LittleMac’s 30-Minute Retro Reviews: Puyo Puyo 2, Super Soccer, and Super Tennis!

In the very descriptively titled LittleMac’s 30-Minute Retro Reviews!, LittleMac puts in 30 minutes playing the NES and SNES games on Switch Online so that you can make more judicious decisions about how to spend your retro gaming time!

Whenever there’s a new batch of releases, we’ll cover those! Otherwise, we’re going back to the start and playing through every game in order. For at least thirty minutes. Yes, including Clu-Clu Land.

Don’t believe me when I say I have recently played these games for thirty minutes each? Well, I brought receipts!

This week, we’re starting from the start in SNES Online! Let’s dive in to Puyo Puyo 2., Super Soccer, and Super Tennis.

Puyo Puyo 2 (1994)
Developer: Compile
Publisher: Compile

The Puyo Puyo series was probably most familiar to North American audiences of the 16-bit era as Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine; perhaps understandably, Western publishers often opted to re-skin the bizarre and often fan-servicey anime character designs that filled Japanese falling block games with more recognizable and family-friendly casts. Whatever skin you put on it, though, the core Puyo Puyo gameplay shines through as one of the exemplars of the falling-blocks puzzle genre.

Only ’90s kids will understand how an intro cinematic like this is telling you that you’re about to try to clear falling blocks from a rectangular bin. Source: Moby Games

The core mechanics of Puyo Puyo are easy to grasp. The default mode is versus-style: you and an opponent (the computer or another player) each have a bin, and falling blocks come dropping into that bin. Your falling blocks take the form of pairs of “puyos,” which come in any permutation of the five different colours available. You can rotate the puyo-pairs 90 degrees in either direction with A (or Y) and B, adjust their horizontal positioning with the D-Pad, and accelerate their drop speed by pressing down (no hard drops yet!). If four or more identically coloured puyos come into contact in any shape, they’re eliminated from the bin. If you eliminate more than four at once or, better yet, trigger a chain reaction, you drop colourless “garbage” puyos into your opponents bin, which need to be eliminated by matching coloured puyos next to them.

Puyo Puyo 2 offers a few different modes that all utilize these same core mechanics, with minor variations. Single-player is a campaign mode that will be familiar to anyone who’s played any Japanese falling blocks game: your little chibi anime heroine, Arle, faces off against a series of wacky opponents of escalating difficulty, with a brief exchange of dialogue and simple animation before each battle. Multiplayer options are simple: two-player versus and multitap enable four-player versus. Finally, there’s an Endless Mode, which takes out the opponent and tasks you with lasting as long as you can (the options menu lets you set Endless mode to Training, Normal, Action, and Wild, but I was unable to figure out how Normal, Action, and Wild are distinct from each other!).

To the untrained eye, it might look like that adorable skeleton has the advantage, but look closer and you can see that Player 1 is about to unleash a huge chain reaction! Source: Moby Games

Later games in the series offer tighter control (horizontal movement of falling puyos feels a bit slippery), more elaborate pre-match dialogue, and more modes (heck, the most recent entries fuse the game with Tetris, and even create an entire parallel universe of wacky anime Tetris characters to bring the granddaddy of Falling Blocks into the Japanese style). Ultimately, though, the core gameplay is the real draw, and it’s always been fantastic. Beginners will pretty quickly figure out how to set up basic chain reactions, and in desperate times, you’ll often find that all your early failed attempts have seeded your bin with three-puyo shapes just waiting to be set off in a glorious bin-clearing, opponent crushing tsunami of unplanned eliminations.

There’s not that much more to say about Puyo Puyo 2. It polishes the formula established by the original and sets the stage for more adventurous variations down the line. The controls could be tighter, which was also an issue that my child-self, reared on the Game Gear version of Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, had with the Genesis version of the same. Perhaps there’s something about 16-bit consoles that makes horizontal puyo adjustments less precise? At any rate, I called Puyo Puyo an exemplar of the falling blocks genre and I meant it. This is a great game.

Will LittleMac continue with this game after his first half-hour with it?

