Review: Puyo Pop Fever (Nintendo Gamecube)

Puyo Pop Fever (GCN)
Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Gamecube
Rating: E for Everyone
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sonic Team

Puzzle games are a dying breed. It’s sad really. Who doesn’t remember Tetris and the feeling of having to beat your friend’s hi-score for supreme bragging rights is? Fact is, puzzle games are quickly becoming a lost art in the world of gaming. There are several reasons for this, but I think one among them really sums it up: There is a severe shortage of good puzzle games out there these days. In an era of graphics that only get better, and game play that consistently challenges the standards, the puzzle genre truly seems to be the odd man lagging behind it all. Maybe gamers just need more these days, or maybe it’s the abundance of free puzzle games on every big name web site out there today. Whatever way you slice it though, puzzle games are nearly dead, and perhaps Puyo Pop Fever is one of the last, few, puzzle games we will see. Sega’s trademark puzzle series has made the transition to the Gamecube, and after spending some time with it I think the results are somewhat disappointing However, let’s look at it piece by piece as get right down to it and review Puyo Pop Fever.

1. Story

Well, normally, puzzle games and story modes just don’t mesh. Let’s face it, no one has ever picked up Tetris or Dr. Mario and looked forward to the indulging plot they would be embarking upon. Puyo Pop Fever; however, deviates from the standard here because it does, indeed, have a story mode. Why it has a story mode is still unclear to me, because in short it is a waste of time. It doesn’t give you any true unique takes on the gameplay experience and it doesn’t add anything vital to the overall feel of Puyo Pop Fever to warrant its existence. The true value of Puyo Pop Fever rests in the other modes of such as classic puyo playing, multi-player gaming, endless fever mode, and others. The story mode is definitely something I would recommend most gamers skip unless you are a perfectionist who likes to complete all aspects of whatever game you’re playing at the moment. It provides you with exactly the same gameplay the other modes do, which is all well and good, but the fact is Sega did not put much into it. It’s cutesy and different, but not fun. The silver lining is that you do not need to really touch story mode to play Puyo Pop Fever to its fullest. Personally, I just don’t see the reasoning behind a story mode in a puzzle game. It’s an interesting concept, but it never gets pulled off right, and it always just seems hurried and strung together; just like it does here with Puyo Pop Fever.

Overall Story Rating: 2/10

2. Graphics

You know, I can’t help but feel that Puyo Pop Fever, while nice looking, certainly isn’t even coming close to pushing the Gamecube’s technical limits. It looks pretty enough, but nothing about these graphics will make you sit up and pay attention. Usually, this doesn’t bother me, because I really am not known for graphics over gameplay, but the graphics here are coupled with a game that doesn’t provide a fresh gameplay experience and that just equals mediocrity all around. The characters look decent, as do the puyos, and all the other odds and ends in the game, but it is very underwhelming as a complete package. Playing Puyo Pop Fever almost makes you believe your playing a game that graphically could have come out one generation ago. Still, let’s be clear: graphics don’t make or break a game. They still only serve to compliment the gameplay in my eyes, but here, as I said, when the game itself is average it is impossible to ignore the graphical shortcomings that appear. Summing things up graphically it’s obvious that Sega could have done more here if they had wanted to, but didn’t, and it shows.

Overall Graphics Rating: 5/10

3. Sound

Things don’t get better here, but instead take another step down. The soundtrack to Puyo Pop Fever is, regrettably, completely forgettable. If there is one thing a puzzle game needs it really is great, catchy, music. Puzzle games are made or broken by two things: Gameplay, and of course sound. Some of the greatest puzzle games of all time, not surprisingly, have benefited from simple yet great music. Tetris always got me ready to play with those pseudo-Russian tunes that oddly just hit all the right chords in your mind as you play. The same can be said for other puzzle games like a Dr. Mario or even a lost gem like the N64’s Pokemon Puzzle League. Puyo Pop Fever just doesn’t inspire you to get into the mood of the game as you play, and that really is a huge check in the wrong column for the Sonic Team and Sega. When it comes to puzzle games there really isn’t much more of a killer than poor music, and as a result you won’t find yourself playing Puyo Pop Fever for long spurts of time. Either that or you’ll just deep six the music altogether and put your own tunes on. I would recommend the latter, since the dull soundtrack itself has to be one of the most sub-par I have ever heard on a puzzle game to date. The last gripe I have here is the voice acting: It is beyond bad. Why there is voice acting in a puzzle game puzzles (ha!) me. Overall, the sound just needs to be avoided at all costs.

Overall Sound Rating: 3/10

4. Control

Puyo Pop Fever is a long running puzzle game series for Sega, and when you boil it down you will find the same gameplay that veterans of the series will remember. The only difference here, in actuality, is the new “Fever” mode/option that has been thrown into the namesake of this game. Basically what the gameplay entitles is that your objective is to link chains together of four puyos that are of like colors and that will score you points, etc. What “Fever” does is make all of this move a whole lot faster. You play in a preset up field where there is the opportunity to make huge combos, but of course the catch is that the game moves incredibly fast. The real reason to play Puyo Pop Fever through is for the competitiveness it, like most puzzle games, inspires. Playing against a friend is the one way to have a decent level of “fun” with this game, the objective being to create massive combos yourself so that you can drop tons of blocks on his side of the screen leading to your victory. However, I have a gripe with this as well. When I look at my Gamecube I see four ports for controllers. Yet you can only play against one person in Puyo Pop Fever. I can’t fathom why there isn’t any four player gaming here, because any game that lets you multi-play with up to four people is great for parties and what not.

