Last year, with the launch of the Nintendo Switch, the Western world was finally graced with the international release of Puyo Puyo Tetris. It’s a mash-up puzzler that’s been close to my heart and which I’ve previously covered at length, specifically how the game has all the perfect ingredients to break out as an eSport.
It didn’t take long for a taste of high-level competitive Puyo. At last summer's AnimeEVO, an event that coincides with the headline Evo Championship series, some of the world's great Puto masters were ready to rock. Two Japanese players had also flown in to take part: Tema, one of Japan’s few professional female players, nicknamed the ‘Puyo Queen’, and Amemiyataiyou, whose Tetris and Puyo abilities can only be called godlike (or demonic). Skip the below recording of the Top 8 swap finals to 1:35:00, and you can see the latter blaze through the Grand Finals. Or indeed, keep watching afterwards when he agrees to a 1v3 match (jokingly referred to as Amemiyataiyou vs The World), completely destroying my original assumptions that Tetris players are disadvantaged over Puyo players. The speed and strategy of the real deal is something to behold, alright. What's a lowly UK Puyo player to do against that? Enter PuyoGB, a new official Puyo Puyo Community for the UK, with its own Discord channel and Puyo-focused crowd. Founded in September 2017, its founder Kei has been a long-time devotee of the series since 1994 when he played it in its Western guise, Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. “That was my first taste,” says Kei. “By the time I had the Internet in the late 90s, I stumbled across an emulation site, and I read about this game called Puyo Puyo. So I started playing it and I was like, ‘hang on a minute!’ – the connection was made.”
That discovery compelled Kei to further research, leading him to one of the original English-language Puyo communities, the now-defunct PuyoPuyo Museum, which chronicled a whole decade’s worth of other games in the series. “From there, all I wanted to do was play every single game.”
Kei isn’t just a devoted fan but has acquired decades of knowledge, skill and finesse that puts him on par with the best Japanese players: he’s the first in the UK region to earn the title of Grandmaster in Puyo Puyo Tetris (a title only one other UK player appears to have, based on the latest check).. Although he didn’t attend last year’s AnimeEVO, he did play a part behind the scenes, advising on the the tournament rule sets that have become the metagame standard. If you want to see his skills, check out this exhibition doubles match where Kei (Player 4) teams up with Amemiyataiyou to play against Tema and another Japanese pro Storm:
Suffice to say, despite officially retiring from competitive Puyo since 2007, Kei’s expertise and relationship with the majors in Japan puts him in a great position for laying the foundations of Puyo Puyo for other English-speaking players, certainly more than the 70 or 80 back in his heydey. “With Puyo Puyo Tetris coming to the forefront, I want to give something back to the wider community, and I feel the time is now right,” he says. “We have a game that’s well-known, if only from the Tetris side of things, which means people are beginning to know what Puyo is.”
The challenge is to get Puyo Puyo recognised in the long run – it’s called PuyoGB after all, not TetrisGB. But it’s unfortunate that even when the game does get highlighted, more attention is paid to the game we’re already familiar with. This includes a recent feature from Red Bull that included Puyo Puyo Tetris as one of their Best Party Games for the Switch while completely dismissing the Puyo Puyo side – doubly ironic, given that in Japan Red Bull sponsors the national tournament.
Puyo Puyo Tetris is also something of an aberration – a crossover of two vastly different puzzle games that shouldn’t work but does. But it’s just one entry in a series that’s spanned over a quarter of a century so, if it gains enough popularity to warrant another international release, it’d be most likely a stand-alone Puyo Puyo game. In fact, given that Puyo Puyo Tetris was first released in Japan for other platforms in 2014, there already is another game where the pros are focused: Puyo Puyo Chronicle on the 3DS, released in December 2016. “I hope that if it gets localised it gets ported to the Switch, then more people will be playing Puyo,” says Kei. With a Puyo Puyo anniversary broadcast set to take place in Japan on February 4th, perhaps Puyo fans can cross their fingers for such an announcement.
In any case, rather than wait for Sega to step up, if there’s an opportunity to build a competitive scene for the UK, now is the time to get the ball rolling, which leads us to two inaugural PuyoGB tournaments next month. Both taking place on Sunday 18th February, there will be a Puyo Puyo Tetris swap tournament at GEEK in Margate, as well as a side tournament in Scotland’s Smash and anime-themed event Battles In Glasgow, which at least means both ends of the country are catered for.
Despite PuyoGB’s name Kei is open to attracting other English-speaking players from other regions. He's in contact with the Australian Puyo community, which is lucky enough to have one of the best non-Japanese Puyo players around, Yoshi100 (one of the few non-Japanese names you’ll see in the World Top 20 of the Puyo Puyo Tetris Puzzle League). “I lost 30-13 to him,"Kei says. "He was heavily praised by Tom Nadja [Japan’s current top Puyo player] – and he’s only 14!”
— Yoshi100_Aus (@Yoshi100_Aus) October 26, 2017
The desire to build these international links perhaps stems from an even bigger ambition for Kei, that PuyoGB doesn’t just grow the scene for this country but make it a contender on the international stage. “There are people in Japan who want to play people outside of Japan,” says Kei. “Tema is an advocate for pushing Puyo into the English-speaking world so we’re both working towards the same goal. But while it’s all well and good we have regional and online tournaments, and Japan has national tournaments, there hasn’t been a World tournament yet.”
“We can’t be meek-minded about it,” says Kei. A Puyo World Cup is certainly a goal to strive for, and one in which he hopes PuyoGB can play a part. “We’re not expecting grandmasters overnight, but as long as more people play the game, get exposed to the game, and use it to meet other people, learn skills and grow, we’ve established what we want to do.”