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Review #33

Puchi Puchi Virus
Genre: Colour Matching Puzzle
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Keys Factory
Release Date: May 20, 2008

As so-called "casual" gamers start buying into video games, more games are going to be released that cater to their general genres, one of which is the puzzle game genre. NIS America - more known for their strategy and role playing games like Disagea and Atelier Iris - has decided to jump into the pool with a puzzle game of their own. Naturally, as "Japanese" has become a euphemism for "What in the-- what in the fuck is that!?", their entry into the crowded puzzle field - Puchi Puchi Virus - has it's own unique charm about it that can only come from a land that had already given us Pocky and La Blue Girl.

Unlike most "casual" game makers, NIS has a habit of localising games that don't suck, as the majority of their catalogue finds a niche and hits it hard, finding the bullseye more often than not. While it's good to see them branching out, would this game prove to be a gem like most of the rest of their catalogue? Let's find out below.

STORY

Long ago, there was a quaint planet much like Earth. Its people were a touch dull, but kind.

One day, a strange virus called the Puchirus appeared and infected everyone on the planet! The virus somehow turned people into wild, aptly named creatures.

Dr. Kevin A Longfellow quickly decided to help return his kinsmen back to their common selves. Kevin worked tirelessly with Nurse Honeydew and George the Chicken to find a cure.

The trio came up with the "Puchi Buster DS" to treat anyone infected with too much zaniness.

This odd, sleek device uses dangerously high doses of pure awesome to destroy the disease!

Go, Doc! Save the world from that crazy virus!


That is word for word, verbatim from when you start the game. I... I cannot out-do that. I can't even attempt to come up with anything witty that can top changing transformed monsters by using "pure awesome" with the help of a loli and a talking chicken with a dress who's name is George. Either this is terrible translating or the writers are taking massive amounts of peyote.

The story means almost nothing to the game, and the only times you see it come up are after you beat a certain number of stages at a time, but it does a great job of setting up how the missions go, as well as the general atmosphere of the game itself. As for mission progression, essentially, you will see the patient card of some weird monster who's name is a pun (like Binocerous, a dinosaur that makes friends by using Morse Code, and my personal favourite, Uwe G.T. Bull, who's hobbies include gorging herself and "making horrid film adaptations"), and after you beat the mission, you see the human form as they say something clever, though the humans and their lines repeat often.

In short, the story is cute, quirky, and stays out of the way.

Story Rating: Decent

GRAPHICS

The character models are standard chibi fare; deformed, and cute as hell. They're well drawn, and put forth a lot of personality. Overall, they look great.

The game board is clear and concise, though it can be a bit hard to tell what's what; the colours lean a little too light, or pastel, for my liking, and when things start getting hectic, it can be a little bit too easy to get confused, especially in a game that has such as low margin for error. And if you're colourblind, don't even bother with this game; the shapes that differentiate the different type of viruses, with a few exceptions, aren't easy enough to tell apart without their colours.

In short, the graphics are passable, and though there are parts that could be better, they won't get in your way. That's all you can ask from a game like this.

Graphics Rating: Mediocre

SOUND

This might be the most useless category for a game like this. There are a few non-offencive ditties that play during menus, and while you're playing the game, there is a little song that plays that you never notice; I had to specifically listen for it for the purpose of writing this.

I wish there was more audio variety, or at least something as trippy as Planet Puzzle League, but for the purpose of playing the game, this is a useless metric.

Sound Rating: Poor

CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY

I will do a very brief review of the gameplay of this game: There are little viruses (six types) on a hexagonal grid, and you get rid of them by making triangles to link them, and tapping the part of the triangle. By tapping a virus, you "lock" it, but if you leave a "locked" virus too long, it will harden and become a solid, useless block of calcium. These blocks can be cleared by having them be under a triangle. Also, by getting a virus under a triangle, you lock it, and can attach it to other viruses of the locked virus's colour to create links; as you break one triangle, the others break with it, and this is the best way to score. However, if a locked virus doesn't get popped under the triangles, they harden, and they also harden if they're left alone for too long. The speed of their appearing and hardening is shown with a gauge on the left side of the screen; the more red on the body gauge, the worse shape you're in, and higher chains bring it down. Stages are timed, and you win the stage by reaching a predefined goal, such as scoring X amount of points, or getting a certain number of chains, while you lose by either running out of time or having the entire board harden.

