Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX‘s September 8 release is certainly an enticing one for Miku fans and rhythm game players, but its release is significant in a totally different way for fans of falling-block puzzlers: it’s the first appearance of the Puyo Puyo franchise in the West in quite some time.
It’s a small step, because it’s a small mode: the pared-down Puyo Puyo 39! mode contains a short campaign of AI battles and local multi-card wireless play. But it’s still Puyo, and it gives us hope for giant leaps to come.
First, though, a history lesson, because given Puyo‘s spotty appearance outside of Japan, you’d be forgiven for missing out until now.
See how the little pieces look vaguely like Slimes? That’s no accident. Puyo Puyo was itself a spinoff of a Dragon Quest-like JRPG called Madou Monotogari. Puyo are the game’s base-level Slime equivalent, and the series barely made a blip on the industry radar. (After a long hibernation, the franchise was revived on the Vita, and localized by Aksys as Sorcery Saga: Curse of the Great Curry God.)
Even though Madou Monotogari didn’t make a big splash, Puyo Puyo certainly did. It’s seen release in one form or another on virtually every platform since 1991, and even survived the demise of original developer Compile when it was adopted by Sonic Team ten years later. There have been a few variations over the years, but the basic formula has stayed the same: connect four or more of one color, and try to chain more together when those disappear and the pieces above them fall.
The series was known for a while as Puyo Pop in the West, though the earliest (and most widespread) releases were obscured by licenses on this side of the Pacific. Yes, I’m talking about both Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine and Kirby’s Avalanche. Both are based on the first version of Puyo Puyo, and thus have the purest version of the series’ mechanics. It finally stepped out on its own here in 1999… on the Neo Geo Pocket Color. Ambitious! Then the Game Boy Advance, then the N-Gage. The series made its last splash in America with Puyo Pop Fever, released here on GameCube and DS by Sega and Atlus, respectively.
And… then things got very quiet. The Genesis version of Puyo Puyo 2 was released as an import on the Wii Virtual Console in 2008, but otherwise, there’s been no Puyo in the West for over a decade.
The releases didn’t stop in Japan, though. There were seven main releases and a whole host of spinoffs and anniversary editions, and each one showed up on any system that was active at the time. There was even the (phenomenal) Puyo Puyo Tetris, which seemed like a great way to re-introduce the franchise in the West but was likely held back by licensing issues. (You should totally import it right now, though: the PS3, PS4 and Xbox One versions are totally region-free and generally affordable, and the multiplayer modes are can’t-miss.)
So it’s 2015, and we now get to play what’s basically a re-skinned Puyo Puyo 20th Anniversary: Mini Version, also known as “the thing every 3DS importer buys for three bucks on the eShop.” And here’s the thing: it’s a small, simple version, but the addictive essence of the game remains.
The Miku stuff doesn’t hurt either, especially if you’re a fan. It makes for great background music for a puzzler in the same way it does for a rhythm game: by getting you in the zone and focused. There are difficulty options, which is good for newcomers, because modern Puyo doesn’t pull any punches with its experienced Japanese player base. It’s a shame that the game doesn’t support Download Play, as it’d be easier to experience the game head-to-head as intended.
Still, it’s a glimmer of hope. Oh yeah, and it also comes with that whole big rhythm game. And Reversi! Reversi’s also great. You should play some Reversi.
Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX will be in stores both digital and physical on September 8. There’s a demo up on the eShop now that you can grab, too.