When is a translation of a video game not a translation?

When you won't find it in the country it's been translated for.

Technically speaking, Puzlow Kids doesn't exist. You won't find a box or cartridge with that name on it. If, however, you own an American or European Game Gear and a copy of the first Puyo Puyo game for the system, then slot the cart in, switch on the beast and presto changeo, it's now Puzlow Kids, and the entire thing is in English. How does this happen? As I understand it, the Game Gear works in a similar way to early Mega Drive titles, in that it'll have all regional variations on one cart, and chooses the variation based on the hardware you're running it on. For example, if you've got a Streets of Rage cart and play it in a Japanese Game Gear, it'll show up as Bare Knuckle, you dig? So, when you fire up Puyo Puyo, the game realises it's being played on an English system and loads up Puzlow Kids.

It's a strange one, though, as while the game is completely translated, it was never released in any English-speaking countries... At least, not in this form. Instead, Game Gear players in the rest of the world got Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine in November of the same year (and not, as GameFAQs says, in February- we checked with Braveheart69 of SMS Power). It's the exact same game, but with the necessary aesthetic changes to make it less Japan-friendly, and a few adjustments here and there (you get passwords in the Vs. Com game, the Quest passwords are shortened, and there's no training course anymore). Logically, one can conclude that Sega/Compile were originally going to release the game in its unexpurgated form (it's not without precedent- an English version of the arcade game exists with some very curious translation errors, although no-one seems to know if it's a bootleg or not) before the plan got changed and Puzlow Kids was left in by mistake. Puzlow Kids was eventually forgotten, and the few games in the series that made it over to the Western world (many years later) were given the Puyo Pop name.

I actually like the name Puzlow Kids, but hey, what do I know.

To steal Action Button Dot Net's catchphrase, I'm ACTUALLY TALKING ABOUT THE GAME NOW.

In the slight chance that you've never played a Puyo Puyo game in your life (you poor misguided creature) then I'll go over the rules, just for you. Your task is to dump pairs of blobs/beans/ghosts/puyos (take your pick) into your pit (which has an area of 6x12, fact-fans!) and try not to let them clog up the third column from the left, otherwise you lose. You destroy blobs by matching up four of the same colour and while that's enough to keep the pit from getting full (and keep you alive in the single-player Endless Mode) this is a competitive game, punks! The main draw is the Vs. mode, whether it's with the computer or a friend. To attack your opponent, you have to make some chain reactions by blowing up more than one set of blobs in one move. For example, let's say you've got three red blobs, then a layer of yellow blobs on top. Dump a yellow/red pair on top, and watch as the yellow blobs explode, then the lone red blob falls and destroys the other reds. This will send garbage blobs to your opponent's side, which can only be destroyed by blowing up blobs adjacent to them. Naturally, the more blobs you destroy in a single chain reaction, the more garbage you'll send over, and therein lies the game- whipping up a killer chain while under constant attack! The fast-paced nature of the game is what gives it the edge over other puzzlers in my eyes- it's my absolute favourite, especially Puyo Puyo Tsu.

That's the basics, but let's get specific about this Game Gear version. This was the first portable Puyo Puyo (it beat the Game Boy version to the punch by a couple of months) and it represents the game pretty well, far better than what I was expecting. The action is a touch slower than the arcade/console versions (you'll only notice it if you play Puyo Puyo like it's your job) which can be a little distracting, and while some of the visual flair has been kept (the blobs still blink at you) other effects have been lost (the blobs vanish rather than explode, and Carbuncle only appears to cheer you on in Endless Mode). These things aside, it's a solid port that honestly shames the Game Boy version- the solid mechanics and easy-to-discern blobs are what make it stand out, as far as portable versions go. As for game modes, the Game Gear has most of the standard Puyo Puyo modes. 1 Player Mode is the now-obligatory gauntlet of wacky characters (with the pre-match trash talk sadly omitted), 1P Vs. 2P Mode is your standard Versus match (hope you've got your Gear-to-Gear link cable handy), Endless Mode is just as it says (with special blobs in the form of a huge blob that destroys two columns, and Carbuncle who randomly erases blobs) and finally, we have the most interesting part of this port, Quest Mode (or Nazo Puyo if you prefer).

