The Puyo Puyo games have been delighting purveyors of puzzle games for over thirty years, but most people I know still associate the series’ gameplay with Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. This clever reskin of the game was created to capitalise on the popularity of the radical blue hedgehog back in the nineties (with a similar but lesser known Kirby equivalent released on the Super Nintendo). Who better to continue this tradition of matching coloured blobs than the big baddie from the Super Meat Boy Series, and Dr Fetus’ Mean Meat Machine is ready to ruin your day with its blend of evil traps and puzzle gameplay.
Dr Fetus has been thwarted by Meat Boy more than enough times now, and he’s got a new plan to deal with this platforming problem once and for all. By cloning the square red hero he’s hoping he can abuse his power to do those dark deeds he’s so famous for, but this scientific endeavor isn’t exactly simple. The Meat Boys he’s producing just aren’t quite right, so to try and weed out the good ones Dr Fetus is throwing them all into deadly test chambers and hoping the best evolve into something resembling his rival. It’s a gloriously stupid concept, but it gives you a reason for the upcoming chaos.
Dr Fetus’ Mean Meat Machine is at its core a Puyo Puyo game, but if you’re not familiar with this particular puzzle game then this is how it works. Sets of two coloured clones slowly descend from the top of a stage, and your job is to rotate and place them together so that at least four of the same colour stick together. When this happens they’ll disappear, let any clones on top of them drop down, and give you more room to place more blobs.
This probably sounds pretty easy, but the real trick is learning how to place the clones so you can set off combos of matching colours. The easiest way to do this is by placing colours on top of each other so that when a set of clones is cleared the ones above them fall into place and connect with matching Meat Boys, but it’s easier said than done. High level Puyo Puyo gameplay is particularly mind blowing when you see the chains and combos start popping off, but Dr Fetus’ Mean Meat Machine is less about high scores and more about bloody carnage.
What makes this Meat Boy spinoff different to other puzzle games are the hazards that litter every single stage you’ll be presented with. Saw blades, swinging chainsaws and spooky ghosts litter every single level of this colour matching puzzle game, and are hell bent on ruining your carefully planned combos. If you happen to hit any of these hazards with your descending puzzle pieces you’ll immediately lose the level and have to start from the last checkpoint, but if they hit any of the clones you have placed on the ground they’ll just destroy them and leave you with less to match with. Navigating the hazards and making matches is hard work, and unfortunately not a whole lot of fun.
There’s definitely a reason why most puzzle games don’t have the constant threat of your coloured pieces being sliced into a pile of viscera, and that’s because it massively takes away from thoughtful gameplay. Even in the first world of Dr Fetus’ Mean Meat Machine it’s rare you’ll find a moment to put together a clever combo of clones, because there’s either not enough room to set it up or there’s a saw blade waiting to clear it away after a few seconds. Even dodging the obstacles as your pieces fall is annoying, and the punishment of having to start over after one accident with an enemy is way too punishing. I ended up turning on invincibility on the accessibility menu so I could actually enjoy the game, but in doing so was basically just playing standard Puyo Puyo.
There are a couple of clever ideas in the game that are supposed to mitigate the difficulty somewhat. One of these is the temporary invincibility you get when you manage to pull off a combo. This would be really helpful if setting up combos was easier with all the hazards, but it’s a start. There are also checkpoints in the middle of stages that ensure you don’t end up losing too much progress when you die, and getting enough matches to trigger them is pretty manageable. Each level will still feel like a grindy war of attrition as you slowly manage to make your way closer to the next checkpoint, but it at least makes it plausible to make it through a level.
I’ve been hard on Dr Fetus’ Mean Meat Machine, but it isn’t without its charm. One part of the game that’s undeniably great is the soundtrack, which is consistently banging. There are also some interesting elements that change as you progress in the story, like the designs of the clones as they evolve. It’s a cool visual twist that fits the narrative, and although not exactly important to the game as a whole I thought it was really neat.
Dr Fetus’ Mean Meat Machine makes a great case for why you shouldn’t add dangerous platforming hazards to a perfectly good puzzle game. All the intricacy and combo planning that goes into a good round of Puyo Puyo is lost when dealing with Fetus’ saw blades, and I just ended up feeling frustrated. If you’re a real puzzle game whizzkid who’s looking for a challenge then maybe you’ll have more fun than me, but otherwise it’s worth keeping Puyo Puyo and Meat Boy as far apart as possible.
The core Puyo Puyo style gameplay is engaging
Has a wonderful soundtrack
The way the clones evolve is really cool
Might be appreciated by top notch puzzle gamers
The hazards are really frustrating
Pulling off satisfying combos is too tough
The instant death is way too punishing
Is immediately too difficult with no real tutorial