Probably not, but that’s just because I have Puyo Puyo Tetris, a game with more modes, competitive online play, and tighter controls on my Switch. If you want to have some falling-block fun on your Switch without spending $40-something, you should be firing this up today!

Super Soccer (1991)
: Human Entertainment
Publisher: Human Entertainment (JPN); Nintendo (NA/PAL)

Non-American Football (hereafter: “soccer”), like American Football (hereafter: “football”), presented serious technical challenges to early video game developers: when each team fields eleven players, you’re asking the Nintendo Entertainment System to render at least 23 sprites. Various soccer games on the NES, including Nintendo’s own Soccer, simply fielded undersized, non-regulation teams. When the SNES came along, with its increased horsepower, it was finally time for the most popular sport in the world to appear in all its glory. Super Soccer–oddly enough, not a Nintendo developed sequel to Soccer–gives you two full teams and a referee!

The game offers three different modes: Exhibition, Tournament, and Shootout. Exhibition is what it sounds like: choose two teams and face off in a single game (in one-player, two-player competitive, or two-player cooperative modes). Tournament sees you (or you and a friend!) select a team and then try to beat every other team in the game in order: a format of tournament that only exists in retro sports games. Shootout skips all the tedium of a back-and-forth struggle on the field and gets to the good stuff: either picking a direction to aim your penalty kick, or trying futilely to guess where the other player will aim their penalty kick (from what I understand, this is actually a very realistic simulation of the experience of goalkeepers during soccer shootouts).

Shootout Mode allows you to skip all the “testing your skills against an opponent” parts of the game and get right down to the real fun: guessing what direction your opponent is going to push for their penalty kick! Source: Moby Games

The SNES controller’s additional buttons also provide an enhanced sporting experience for the 16-bit generation. On offence, the player can make short or long kicks in the direction they’re facing, using A and B respectively, while Y passes to the teammate highlighted by a bright red arrow. Better still, the advent of shoulder buttons lets you cycle that red arrow across eligible teammates in two different directions (no more NES-era “mashing the receiver-select button until you loop back around”!). On defence… well, a NES controller could handle the two tackle options: A or B both launch a slide tackle, while Y allows for a hilariously aggressive shoulder tackle (which can randomly inspire the referee to issue Yellow or Red cards, so be careful!).

Beyond rendering more sprites and offering more nuanced control options, the SNES’ Mode 7 effects allow for a playfield that gives the impression of depth, with a camera that tilts and scrolls fluidly as you traverse the vertically-oriented field. Despite all these technical innovations, the game also manages the feat of playing very smoothly throughout! Perhaps the only significant shortcoming is that after half-time, when you switch sides with your opponent and are obliged to run down–towards the screen–when on offence, you are essentially forced to take all of your shots blind! When I was young and playing this game a fair bit, I simply memorized the correlation between the penalty area markings and the edges of the goal… as an adult, I was doing a lot more guesswork.

Even when the camera’s not scrolling, you can really see how the Mode-7 tilting effect on the playfield creates the impression of depth. Eat your heart out, “Blast Processing”! Source: Moby Games

Players are given sixteen national teams to choose from, each with an overall ranking in three attributes: Attack, Defend, and Run. Each individual player has their own rankings in the same attributes, each team has a few backup players, and the game lets a player customize the starting lineup before each game (and at half-time!), so you’ve got a varied set of options to experiment with. On top of that, players can arrange their team in eight different formations (and I could not tell you what the strategic implications of a single one of these formations might be!). Finally, you have the option of using an automatic goalkeeper or, if you hate yourself, hate having fun, and want to get scored on again and again, you can take manual control of the keeper (remember: for 50% of each game, you will not be able to see the goal you’re guarding, unless the opposition has already broken through your defense and gotten deep into the penalty area).

While the shooting-on-goal portion of the game suffers from the “solve-ability” that plagued many early sports games (pro tip: aim all your shots at the edge of the net, just inside the post!), the rest of the on-field action is fast-paced and challenging. Even if you know that a shot from X position will score 90% of the time, you’re still going to have to work to get into that position. It moves quickly, controls smoothly, and gives you enough challenge to keep you on your toes.

