Pokemon Puzzle League
  • Genre:
    • Puzzle
  • Platform:
    • Nintendo 64
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • US 09/25/2000
    • UK 03/16/2001
Score: 85%

This review was published on 11/24/2015.

Pokemon Puzzle League is a puzzle video game developed and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo 64. It was originally released in North America on September 25, 2000, and Europe on March 16, 2001. This is one of the first and only games to be based on the Pokemon anime, featuring characters unique to the television show like Ash Ketchum. Not only that, but this is one of the only Pokemon games produced exclusively for the Western market, being that it didn't even get released in its home country of Japan. On top of all that, this is one of the only Nintendo games not made by Nintendo of Japan, instead being developed by Nintendo of America. Pokemon Puzzle League is essentially a Pokemon themed reskin of Tetris Attack for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, which was, itself, a Yoshi themed reskin of Panel de Pon for the Super Famicom. As a result of that, this game is every bit as good as Tetris Attack, making it one of the best puzzle games on the N64 with ease.

Image

Stories are completely unnecessary for games like these, but you can bet your butt that Pokemon Puzzle League has one. Ash Ketchum, Pokemon trainer extraordinaire and the protagonist of the TV show, was on vacation with his most beloved Pokemon, Pikachu. While enjoying his time in the sun with his electrical companion, Ash received a call from Professor Oak informing him that he's been invited to an upcoming tournament. This was no ordinary tournament, however. Instead of the standard tournament in which Pokemon fight each other, this was a puzzle solving competition. Never backing down from any challenge, Ash accepts the invitation and heads for Pokemon Puzzle League Village to start his new adventure. This simple premise is communicated to you via the game's introductory cutscene. All the animation sequences showing off the story are extremely crisp and clear, looking almost as if they were taken straight from the show. They do, however, suffer from low frame rate. Many of the show's original voice actors are also present, further adding to the authentic Pokemon feel. It's a surprising amount of effort, given that this is merely a spinoff.

Image

This game is similar to Tetris, but instead of the blocks falling down, a stack of them slowly move upwards from the bottom of the screen, and you use a cursor to flip two at a time around horizontally. In order to eliminate blocks, you must match three or more of the same color, either horizontally or vertically. Matching four or more gets you extra points and other additional benefits depending on the mode, but chaining block eliminations is generally the optimal strategy, as it produces even greater results. Chaining basically consists of combining multiple block eliminations together, so that the elimination of one set of blocks causes other blocks to fall down and get matched, resulting in more eliminations. Getting chains or matching more than three blocks at a time will briefly stop the blocks from moving, which is quite handy, because you lose if the screen gets completely filled with blocks. It's these brilliantly fast paced, simple yet in depth mechanics that make this an endearing puzzler.

Image

3D Mode is a new feature added to Pokemon Puzzle League that didn't exist in Tetris Attack. It follows the same basic rules as the classic game, but adds the third dimension. You can play almost all of the game's modes, single and multi, in 3D. Well, it's more like a mixture of 2D and 3D. This mode is a bit hard to explain, but the idea is that all the blocks are stacked in a tubular fashion, and you can rotate the tube to access blocks from the sides or background. Technically, you're still flipping the blocks in 2D, so it's just the rotation of the tube that's 3D. In other words, this is almost like having to worry about multiple stacks at once, requiring players to be good at multitasking. Obviously, this makes the game substantially harder, though you have the potential to form bigger chains due to there being more blocks being available on all sides. However, this ultimately doesn't change the game too much, and is more of a pointless novelty than anything else. Also, the computer AI isn't sophisticated enough to handle this mode, resulting in relatively easy wins if you choose to face it in 3D.

Image

Stadium is the main mode of the game and where you go to fight one-on-one against either computer or human controlled opponents. This is also where you get to experience the main story mode of the game. When facing off against an opponent, the goal is to make them lose by filling their screen with tons of garbage blocks, which are harder to destroy than regular blocks and cannot be manually moved by the player. To send garbage blocks, one must simply match four or more blocks at a time or get chains. Battles can and will get intense if both players are good enough to constantly get combos, resulting in an endless sea of blocks being sent back and forth. It's an exhilarating experience that you just won't be able to get enough of. Hours will pass and you won't even notice. This is, by far, the most entertaining part of the game, especially when up against actual human beings.

Image

Spa Service is the equivalent to the Stage Clear mode in Tetris Attack. The name is misleading and nonsensical, but that's what it is. What you do in this mode is simple: you clear blocks until you see a line, and victory is attained once you get all the blocks below that line. Then you move on to the next stage and do it all over again. As should be obvious, the stages get progressively harder, and there's also some pointless plot thrown around in an attempt to keep you invested. It's pretty much another leg of the story mode, in a manner of speaking. The difference is that you're not facing off against any opponents in this mode, and are merely trying to keep up with the pace of the blocks themselves. If you still hunger for more single player content after clearing the stadium mode, then you've got the Spa Service to keep you occupied.

Image

Marathon is the endless mode of this game, in that it goes on forever. The point is simply to get as many points as possible before you take a loss. Time Zone is another variation of this mode, where you essentially do the same thing, except under a time limit of exactly two minutes. The Time Zone mode can be played with two players, but Marathon is strictly for one player. If you're obsessed with achieving high scores, then these are the modes for you. There are almost always modes like these in just about every moving blocks puzzle game, so this shouldn't come as a surprise. With the wealth of other single and multiplayer modes available, though, there's really no reason to ever play this one, unless you're bored out of your mind.

Image

Puzzle University is the place to be if you'd like to solve actual puzzles. This is the same thing as Puzzle Mode from Tetris Attack. The way this works is, you're given a particular layout of blocks and you must eliminate them all in a set number of moves, akin to those chess puzzles you see online. If you take too many moves, then you lose and must retry the puzzle from the beginning. These get insidiously difficult later on, especially when you're required to construct long, complex chains and combos. New to this mode is the ability to create your very own puzzles. In the edit mode, you're able to arrange the blocks however you like and set the number of turns, then save the results to the game cartridge. You have complete freedom here, to the point where you're even allowed to create unbeatable puzzles, or puzzles that solve themselves. Countless hours can be spent on this often overlooked mode alone, and it's not even the best part of the game.

Image

Professor Oak's Lab is where to go if you need some help on playing the game. All the rules of the game are explained here in excruciating detail, plus there are tips and tricks on how to get combos and stuff. Basically, this is where you'll find all of the game's tutorials. It's nice to know that the tutorials are totally optional, and therefore aren't shoved down your throat like they are in other games. There's also the Mimic Mansion, where you can practice what you've learned in a super easy mode, or mimic the combos from the tutorial itself. With all the learning resources provided by the game, you definitely won't need a manual or external guide to figure out how things work. This is hardly necessary given how simple the game is, but the information is there for anyone that needs it, and it's not at all intrusive for those that don't.

Image

If you liked Tetris Attack or any of its variants, then you can't go wrong with Pokemon Puzzle League. The only significant difference between the two is that this one is Pokemon themed, which may or may not be a benefit, depending on whether you're into Pokemon. The voices can get a little irritating, but you can turn them off. There are countless single player modes to keep you busy on your own, and a fantastic multiplayer to entertain your friends. This game also has a couple extra modes and features not present in Tetris Attack, and while they're not game changers, they do give you more options. Pokemon Puzzle League's quality isn't the least bit puzzling.

Word Count: 1,642