In this mode, you're given a ready-made pit and a task to complete, and you're given as much time and as many beans as you want. They're generally one of three types: destroy a specific colour of bean, get a chain reaction of a certain number, or destroy a set number of beans in one move, although there's a few oddball ones thrown in here and there. Needless to say, they start out insultingly easy, but get increasingly difficult, with some of the highlights including a 'destroy the blue beans' stage where you have to dig your way through a pit full of garbage beans (dig carefully otherwise you'll make it impossible to get them to connect) and one where you simply have to drop ten beans into an almost-full pit. The game really gets into gear around the 15-20 mar- at this point, it's at its most enjoyable as it requires you to think in a completely different way to the 'normal' game modes, which is a nice challenge. Finally figuring out the right solution to some of the trickier ones is immensely satisfying...

Which is a shame, because the Quest Mode abruptly ends once you beat the 30th stage. That's a fair number of stages, yes, but it feels like they're only just getting warmed up- while the later stages are guaranteed to stump you for a little while, you 're really left wanting more... In truth, this was a cunning marketing strategy as Compile would later release three different stand-alone Nazo Puyo titles for the Game Gear alone, which were essentially Quest Mode expansion packs. Sadly, these ones don't translate themselves when you play them on an English Game Gear, so you're stuck with the ones available here instead (unless you get your hands on the Famicom version of Puyo Puyo, which came out a few months later and has a similar Mission Mode that's in English). It's a shame, because it's the most interesting mode in this port, and certainly one of the prime reasons for English-reading players to grab it- you'll just be wishing it was longer.

In the end, Puzlow Kids is a very nice conversion of this classic puzzle game- it's got all the gameplay details correct, a localisation that doesn't butcher the game, the Quest Mode (as short as it is), and some kickin' chiptune music- so if you're after a little puzzle action for the Game Gear, this is one of your best options, as it kicks the crap out of Columns and Super Columns easily. It's also one for Puyo fans to track down as a dead cert, mostly for the Quest Mode and the fact that it exists at all in English. My main issue- one that relegates it to three stars- is that it's not Puyo Puyo Tsu. Yes, in 1993 'vanilla' Puyo was good enough for people (and to be fair, I still play Mean Bean Machine from time to time, even now) but Tsu has a better one-player mode and far more rules for competitive play (including the counter-attack mechanic that lets you stop incoming bean deluges, drawing each battle out a little bit longer but making it fairer for both sides). The old Puyo is good, but not enough to compete with its sequel (even if the Game Gear port of Tsu has no Quest Mode of its own) so just bear all that in mind before going out of your way to try this one.

For being the first portable game in the series, Puzlow Kids is awarded...

In a sentence, Puzlow Kids is...
Not Puyo Puyo Tsu, but I'll take Quest Mode anyway.

And now, it's that time, folks!

Puzlow Kids - Opening of Puyo Puyo

Yeah, yeah, I know, just the one song, but it's one that's surprisingly catchy. It plays on the title screen, but this is a song that only appears in three versions of the original game- this one, the Game Boy port, and the PC-98 version (surprisingly). I thought it was hidden somewhere in other versions of the game, but it turns out it's just these three. Many, many years later, it came back to be used as one of the Fever themes for Puyo Puyo!! 20th Anniversary (PS2/Wii/PSP/DS/3DS). Now you know!

Now, in the interests of complete exposure, here are scans of the box and instruction manual for the game, in crappy scan-o-vision.

First, the box:

Next, the manual, which contains some lovely art:

Finally, a double-sided poster that came with my copy, advertising the following exciting Game Gear titles:

Poster #1:
Riddick Bowe Boxing
Ecco the Dolphin
Winter Olympics
Buster Fight
Ronald McDonald in Magical World

(All due for release in 1994)
Poster #2
Sonic & Tails
Shining Force Gaiden
Shining Force Gaiden II
Madou Monogatari I
Deep Duck Trouble starring Donald Duck
Nazo Puyo 2
Taisen Hao-Pai Mahjong 2
Puyo Puyo

Believe it or not, I tried my best with this, but I simply shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a scanner.

It always ends up like this: crappy and slightly off-centre.

Sadly, this may very well be the only Puyo Puyo-related article on this website...

Unless I get around to reviewing Puyo Puyo Da!, and you don't want that.

The same goes for Puyo Puyo Tsu- our review would be way too nice! Back to the index, then.