A good arcade puzzler is second only to a fighting game for a bit of 2-player versus. Like those fighting games, I’m not much good at these either (although I’m not entirely terrible at Bust-a-Move/Puzzle Bobble). That doesn’t stop me giving them a go though, and I like to play a variety so at least I’m not always losing in the same way.
Here we have my Top 5, in reverse order as usual. Many of these games came out on a multitude of platforms, I’ve just put the versions I play in the title.
5) Zoo Cube (GC & GBA)
A bit neglected as I hardly ever manage to play it with anyone, largely because no one else seems to have heard about it. I enjoy the GameCube version, but have probably spent more time with it on the Gameboy Advance. It’s pretty unique as a puzzler, with falling shapes coming towards your cube from 6 directions, and you having to rotate the cube to match the abstract animal shapes appropriately. The GameCube version supports 4-player, but I’ve never found myself in a room with 4 people who knew how to play…
4) Baku Baku Animal (Saturn)
The second animal themed puzzler on this list, Baku Baku Animal does at least follow a more familiar pattern. Blocks containing animal heads or food stuffs fall from the sky, match the animal to its food to clear the blocks and send more blocks to your opponent. Bright, cheerful and very SEGA!
3) Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo (Saturn, PS3, PSP)
Recognisable characters from Capcom’s Street Fighter and Darkstalkers games line up to puzzle each other to death. Big combos on the gem matching front see your character giving the opponent a bit of a kicking in the middle of the screen. If you like the art style of this one, it’s worth also picking up Pocket Fighter, which is a 1 on 1 fighting game in the Street Fighter style, featuring the Puzzle Fighter versions of these characters.
2) Bust-a-Move 2 / Puzzle Bobble 2 (Saturn and anything else I get my hands on)
This held the top spot for a very long time, and may well claw it back in time. The Puzzle Bobble franchise is iconic, often imitated never bettered. Taking it’s characters and design from the Bubble Bobble series, the game is a joy. Fire coloured bubbles up the screen, matching 3 or more of the same colour in order to make them disappear, the more you get rid of at once the more you send over to your opponent to ruin their day. Or more often, you slightly miss your shot, frantically try to repair the damage your own ineptitude has caused while your opponent gleefully sends over more bubbles to add to your ever descending wall.
1) Puyo Puyo Tetris (PS4)
Probably cheating slightly, this is exceptional value given that along with the crazy Puyo Tetris mode (where you’re matching Puyos and making Tetris lines), it also includes arguably the finest versions of both Puyo Puyo and Tetris standalones too. The genius stroke here is when you play a versus match up, each player decides what to play. When competing with my girlfriend, I generally play Tetris against her Puyo Puyo, which gives me an almost fighting chance before my inevitable demise.
Although Puyo Puyo Tetris is still a Japanese only release, it is well worth importing. The menus are all in Japanese but there are plenty of excellent fan-translations online to help you navigate them, and even translations for the entire story mode should you be that way inclined.
Dr Mario and Columns both almost made the list. Dr Mario missed out because I am entirely useless at it to the point of not enjoying myself even trying. Columns would have made the list if I was working just on childhood memories, it just doesn’t hold up today.