I've honestly never seen a game quite like this; most puzzle games lately are "like" other, more well known games, be it something "like" Tetris, something "like" Bejewled, something "like" Puyo, etc. However, the Puzzle Gamer Federation, by law, states that I have to make a comparison, so here goes: Puchi Puchi Virus is what happens when you take Panel de Pon/Tetris Attack, Jooleem, a pinch of Puyo Puyo, a Year 10 Geometry book and a season of the anime Lucky Star, throw them into a running blender and leave the room for five minutes.

Strangely, the concoction works; it's very fun to start chaining combos together, and the better I got at the game, the more I was able to do in terms of combos, and there's this euphoria that comes over you when you clear half the board. The action moves fast, so you really don't have a lot of time to admire your last moves because you have to think about the next ones so quickly. Simply put, in terms of a puzzle game providing pure fun, this is the most fun I've had with one in a very long time.

Not everything is perfect, however. It can be hard to tell exactly where the triangles fall into, and when it comes to opening up calcified viruses, that essentially means you don't always know if the triangle is going to soften a virus or not. It's definitely not an exact science, and there's not enough time to really debate the issue. Also, as I said before, it's very easy to get colours confused. And due to the nature of some of the loftier goals, in order to score enough points/combos/viruses to make it, it can sometimes lead to you waiting around for viruses to pop up so you have enough to chain.

Those problems are very minor compared to the two that do affect the main portion of the gameplay. The first is that some of the rules that you need to hit can be very difficult just to the nature of how chains work. The point total stages aren't too bad once you get used to chaining, but there are stages that require you to have a certain number of X-number chains; for example, 4 different times when you chain together three at a time, or three times where you make a four chain. That in itself is OK, but the problem is that it's very easy to get a chain stuck inside another chain, and when you start the chain, instead of it going 1-2-3-4-5, it will go 1-22-33. That's fine for scoring, but on stages where you need that fifth chain, it's problematic, especially as the time limit on almost every stage is only three minutes, which means you have to do advance, careful planning in a game environment that doesn't preclude itself to any kind of planning. To this day, I haven't popped a ten, but one night, I popped five twos.

The biggest problem though is that I felt point collision was a bit dodgy. There were too many times when I thought I hit one virus, but got another one of a totally different colour. That is problematic because by the time you notice there's no triangle to pop, the pieces have hardened. There just seems to not be enough room for error, and the game is too frantic for that level of inconsistency. After awhile, it's something that the player adjusts to, but there's definitely a slight learning curve.

Overall, most stages evolve into organised chaos, where the player either does whatever he can to get the most points the fastest, or resorts to doing the old Panel de Pon technique: waving his hand/cursor over the screen as fast as he can and hoping for the best while screaming "YAHTZEE!". Really, whether this type of gameplay is good or bad is a matter of preference, but I personally love it - Panel de Pon is my favourite puzzle game of all time - but if this is your thing, then this is a great game. Either way, the few flaws don't take away from what is truly one of the most fun puzzlers I've played in years, and much like Panel de Pon - the closest comparison I can come up with for this game - there's a lot of subtle ways this game is deeper than it appears.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Enjoyable

REPLAYABILITY

PPV offers almost limitless replayability. You have 102 total characters to unlock, as well as the ability to replay any stage you want once you've beaten it. Want to keep bettering your times and playing harder stages for practise? Feel free! Every stage is replayable, and beating those stages again to get a crown enables more stages to be played. Simply put, this is a game you could play forever, though the lack of an endless mode does hurt a bit.

Replayability Rating: Great

BALANCE

At first, gamers are going to look at this game, and how the goals go from being easy to OK to balls-achingly hard, and think the difficulty curve to be 90 degree angle steep as they fail a few times. But anyone with a modicum of ability in these types of games is going to learn the subtle tricks of the trade as they go along. The tutorial the game gives you gives you the basics, but I was able to learn how to handle different types of situations with practise, and the more I played, the better I got. The game has an outstanding learning curve.

