Genre: Chain-em-up | Developer: Sonic Team | Year: 2003 | Platform: ps2

There is a dear and treasured friend of mine. A few years ago during a meetup, my dear friend pulled out a Nintendo Switch and so-casually gestured across his library of games, casually suggesting Puyo Puyo Tetris with the same well-oiled ease with which this Dudley-playing berserker suggests a few games of Third Strike.

I asked if we could play one of the Puyo-inclusive modes. He looked at me like I said I kill cats for fun. Perhaps he was wise to do so. Playing versus Tetris, particularly within the decree of the guideline, is mostly just about seeing who’s the most good at Tetris. Who can clear stack the fastest and most accurately? It’s not a totally facile question.

But Puyo is a different game, built versus from the ground up.

The tabula of the Puyo player is space on which attack and defense is balanced. In Puyoland, the garbage comes from the top, and even one well-placed bean of garbage can clog your current wunderwaffe chain. So we must plan to offset garbage defensively, intercepting it mid-flight, or risk losing our tempo to clearing such sabotage. But how much of the limited space can you devote to defense, playing this shoebox RTS for godlike bean-counters? Should you launch first or second, when both have ample opportunity to be the wrong choice? Building your Plan A double-digit chain is hard enough under no duress, how well can you keep up if you’re trying to build Plans B and C at the same time while the Beans of Damocles hang above your head? Can you do all this while carefully monitoring the other player’s board – not only looking for an advantage in economy, but for a recklessly-given opening when the opponent has hinged their sorry future on a chain that can be clogged with just one cheeky little poke?

Fever is a further evolution of Puyo beyond the introduction of the offset, now rewarding offsetting via activating fever mode. For a short time, you’re given ready-made chains. You might think this sounds like total brain-off territory, but since one Fever mode often begets the opponent’s, the result is a pure battle for tempo that only taxes the brain further. Now we must rapidly customise these chains, add to them, “debug” them to get all-clears, each clear increasing the size of the next chain. And between fevers, it’s a mad scramble to build enough material to get to the next fever before you drown.

The result is sheer excess. Puyo is a deeply refined game. Fever is not. Head-to-head sets of Fever between similarly-matched players can be interminable, soon escalating from sending red beans of garbage all the way to stars, moons and crowns. One crown contains ten times the amount of garbage needed to totally fill the playfield. When both players can keep the fevers going, before long 12 crowns will be casually sent back and forth between players in a nightmarish atomic rally. This type of utter delusion is rarely championed in multiplayer games, save for those who like a particular Sailor Moon SNES fighter, but it must surely have a place.

The funny evil cat is my favourite character.