By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief
Tetris is sometimes called the best video game of all time. It’s a tough pick to argue with, as it is essentially a perfect concept. However, it has also been ported, remade, and sequel-ed to death in the ensuing 30 years or so. Most versions of Tetris are perfectly fine, as it’s a pretty hard idea to screw up. Still, even a concept as timeless as Tetris begins to lose its special-ness after the 20th time it is revisited. This is a common problem with puzzle games that get popular, having version after version and sequel after sequel cranked out for every available platform, year after year (other major offenders include Bust-A-Move/Puzzle Bobble, Puyo Puyo, and the various re-brandings of Panel De Pon). They just start to lose their luster after awhile. There is something to be said for a puzzle game that just has one or two sequels (if any) and leaves things be, letting the game(s) stay fresh and original without being beaten to death. Here are five of the best examples of puzzle games that still feel special because they weren’t “Tetrised” to death.
#5 – Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo
Considering that this is a Capcom game, it’s kind of hard to believe that there has really only ever been one core version of Puzzle Fighter, with subsequent releases being ports or HD remasters of that sole game. They could’ve easily updated the game over the years to swap out various characters to reflect current trends and newer game releases. The fact that the roster has remained stubbornly unchanged in 20+ years–even with half of it being devoted to the now-niche (and on indefinite hiatus) Darkstalkers series–is refreshing, as is the fact that the sole “cameo” is of a character from Cyberbots: Full Metal Madness, a game that only about 12 people even remember anymore. Taking the same basic framework and adding new characters from Street Fighter IV or other newer Capcom games would’ve cheapened the whole thing. Kudos to Capcom for actually managing to show restraint for once and leaving this classic, and its roster, largely untouched for two decades.
#4 – Meteos
Meteos and Lumines were announced at the same time and typically marketed as a pair, two music-based puzzle games from mastermind Tetsuya Miziguchi. While Lumines was to be the cooler, sexier game, perfect for the brand new PSP, Meteos was its brighter, more cartoony counterpart for the DS. Taking wonderful advantage of its platform’s touchscreen, Meteos tasked you with matching up a variety of planetary bodies by dragging them around the screen with the stylus. Each stage was a different planet with its own unique gravity, which affected the weight of the objects and forced you to change up your strategy accordingly. Like any Miziguchi game, every action was met with an accompanying musical cue. But unlike his other music puzzle game, which quickly wore out its welcome with sequels of increasingly diminishing returns, Meteos only saw a couple of ports and as such as maintained its legacy better than Lumines (although, annoyingly, Google searches for “Meteos” are dominated by some eSports dude of the same name unless you type “Meteos game”). We’ll just ignore the misstep that was the Disney-focused sequel–this list isn’t about “perfect” franchises, just ones that weren’t overdone.
#3 – ChuChu Rocket!
What was meant to serve as a way to ease console players into online gaming turned out to be one of the funnest games in the Dreamcast’s library. Nevermind the forgettable Sega Swirl that came free on those Dreamcast web browser discs: This was the Dreamcast puzzle game to play. Where ChuChu really succeeds above most other puzzle games is how fully-featured both its solo and multiplayer modes are, whereas most multiplayer-focused puzzle games tend to be lacking in single player mode and vice versa. While the single-player puzzle mode will challenge and delight even the most seasoned puzzle gamer, it’s the multiplayer mode that really shines, especially when four people are playing at once. It seems like a chaotic mess at first, but once you get the hang of it, there are few games more enjoyable. Sonic Team largely returned to overdoing Puyo Pop following the release of ChuChu, with the latter only receiving a couple of ports. But because no subsequent versions have ever come to another home console, making the local multiplayer frenzy exclusive to the original, ChuChu remains one of the best reasons to keep a Dreamcast hooked up and four controllers accessible this side of Power Stone 2.
#2 – Devil Dice
The development story behind Devil Dice is a great one, as it began life as a homebrew game created using the PlayStation’s Yaroze platform and was later turned into a full-fledged retail release. But the game itself is even more exciting, one of the most original puzzle game concepts of all time. As one of the titular devils, players roll around the playing field on top of spinning dice, trying to match up dice with the same number. The dice them begin to sink into the floor, and connecting the right dice with sinking ones allows for combo chains. That’s where the brilliant multiplayer mode comes in, as one player might spend awhile trying to get six sixes, only to have another player come in and link just one six to it, getting all the credit for the match. The game lets up to five (!) players play at once, and things get as crazy as they get fun. Only a single sequel was ever released, Bombastic, which wasn’t quite as good but was still one of the better, more original puzzle games for the PS2. Thankfully they stopped there, realizing that they already got the formula right and not wanting to risk a further slide into games of decreasing quality.
#1 – I.Q.: Intelligent Qube (a.k.a. Kurushi in Europe)
Definitely not the first 3D puzzle game, but one of the first to truly make clever use of 3D space, I.Q. was a game that most of us probably at least played on one of the demo discs that came bundled with our PS1. The game plays almost as if someone got trapped in a giant nightmare version of Klax where the blocks can crush them, only much, much better than Klax ever was. It was 1997 and there was time for Intelligent Qube. These days, I.Q. is noteworthy for how rare and expensive it has become, especially since the U.S. never got a PSN release like Europe and Japan have. But it’s one of those games that people track down not only for its value, but because it’s just that good. It only got a couple of sequels and ports–again, frustratingly, none of which came to the U.S.–making it feel as special today as it did 20 years ago. No matter where you live or how you’re able to play it, you owe it to yourself to play I.Q., one of the most quirky and creative games on a system that made a name for itself with quirky and creative games.
Got any other one-off puzzle games or shorter-run puzzle game franchises that deserve mentioning? Or do you have a problem with the implication that any of the games listed in the intro blurb have overstayed their welcome? Make like a Tetromino and skillfully drop your comments below.