Handheld consoles have always been the preferred platform for puzzle games, the smash Game Boy hit Tetris was an instant hit with anyone who played it for its simplicity and addictiveness but also because it was on the Game Boy and so could be taken anywhere and played on busses, trains and just about everywhere else, Tetris has also appeared on many other platforms but has not enjoyed the same success on them as it has on Game Boy for that reason, it may have looked better on other formats but you couldn't lug your television and home console around and play it while waiting for the bus.
Consequently there are a few criteria which good puzzle games tend to adhere to, they must be easy to get into and not complicated to play, not many puzzle games have complicated gameplay mechanics but are rather a case of manipulating the correct game 'pieces' in the right way in order to score points and usually to remove said pieces to make room for new ones. This is exactly what we have in the form of Puyo Pop Fever on GBA.
Puyo Pop Fever comes from software powerhouse Sonic Team and at first glance players may dismiss PPF as a direct copy of Sonic Teams Megadrive hit Doctor Robotniks Mean Bean Machine, its fair to say that PPF borrows heavily and is indeed based on Mean Bean Machine but there are enough gameplay enhancements to enable the game to stand out on its own and most importantly its portable.
Gameplay : Its raining blobs
Puyo Pop Fevers gameplay takes place on the now familiar split screen setup common to puzzlers where your pieces appear on the left hand side of the screen and your opponents appear on the right, the pieces in this case are 'puyos' which take the form of small blobs which trickle down the screen and must be moved and rotated into a desired position before being dropped onto the puyos already in place. Puyos can drop as two puyo connected together of the same or different colours, as three puyo joined together in an L shape of no more than two different colours or as four puyo joined in a square of either two different colours or all four the same, in the case of all four being the same colour you can change the colour to whatever you want with the A and B buttons, which normally rotate the puyo for you.
As you drop the puyos onto their similarly colored forerunners already in place they join together to form strings of puyos, when four of them of all the same colour are connected they are destroyed and you can then use the space they occupied to place more puyos.
The game proceeds like this and you must carefully put new pieces into place to destroy puyos and to prevent your side of the screen from filling up to the top which will lose you the game, you win the game if your opponents side fills up before yours does.
In the beginners stages you will only have to contend with pieces of three different colours (red, green and blue) but in more difficult stages that game will add yellow and then purple pieces to the mix which significantly increases how careful you must be when placing pieces down in order to be successful, as having more variety in the colors means its harder to get them connected together without there being a piece of another colour blocking the way.
Puyos of Mass Destruction
There exists in Puyo Pop Fever the ability to pull off combos of puyo destructions in order to cause more problems for your opponent as when you destroy pieces they drop onto your opponents side in the form of nuisance puyos which are grey puyos that will not connect to any other puyos even other nuisance puyos which of course means that they cannot be destroyed in the usual manner, nuisance puyos are removed when a piece that they are vertically or horizontally adjacent to is destroyed.
As you destroy pieces the puyos that are held up by them drop down and can trigger new chains of destructions called combos, by performing long chain combos you will not only clear your side of the screen faster but the nuisance puyo drop rate on your opponent will be increased by an order of magnitudes, should you find yourself on the receiving end of a large nuisance puyo drop from your opponent you will have to work very quickly and skilfully to remove the nuisance puyos before your screen fills up to the top and you lose the game.
Should you be successful in totally clearing your side of the screen the game will drop a large number of pieces on you which are specially rigged so that the next piece that drops can be used if placed in the right way to trigger a huge chain that will destroy all the pieces at once, if any remain the game continues as normal with the remaining pieces but if the chain goes off successfully then a new pre-rigged chain will drop and you can cause further damage to your opponent.
Also as you are creating chains and destroying puyo-pieces you will cancel out the nuisance puyo waiting to drop on you and lessen severity the drop, totally cancel it out or even reverse it so that they drop on your opponent instead, as you do this your 'Fever Mode' meter will charge, when it has been filled the game will enter Fever Mode for where the game drops preconfigured blocks of puyo for you to destroy all at once except that it doesn't matter whether all of them are destroyed in order for the next set to drop, once Fever Mode ends the game will carry on with whatever pieces remain on screen.
Aside from the standard multi-stage modes of play there are also the 'Endless' modes were you play on your own and not against an opponent, in these modes you have the continuous mode whereby you simply keep playing until you lose, the Mission mode in which set tasks appear onscreen and involve destroying set numbers of pieces at once or making certain sized chains and finally the endless fever mode whereby you begin the game in fever mode and remain in it until time runs out, all of these add to the game and offer varied play styles to break things up a bit.
Puyo Pop Fever also features multiplayer modes for up to four GBA consoles at once although thankfully only one game cartridge is required.
Now we come to what must surely be the least important part of any puzzle game - the graphics. As long as you can see what you are doing and the game isn't overly offensive on the eyes it generally doesn't matter what the graphics are like in this genre, Puyo Pop Fever has very good graphics though, the game looks very sharp and colourful throughout and although you are playing mainly on approximately a third of the width of the GBA screen it doesn't feel cramped or squashed and you can clearly see what you are doing.
The game also features nice 2D anime style renderings of your character performing special attacks, which appear on your side of the screen when you have performed a large combo.
Puyo Pop Fever is a very nice extension and continuation of an already proven puzzler formula, I really would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys puzzlers, the portability offered by being on GBA suits this game absolutely perfectly the pick up and play gameplay is there and you can even put the game and your GBA into a sleep mode via the pause menu, when brought out of sleep mode by pressing Select + L + R at the same time the game continues from exactly where it left off. This adds another level to the portability of the game as you don't need to wait until the end of a level to stop playing as sleep mode acts as a long term 'pause' state which the GBA can stay in for hours, you can then simply resume play from exactly where you were when it is convenient to.