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How 'Puyo Puyo Tetris' tricked me into liking puzzle games

I never knew until now that puzzle games could tell a story.
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When Larry Kasanoff said he was turning the world's most iconic puzzle game into a trilogy of science fiction movies, I was speechless. After a disaster like Pixels, how could anybody look at Tetris and think there was a narrative to tell? The game may be a classic, but the narrative potential of organizing falling bricks into horizontal lines seemed weak to me. Then I played Puyo Puyo Tetris. Kasanoff's sci-fi epic still sounds terrible, but somehow it pulls off the impossible: It builds an entertaining narrative from an abstract puzzle game.

The idea of a comedy-driven story supporting a puzzle game might be novel to me, but for Puyo fans, it's par for the course. The series was originally spun off from a Japanese RPG, and the narrative aspect of the adventure series carried over to the match-four Puyo games. When the franchise merged with the classic tetromino game to create Puyo Puyo Tetris, that storytelling carried over once again. Thankfully, it doesn't take itself too seriously, offering an "adventure mode" that's little more than a collection of anime tropes performing over-the-top slapstick gags. Even so, this is more than enough to do something no other puzzle game has before: keep me engaged.

Chalk it up to personal preference or a simple ineptitude for the genre, but puzzle games have never been able to hold my interest for long. I enjoy the challenge of Dr. Mario, and indeed, Tetris is an essential piece of gaming history -- but I inevitably abandon the games when the difficulty curve outstretches my patience. With Puyo Puyo Tetris, it's oddly different. The game's silly vignettes are the perfect way to break up the endless rounds of gameplay, rewarding each victory with a few minutes of light comedy, cute characters and just enough story to make one wonder what comes next. It's the carrot that pushes me to learn how to play the game better.

It's worth the effort too. Puyo Puyo Tetris' story may be by-the-numbers anime nonsense, but it's funny nonsense, enough to make me laugh out loud repeatedly. Maybe I'm easy to please, but it drove me to learn the game -- which is surprisingly refreshing. Both the Puyo and Tetris elements of the game are competent in their own right, but as the game progresses the two play styles merge, introducing competitive game modes that pit the puzzle games against each other: One mode swaps between the two on the fly, and another forces you to play both at the same time.

These game modes are all fun on their own, but on the Nintendo Switch, they're a special joy. Pulling out Puyo Puyo Tetris at a friend's house, handing her a Joy-Con and watching her react when the game suddenly switches from Tetris to Puyo Puyo is a unique, sadistic pleasure. It's also a great case for the console's tabletop mode, and next to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, it has become my go-to game for showing the multiplayer capabilities of the Switch to friends.

Every new Nintendo console needs a Tetris game, and although Puyo Puyo Tetris isn't exclusive to the Switch, it fills the role well. My hard-core puzzle-fan friends tell me there are better versions of each game available, and that's probably true -- but if you're looking for a lighthearted, genuinely funny and challenging puzzle game with a lot of variety, you can't go wrong here.

Puyo Puyo Tetris is available on PlayStation 4, Nintendo 3DS, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Wii U, PlayStation Vita and Nintendo Switch.

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