in 5 taps of the designated ‘Start’ button key on your keyboard without looking up (or the joypad if you’re on the console). The game space (vessels) could be a bit more imaginative (as in Puyo Pop Fever) but it serves the purpose well. The characters in the game are also fun-loving and you’ll enjoy seeing them give that evil smirk to you when you look doomed to defeat or they react nervously when the table are turned. (Just look at Suketou Dara shaking his fist). Most importantly, the game’s HUD is neat and doesn’t look out of place – with other elements not distracting your concentration when playing the later breakneck speed levels.
If you love retro gaming – you can’t go wrong with "Puyo Puyo". I don’t think countless millions of us can be wrong. If you have the Megadrive, I’d think that the cartridge is still available at various online sources. Otherwise, you’d be equally happy with picking up the ROM and settling for the emulator which is good and handy on your laptop/desktop for a quick gaming fix. I’ve promised to myself to make a pilgrimage to Akihabara in the future to pick up games for my Megadrive and part of the reason is this infectious delight called "Puyo Puyo".