1996 was a year of thumb-blistering excitement. We had the Saturn’s hardcore 2D appeal, the PlayStation’s busty 3D prowess, and the PC-FX’s sexy cream white controller. All developers great and small rushed to cash in on the next-gen craze, even if it meant releasing lackluster Golvellius rip-offs like Linkle Liver Story.
One developer stood firm against the tide. Compile — famed creators of MUSHA — watched the 32-bit tsunami and laughed.
“EH HEH HEH! Nya~~~ni kore?! 16-bit IKUZOU!”
While other developers dove headfirst into the raging 32-bit waters, Compile instead released brand-new games for the PC Engine (dead), Mega CD (deader), and Game Gear (deadest). Compile also ended up going out of business, but that didn’t happen until 2002, so we’ll pretend their habit of creating games for dead systems had nothing to do with that.
ENOUGH HISTORY! The important thing to remember is that Compile stuck by the aging PC Engine and struck a devilish deal with NEC to release the mammoth Puyo Puyo Tsuu CD in 1996. I say “mammoth” because, instead of 16 opponents, honey-bunny Arle Nadja now faces thirty-three diabolical villains culled from all corners of the Madou Monogatariverse. Yes, in Puyo Puyo Tsuu, feisty Arle squares off against vicious creatures like Mini Zombie, Cait Sith, and Samurai Mole.
As before, it’s a competitive puzzle game — similar to Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo — with lots of exploding little slimes. Like any “well” puzzler, the goal is to keep your playfield clean . . . but in Puyo Puyo, high-scoring chain reactions cause additional slime-like Puyos to fall and infest your challenger’s well.
The first Puyo Puyo CD used its charming atmosphere to make new fans feel welcome. Its cute, fully-voiced, pre-match “encounters” often overshadowed the actual puzzle-based Puyo battles. These popular scenes returned in Puyo Puyo Tsuu. Watch Draco-Centaur show off her sexy body! See Arle literally hammer bishie-boy Schezo into the ground with insults! Puyo Puyo Tsuu has 66 of these scenes, an ENORMOUS increase over the original’s sixteen, and they’re adorable.
Unfortunately, most newcomers will never see any of them. That’s because the cutscenes aren’t unlocked until after you’ve already beaten the game! The original episode’s frequent interludes provided gamers with incentive to keep playing for a few minutes more, just to see Arle’s next opponent . . . now we’re faced with thirteen straight battles that must be completed in one sitting before we ever get to see any of the overbearing cuteness that Puyo Puyo is known for. If you’re a casual (i.e., not insanely devoted) puzzle gamer, you probably wouldn’t even realize the game has cutscenes.
Even after that first full playthrough, you’ve only unlocked half of the cinematics. To unlock the other half, you have to win thirty-three consecutive battles, and you must again do it in a single sitting. Yep, the game makes you face thirty-three (33!) creatures in succession, and you can’t even save the game.
That alone makes Puyo Puyo Tsuu CD less immediately gratifying than its predecessor — as well as less immediately gratifying than other ports of the game. Play Puyo 2 on another system, or play any of the sequels, and you’ll be enjoying humorous cinematics from the very first round.
NEC and Compile also squandered Puyo Tsuu’s “Tower of Doom” theme. The first Puyo Puyo carried Arle through fields, Roman ruins, and the depths of hell itself. The constant cutscenes and occasional shifts in scenery gave the game a sense of progression, as though Arle were on an actual adventure. This time, Arle is supposed to be travelling up a titanic tower of terror, but the only hint that she’s actually inside a tower is on the “next enemy” screen (which shows a tower in the background). Should you actually unlock the cute cinematics, all 66 of them take place in the green plains that were already featured in the first game. That’s right — not only is the Tower nowhere to be seen in any of the intermissions, but Puyo Tsuu has fewer backgrounds than before!
If you pick up the PS2 version of Puyo Puyo Tsuu, its cutscenes actually take place inside the tower.
As for the competitive battles, Puyo Puyo Tsuu’s later opponents aren’t quite as difficult as they were in the original. The music is still nice, even if it’s not CD audio, and Compile has refined the controls to make each battle smoother and faster . . . but those tweaks don’t compensate for reduced challenge.
I’m not disgusted, but I’m definitely disappointed. Puyo Puyo Tsuu CD sometimes feels slick, but it never feels quite as passionate as it should. Gamers who aren’t already Puyo fans won’t understand what the big deal is, whereas the original Puyo Puyo CD had the power to turn even the grumpiest curmudgeons into believers. This disc also costs around two hundred dollars. The first episode can be found for five.