Although Sega has released more than 20 different iterations of Puyo Puyo for various consoles, THQ's Puyo Pop for the Game Boy Advance is only the fourth to reach North American shores. The basic premise of Puyo Pop--which will be familiar to Westerners who've played Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine or Kirby's Avalanche--entails rotating and matching couplets of multicolored blobs as they fall from the sky. By matching a group of four or more horizontally, vertically, or in conjoined lines, you'll help clear your pile and send junk blobs over to your opponent's side.
The joy of Puyo Pop lies in its gameplay. A standard Puyo Puyo match isn't a solo affair, but a one-on-one competition. Thus, unlike most puzzle games, where constant matching is a decent survival strategy, Puyo Pop rewards patience. It's infinitely better to stockpile blobs for later chain reactions than it is to pussyfoot around with one- or two-step links early in a match. The story mode's CPU opponents all have their own strategies and are a challenge in their own right, though Puyo Pop is best enjoyed with two, three, or four friends.
In addition to obligatory story mode and endless practice mode, Puyo Pop offers a variety of multiplayer gameplay options. With a link cable, you and your friends can participate in head-to-head, two-on-two, or four-player rumble matches. The game also supports the GBA's single-cartridge multiplay feature, but it's limited to a single stage and character when played in such a manner. If you're unable to find local competition, however, the game's 46-stage story mode is quite sufficient. An additional task mode offers further solo diversions, although it's mainly an endless practice mode laden with intermittent time-limited challenges.
Aesthetically, Puyo Pop looks and sounds like you'd expect a puzzle game would. The various forest and city backdrops are colorful and crisp, while a gray gamefield keeps the action visible. The onscreen characters chatter with all kinds of voice samples during battle, but it's the hilarious animation of the Puyo blobs themselves that makes repetitious chaining so worthwhile.
As for the million-dollar question: Yes--if you've never tried Puyo Puyo before, then Puyo Pop for the Game Boy Advance is an excellent introduction. It's quite different from, and in many ways better than, Tetris or Bust-A-Move, though the skilled CPU opponents may seem overly challenging at first. If you're one of the few devout members of the Puyo Puyo religion, then you won't find much new in Puyo Pop, but it's certainly a lot more portable than the PlayStation or Saturn releases.