I’ve been playing a whole lot of Puyo Puyo Tetris lately, and I thought I’d collect my thoughts on the competitive scene so far. Puyo Puyo and Tetris obviously both have long histories, so it’s exciting to see how Sega’s combined and balanced the two - particularly so on the Tetris side, what with that not being a traditionally competitive game. I’m going to assume you’re familiar with Puyo before you read this. This game uses the Tsu ruleset and from the Puyo perspective, matches are going to seem pretty much the same as if you were playing against another Puyo - garbage falls from the top as normal. Garbage on the Tetris side pushes the board up from the bottom.
In the standard versus mode, you can choose between either Puyo or Tetris to play, independently of your opponent’s selection. It’s still early in the game’s life (it has been out for about a week at the time of writing) but it is worth noting that there are definitely far more Tetris than Puyo players at large in the ranked online community. It’s a Japanese only release at this point, so the people playing are all over there (or importers) - unfortunately I don’t have any idea how popular Tetris is over there, so I can’t say how much people’s game selection is informed by competitiveness versus familiarity. Interestingly the pool seems to even out towards the top ranks, to the point where I feel like it’s about an even split.
Both games seem balanced against each other at high levels of play, but that skill ceiling for Puyo is perhaps higher; a Puyo player pretty much has to successfully execute a long chain built from the beginning of the match if they want to stay in it. Tetris players meanwhile, seem to have a more divergent range of strategies.
The ‘hold’ command on the Tetris side (a slot where you can save one piece for later use, swapping out with the currently active piece) makes a significant impact on the way a Tetris player is able to build. It allows for flexibility when a given piece is not desirable, and also allows the player to create a more ambitiously sized gutter (single empty lane waiting for an I piece to Tetris with), assuming they are holding an I piece. In a standard game of Tetris, you don’t want to build too high in case of bad luck in getting an I piece, leaving you dangerously close to the top. With one I piece held, you can use it in an emergency, or as more frequently occurs build high enough to wait for another I piece and make two Tetrises in a row.
My opening strategy against Puyo players is generally to build a guttered pile at least 8 blocks high, while holding an I piece. Once this is done, the next time an I piece is dealt I make a Tetris, and then swap out the held piece to make a second one immediately (this should be done quickly enough such that the garbage from these two moves is sent all at once). This is one of the easiest ways to send an amount of garbage that will often submerge what the opposing Puyo player has built, or at least force them to execute their chain, if their reaction is quick enough. This strategy depends largely on overwhelming the opponent with speed - a strength of the Tetris side since they have the ability to ‘snap’ each piece instantly into position below. Tetris moves are limited almost only by the speed at which the player can make the inputs.
This said, though they may have sent ‘enough’ garbage to the Puyo player, it is still not a great deal, certainly not comparable to a long Puyo chain. A Tetris player has no capacity to generate as much garbage all at once as a Puyo player does with a sufficiently long chain. If a highly skilled Puyo player is allowed to execute a well-planned chain, they can generate enough garbage to completely fill the Tetris player’s board and instantly knock them out - the same cannot be said for the Tetris side.
Constant Tetrises is also not the only viable strategy for maximum garbage generation. The game detects and rewards moves such as T-spins - some players I’ve seen will play for lots of consecutive 3-line clears off of T-spins, and this seems like it may generate even more garbage than Tetrises. Continually consecutively clearing any lines at all will also be rewarded, so if you can plan to be clearing just a line or two every turn for a lot of turns, you’ll also keep pace. This happens a lot incidentally once you get to points where you need to dig your way out of garbage, since the Tetris garbage distribution leaves exactly one randomly positioned missing piece in each garbage line. It’s actually kind of a problem when you have Tetris v Tetris matches; skilled players will both be constantly clearing lines from the garbage being fed to them, and so you end up with a lot of quite protracted matches. Puyo v Puyo is the same game it’s been since Tsu - the most interesting matchup is Puyo v Tetris.
Again, the metagame may develop further from where it is now, but I think that’s unlikely given how well understood both Puyo and Tetris already are. It’s awesome to see that Sega have managed to fairly balance two totally different games being played against each other to create a totally new competitive environment! The timing on each game is matched well enough that you still get the tense ‘cold war’ chain-building scenarios you do in classic Puyo. I kind of wonder whether Puyo games going forward aren’t going to feel lacking without the Tetris element (though of course there are always other Puyo variants, I’m just a fan of the classic Tsu rules).
If you want to check out Puyo Puyo Tetris, you’ll need to import a Japanese copy for PS3 or Vita, since it’s almost definitely not coming to the West! It’s also on Wii U and 3DS, but those systems are region-locked, so you’ll need a Japanese console to play on those platforms.