If there's one beef I can give it's the fact that they throw players into the fire a little fast; going from "get 900 points" to "3,000 POINTS FAGGOT!" is a bit jarring when you do them a few stages from each other. But what I DO like is how, when you beat one set of stages, the new set has what can best be called "cool down" stages which are easier than the ones you just beat (keep in mind, you CAN beat a set of stages in any order), which is good, because after trying to get 3 5X chains within three minutes for an hour or so, you're going to need the metaphorical cigarette.

Balance Rating: Good

ORIGINALITY

You can see while playing this that while this game is inspired by other puzzlers, they managed to pull off making a good game without having it come off as a "me-too" game. Simply put, this is the most unique puzzler I've seen since Devil Dice. I can't really say much about the motif, as Wacky Japanese tends to blend together after awhile, but you're definitely going to get a unique experience out of this.

Originality Rating: Good

ADDICTIVENESS

Over the fucking moon. Even when you're losing stages, you're going to get close enough to winning them that you'll justify "one more!" until either you beat the stage or pitch the DS across the room... and if you still have a DS, you will play the next stage after that. It's very easy to get addicted to this game, especially when first playing. The ONLY reason this isn't a perfect score is because that feeling of absolute euphoria wears off over a bit of time. It's like dating someone, and the sex is mind-blowing, and then comparing it to being married a few years later; the sex is still great, but it's not the jaw-dropper that it was when you started.

Addictiveness Rating: Classic

APPEAL FACTOR

The one thing that hurts this the most is nothing that NIS can do anything about: I went into my local Gamestop/EBX - one of the two in the entire state of Connecticut that doesn't suck - and asked the kid behind the counter if I could preorder this game. It was really a rhetorical question; I knew the answer, and sure enough, after going "huh? What system? What?", he said he didn't even have it in his system. That means that it is physically impossible to preorder Puchi Puchi Virus at a monopoly in Gamestop, and if recent history is any indication, that means unless you order it online, it will not be possible to get it unless someone trades it in. God bless Capitalism! God bless Gamestop!

This is a niche game, through and through. It will not appeal to everyone; it's not even going to appeal to the entire "casual" range of gamers. Like all other NIS titles, as stated before, it's finding it's niche and making itself comfortable.

Appeal Factor: Poor

MISCELLANEOUS

With as great as this game has been to this point, there are a few sticking points, and that is the bare-bones nature of the game's playable modes.

There is multiplayer mode and single player mode. In single player mode, you can replay old stages or try to beat new ones. That's it. In Multiplayer mode, you can play against a local opponent. That's it.

I really, really wish PPV was able to incorporate two things: a local, AI based vs. mode, and online mode, and the latter kills things much more than the former. The main reason I bought Planet Puzzle League and Tetris DS when they came out was because I was able to play people online with them. If Puchi Puchi Virus had an online mode, it would make this an unbeatable package. As it is, all I can do is hope they come out with a sequel that has those modes.

(NOTE: I was unable to get a Vs. game mode going to test it, and am therefore unable to test it, even going as far as to go into my local store and asking the clerk if he could take a few minutes to play against me so I could test the mode. I am not taking Vs. mode itself into account for any scoring of this game. Just know that this game supports local vs. mode with one game pack, like Bust A Move DS)

Miscellaneous Rating: Below Average

The Scores
Story: Decent
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Poor
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Great
Balance: Good
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Below Average

FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE

Short Attention Span Summary: Puchi Puchi Virus is a high quality take on the colour matching niche of puzzle games that will entertain gamers that choose to pick it up for a long time. I don't recommend it to everyone - if you're into games like Manhunt, I don't see this holding your attention for long - but for anyone that likes games like Panel de Pon, Puyo Puyo or Bust A Move, I give this a high recommendation.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
samuraiter
Apr. 19th, 2008 07:08 pm (UTC)
*facepalm*

And here I was thinking 'pure awesome' was something only super robot pilots could use.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )