Puyo Pop for the Game Boy Advance is an installment in Sega’s (originally Compile’s) “Puyo” series of puzzles games. Most Puyo games were not released outside Japan, but American and European gamers will recognize this gameplay from two offshoot licensed games: Dr. Robotnic's Mean Bean Machine for Genesis and Game Gear, and Kirby's Avalanche for SNES.
The basic formula is simple: colored blobs, called puyo, (hence the title) come down, two at a time, and you have to connect four or more of the same color in any configuration to get rid of them. You are also shown the next two sets of puyo that will come down. You lose the game when the third column from the left is completely piled to the top.
The game is more complicated than that, however. If you eliminate one group of four that has puyo on top of it, the puyo above will fall into place. Sometimes they can fall into a place, which causes another group of four to come together, forming a chain. You can get multi-chains too, when a chain creates another chain. Forming these chains is the key to racking up points.
You also get bonus points for eliminating all puyo on the screen, and for eliminating a group of more than four. Depending on the score you earn from erasing puyo, your opponent's screen gets block puyo dropped on it. These are basically colorless puyo. To eliminate a block puyo, you have to erase a group of puyo that's touching that block puyo. There are also hard puyo, which are like block puyo but can't be erased with a single try (you have to erase it twice to get rid of it).
There are four gameplay modes in Puyo Pop: Single Puyo Pop, Double Puyo Pop, Everybody Puyo Pop, and Endless Puyo Pop. Single Puyo Pop is the main one-player mode, where you play against computer opponents. It has an entertaining, light-hearted story that is explained in the dialogue between the stages. This is a positive over more puzzle games, as the ones that do manage to have a story only have a weak backstory anyways. Puyo Pop's story doesn't exactly make sense, but it is funny and the anime-style graphics during the dialogue scenes look good.
As you play through Single Puyo Pop, you unlock nifty features, like the ability to change rules and characters in multi-player modes, as well as a gallery. Some of this comes automatically just from playing through, and some others comes from less obvious accomplishments. That brings the first complaint about the game -- you can't tell what's required to unlock the various items, as it is generally not obvious. Even if you were to look in a guide to see what the requirements are, some of them are a bit much to accomplish.
Double Puyo Pop is a 1-on-1 head-to-head mode. Fortunately, it only requires one cartridge to play, but using only one cartridge means you have to wait for data to transfer between the GBAs before play. Plus, you can only use the things you've unlocked if you have two cartridges.
Everybody Puyo Pop is a multi-player mode which allows up to four players to compete at once. Again, you may use just one cartridge, but that means you have to wait for data transfer and you can't use any special options (using a cart for each player fixes this). Both multi-player modes allow you to set handicaps to even the odds when playing against people of different skill levels.
Endless Puyo Pop is a mode of one player vs. nobody. Puyo just keep coming. In regular Endless Puyo Pop, that's all that happens. Play it because you want to play endlessly. There's no opponent, so when you lose, you have only yourself to blame. There's also a "task mode" of Endless Puyo Pop. In task mode, you are given a task that you have to perform within 99 seconds. For example, "pop 5 puyo" or "create a chain of 3". These are great to help you improve your game, as they require you to think strategically and act fast.
The control is as good as you'd expect. Left and right move your two puyo accordingly, and down makes them move down quicker. A and B rotate the two puyo (A is clockwise, B is counterclockwise). If your two puyo are in a narrow space, you can still rotate them 180° by double-tapping A or B. Simple is the way things work here, and it suits the game well.
Overall, the gameplay is top-notch. The formula is fun, there are different gameplay modes, and the plot is entertaining. Also, the difficulty progresses well in Single Puyo Pop as you go through the game. There is not much more I can say about the gameplay, other than that it has all the characteristics in place of a good, solid puzzle game.
As for the graphics, well, if you're playing a puzzle game expecting amazing graphics, then I pity you. Just the same, the colors are vivid, the characters are well drawn, the little bits of animation are smooth, and everything's nice and easy on the eyes. Overall, the graphics are good.
The sound is another category that you probably wouldn't have high expectations for, considering it's a puzzler. The background music is pretty repetitive, but luckily it doesn't get annoying. The only sound effects are little popping noises, and little voice samples that accompany chains, losing the round, and other events. The sound effects aren't going to annoy, but they could be a bit better.
The one area that Puyo Pop falls a little short is in longevity. It's fun playing all the way through Single Puyo Pop with the challenging stages and cute plot. In fact, it's even fun a second time around. However, I can't picture anyone playing that mode over and over again. Endless Puyo Pop makes good on its implied promise to be endless, but eventually you will tire of it. Thankfully, the multi-player modes never get old, but how often do you get together with your friends to play Game Boy Advance? For some, it may not happen often enough to keep Puyo Pop on your frequent-play list.
Overall, Puyo Pop is a very fun and addictive game that I'd recommend to anyone who likes puzzle games at all. It's definitely a game from which you’ll get your money’s worth, and it's probably the GBA's best puzzle game.