In addition to this there are also three other never ending modes that present you with different tasks, etc. as you constantly deal with puyos. One of those modes is geared towards the “Fever” aspect of Puyo Pop Fever, the other is a mission/challenge based theme, and the last being completely old school Puyo gameplay. The controls are tight, no doubt about it, but you just can’t help but feel that more could have been done here. I’ll give Sega credit for a lot of interesting ideas, but in terms of implementation things just fall flat.

Overall Control Rating: 6/10

5. Balance

Puyo Pop Fever is not for hardcore puzzle gamers. Outside of the fever mode, nothing here will present you with an insurmountable problem. However, given the cute feel of this game, and the history of the series, I really wasn’t too surprised with this. Puyo Pop Fever is aimed at a younger demographic, and as a result it plays that way. The fever mode is definitely light years harder then the regular modes, but after some practice even that becomes playable to the extent where you can really rack up some nice scores. In short, if you’re a puzzle gamer looking for some new, mind-boggling challenges then this is definitely not the game for you. If you are new to the puzzle genre, or perhaps in the market for a game for your kid or something like that, then Puyo Pop Fever may be right up your alley. With a price tag of thirty bucks (and I think that will go down sooner rather than later), you really can’t complain all that much if you do purchase it.

Overall Balance Rating: 5/10

6. Replayability

Like all puzzle games, Puyo Pop Fever is built towards replay value. Unfortunately with the mediocrity of everything I have detailed so far, it’s hard to give Puyo Pop Fever high marks here. The game simply doesn’t make you want to come back time after time. At best all it’s good for is a quick play on a boring day or something like that, or when you have a friend over and you’ve run out of other games to play. Sega gave it a decent effort. With all the modes, and the new Fever concept, the opportunity for an addicting and replay value heavy puzzle game was definitely there. Things just didn’t materialize in the final product though. As I said before, the price tag helps alleviate some of these concerns, but even that isn’t enough to allow me to endorse Puyo Pop Fever as a truly worthwhile game. No four player gaming also hurt this category as well, especially when anyone who simply looks at the front of their ‘Cube knows this easily could have been an option with a little more effort put into things.

Overall Replayability Rating: 4/10

7. Originality

Earlier in this review I stated that Puyo Pop Fever, at its core, was still the same game as its predecessors have been in terms of gameplay. With that said, it’s pretty easy to figure out originality isn’t in abundance here. Fever mode is a new addition to the series, and the various other modes are nice touches, but anyone who has played a Puyo game before, or puzzle games in general will not find any earth shattering new content here. When you compound that with the fact that there is a better Puyo game already out for the GBA, things just get worse and worse for Puyo’s debut on the Gamecube. I can sympathize with Sega a bit though, because keeping puzzle games fresh and new can, understandably, be tough due to the very nature of the genre. They gave it a nice effort in terms of the fever gimmick, and what not, but it still doesn’t change the fact that you could basically pick up any Puyo game made and still get the same experience from it.

Overall Originality Rating: 4/10

8. Addictiveness

Puzzle games are supposed to be addicting. They are supposed to frustrate you at times, and make you want to shatter your records and see just how good you can do. So why does Puyo Pop Fever do none of that? It comes back to, once again, everything I have harped on so far. It just doesn’t draw you back in at all. At best you’ll find yourself only popping this in when you have someone else on hand to partake in the puyo fun. Other then that this game is about as addicting as candy cigarettes. There are just better games out there in the puzzle genre, and where they succeed Puyo Pop Fever fails, and it definitely shows through in pretty much every aspect of the game.

Overall Addictiveness Rating: 3/10

9. Appeal Factor

I really came into this game wanting to like it. I’ve always had a soft spot for the puzzle genre in console and handheld gaming, and I was severely disappointed with Sega’s product this time around. I gave it every chance I could, but the redeeming factors of Puyo Pop Fever are just too few and far between. The fact that I’m not in the targeted demographic probably doesn’t help much either. However, I still take this game to task in terms of its appeal to its expected audience as well. Its music, graphics, and gameplay will not be enough to hold any younger gamers interest in this day and age. Not when you could find a much better, 4-player, hand held version of Puyo on the GBA for the same price. Things just never materialize here, and as a result many gamers are not going to go out of their way to purchase a sub-par puzzle game with little hype behind it in today’s gaming market.

Overall Appeal Factor Rating: 3/10

10. Miscellaneous

What else can I say at this point? This game doesn’t do the little things well, and it really doesn’t deliver on any of the big things either. Die hard Puyo fans will enjoy the familiar gameplay, but those unfamiliar with the series will not stay long. There were a lot of things that could have been done to improve this game, and perhaps in the next Puyo installment, on whatever system it appears on we will see a much better product. For now I would recommend those puzzle fans out there to hunt down the GBA’s Puyo game for a much more well rounded experience. The cons just weigh Puyo Pop Fever down to a point where it can not resurface. A very disappointing effort from Sega and the Sonic Team, a combination that we have come to expect a lot more from in terms of quality in today’s gaming world.

Overall Miscellaneous Rating: 4/10

Story Rating: 2/10
Graphics Rating: 5/10
Sound Rating: 3/10
Control Rating: 6/10
Balance Rating: 5/10
Replayability Rating: 4/10
Originality Rating: 4/10
Addictiveness Rating: 3/10
Appeal Factor: 3/10
Miscellaneous Rating: 4/10

Overall Rating: 4.0