I close with a warning for anyone who fires the game up and finds themselves sucked into tournament mode: the Irish team has an absurdly overpowered goalkeeper (I remember to this day that the manual gives his nickname as “The Iron Curtain,” which was the first time I’d ever heard that phrase). In many, many hours playing this game as a kid, I believe I scored exactly one goal against Ireland after many, many attempts. So make sure your defense is tight when you face off with the Irish: you don’t want to finally get that one goal and then just have the game go to a shootout that you can’t win.

Will LittleMac continue with this game after his first half-hour with it?

I’ll probably return to this game now and then, but it’s almost certainly the case that >99% of my Super Soccer playtime happened back in the 90s. That said, if you like soccer, but don’t need all the modern sports game trappings like tournaments that make sense and actual soccer players on the screen, this is definitely worth a look!

Super Tennis (1991)
: Tokyo Shoseki & Tose
Publisher: Tonkin House (JPN); Nintendo (NA/PAL)

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a tennis video game that doesn’t play almost exactly like all the other ones, and Super Tennis is no exception! Though published by Nintendo in North America and Europe, this is not a sequel to Nintendo’s Tennis for NES: it’s simply a game that looks and plays like a sequel to Nintendo’s Tennis for NES in every way.

The game has two different modes: exhibition and circuit. Exhibition games can be singles or doubles matches, and a second player can join as your competition in singles or your partner in doubles. Circuit offers a far more interesting experience than Super Soccer‘s basic, arcade-style tournament: after choosing your player, you compete in a series of elimination tournaments around the world, earning points for how far you get (no Game Over for losing at any point in any tournament!). At the end, you see where you stand in the rankings, giving the game serious replay value if you’re the sort who’s interested in seeing your own progress as you work to improve your skills.

If the word “Super” in the title wasn’t enough to convince you that the genre was progressing, just look at this: ladies playing tennis! Source: Moby Games

Like Super Soccer, it’s fellow surprisingly-not-a-sequel early SNES sports entry, Super Tennis takes advantage of the capabilities of its 16-bit platform. Mode-7 is employed to render the play field, though the effects are less pronounced during gameplay on account of a tennis court requiring much less camera scrolling than a soccer field. All four face buttons and the shoulder buttons come into play, with A, B, X, and Y enabling soft volleys, regular volleys, topspin volleys, and lobs, respectively (the shoulder buttons apply left and right spin to your shots, although you’d better believe I learned that from GameFAQs just now and not from my own hapless experimenting during my thirty minutes with the game!).

With a tennis court offering fewer opportunities to really showcase Mode-7 effects, the developers went all in on a swooping 3D animation whenever players change sides. You probably need to see it in motion to appreciate it!. Source: Moby Games

Beyond that, the game is tennis! If you’re familiar with the sport, you understand how the game flows, and if you’ve ever played any tennis video game, you know what the experience is like (give or take the ability to throw a Koopa Shell at your opponent… this is simulation tennis!). On the court action is fast-paced and very challenging: you’ve got to put in the work to get wins here, because the ball moves fast and the computer players play smart tennis. The twenty players–ten men and ten women, all wink-wink no-surnames representations of the top tennis players of the day–have unique appearances and stats. The collision detection can be a little wonky when you’re on the “screen side” of the court; although this effect is actually in your favour (I managed to make some return volleys despite my racket clearly never coming within five pixels of the ball), it can lull you into a false sense of security when you switch sides and that leeway disappears.

Well, at least I did better than the person taking this screenshot during my first foray into Circuit Mode. Source: Moby Games

Will LittleMac continue with this game after his first half-hour with it?

Absolutely! I need a bite-sized game in my rotation right now, for quick play sessions that don’t suck me in for hours. The game is fun, challenging, and has the aforementioned Circuit Mode that rewards your progress as a player without punishing your lack of progress by forcing you to constantly repeat the same matches, so this should be perfect for those ten- or fifteen-minute windows where I can grab the Switch and indulge a bit between emails.

And that’s it for this edition! I’ll be back a fortnight hence, tackling Tennis, The Legend of Zelda, and Yoshi!