YES. I KNOW, ZANGIEF. YOU FLIP THAT TABLE. THAT IS THE RIDICULOUS NAME FOR THIS GAME.
If you’re not aware of the reference, you need to read THIS before you call me batshit crazy.
Done it? Good.
NOW FLIP THAT TABLE LIKE YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO. I WOULD.
History of silly names, this company. I guarantee it. Having SAID THAT, I did see an advert for a fighting game competition and the majority of the names were ridiculously OTT wordy in much the same way as Capcom’s darling protégés do. And if we are talking about silly naming befuddlement, I suppose we do have to give an honourable mention to the Guilty Gear series for just taking it to the next level and beyond with things like Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R (not sure what the R stands for but I’m going to assume it stands for RENAMED-A-BILLION-TIMES… maybe).
At least this game wasn’t given a redundant subtitle like Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo: The Gem Chronicles.
FUCK OFF ZANGIEF. YOU’VE HAD YOUR MOMENT. LEAVE IT ALONE. IT’S DONE.
And anyway, without this game, Zangief, you wouldn’t even BE a Pocket Fighter reference! Be thankful! In fact… it’s amazing to even think that Zangief wasn’t in THIS game but I can sorta of see why given what the characters are actually used for.
So this, if you haven’t guessed by the title, is a puzzle game which uses the characters from Street Fighter and Darkstalkers as a stimulus. The game itself COULD, strictly speaking, get by without the Street Fighter/Darkstalkers packaging but to be honest, it probably wouldn’t be nearly as fun. It’s a bit like dressing up Puyo Puyo in a coat of Sonic-related paint and calling it… I dunno… Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine or something bonkers like that!
I’m aware. That’s the joke. Keep up.
Now puzzle games do have this inability of drawing people in very often because for most people, you either hate them or love them so when you create one, you’re either going for the simpler CONNECT 4 route of something like Puyo Puyo or you’re going to try something else entirely. The actual gameplay is totally dependent on the puzzle game mechanic itself and it is safe to say that this has a pretty decent one.
Actually it’s a fucking marvellous one but I’ll get onto that one in a bit.
Now… here’s my ONLY real quibble with this game. These are the characters. There are eight in total and actually, when I played this game for the first time, I’d never actually heard of two of them. Hsien-Ko and Donovan (OH POOR DONOVAN, YOU POOR, POOR WASTE OF SPACE, YOU) both come from the Darkstalkers series, debuting in the second game in the series (which has naming issues because OF COURSE THEY DO COUGH COUGH JAPAN COUGH COUGH CAPCOM COUGH COUGH PROBABLY CAPCOM USA COUGH COUGH). I never played the second game because it never came out on the PS1 in the UK, only the Saturn. Either way, the roster of characters isn’t exactly… electrifying. It’s slightly predictable, all things considered but also very… limiting. Ryu, Ken and Sakura are essentially the same type of characters so there’s not a massive amount of differentiation there and of course they’re going to throw in Chun-Li.
The Darkstalkers cast is actually MUCH better utilised here than the Street Fighter lot because they’re a bit more interesting, such is the criminality that the game series itself has been left on the shelf somewhat.
Darkstlkers 4 anyone? Yes please. That’d be nice. Clean it up, Capcom, and get to it.
Now there is probably a reason as to why the game only features eight characters (ten if we include secret characters) and that’s part of the reason you get to choose a character. You see the character portraits? There’s a box saying counter gem. That’s important. There are probably only enough variations to go around without going into completely random territory. Although, mathematically, you could just swap colours around so there’s a bit MORE variation. And for fuck’s sake, Dan (SECRET TWAT DAN – GO THE FUCK AWAY WE HATE YOU DAN… yeah, that guy) drops ONLY red gems which kinda cements his crappest character ever reputation even more.
Puzzle time! After choosing your character, you’re thrown headlong into a battle with all eight characters plus final boss Akuma (oh don’t sound so shocked. That’s not a fucking spoiler). Gems begin to fall down in twos and you can rotate them to fall sideways or on top of each other and you can join as many regular gems together as you want. And nothing will happen.
It’s not Puyo Puyo, people, it’s positively pioneering puzzle paction! In order to set off any mega chains of gems you’ve got, you need a Crash Gem, a circular explosive if you will. Connect this to any gem of the same colour and it’ll explode it and any other adjacent gem of the same colour.
AND THEREIN LIES THE GAME. That is the difference between this game being GREAT and simply being a bit of a non-starter. Place your bets, people. I think you know which one it is.
And even more importantly, if you connect 2×2 blocks of the same-coloured gems, they made MEGA-sized gems. You can make any square or rectangular shaped gems you like as long as they are all the same colour. If you manage to explode one of these bad boys, they do more damage to your opponent than just having a massive long snake-like chain of coloured gems would. BY JOVE.
So I say DAMAGE and you obviously think that your opponent’s grid will just fill up with gems they can’t get rid of, right? NOPE. Brilliant mechanic number TWO: the gems you drop on your opponents are called COUNTER GEMS (as mentioned before) and at when they’re dropped on you or your opponent after an attack pattern works, they show the number 5 (occasionally 3 for reasons I haven’t really worked out…)
With each new gem duo dropping into the play area, the counter goes down by one until it reaches ZERO and turns into a proper gem that you can get rid of. You can get rid of them by exploding gems next to them but that’s part of the tactics you have to employ because those counter gems are sneaky little buggers than you might immediately think “FUCK IT, I’M DEAD” and then suddenly, they chime into play and BANG. You can set off a long-ass combo almost by accident or in my case using pure skill.
And as you drop counter gems on your hapless opponent, you also PHYSICALLY ATTACK your opponent using moves from the character’s repertoire. Look at poor little Sakura getting the shit beaten out of her by Ken’s FLAMING DRAGON PUNCH. Depending on the severity of the attack, it could be a Hadouken, it might be a Lightning Kick or a Sand Splash… OR IT MIGHT BE A SHINKUU HADOUKEN or something else Super Attack-ish. Or Akuma’ll just waltz across the screen and kill you while the lights are off. Either or. Basically, the more severe your attack is, the heavier the attack on your opponent’s character will be. If it K.O.s your opponent…
DAMN SON, YOU ANNIHILATED HER. SHE DEAD. Or… undead. Or whatever. Cos she’s a zombie. I think. Look she’s not alive… so she’s… er… SHE’S NOT WINNING.
And that, people of the interwebs, is an immensely satisfying moment in gaming if ever there was one.
Now, weirdly enough, the action in the middle of the screen is not as distracting as you might think. Initially, yeah, it’s a bit of a hindrance as your eye is drawn towards it because it’s new, it’s unusual, it’s cool and all that… but eventually, you just get used to having it there. A bit like a relation-I CAN’T FINISH THAT JOKE, FINISH IT YOURSELF AND GET SLAPPED FOR IT LATER. Sometimes, it can happen quite by accident, much as it can happen in any puzzle game, but it can always happen through skill by the same token. Skilled players will be able to throw out mega combos and make it look easy. Some players will also be able to do the same thing entirely by chance but that doesn’t make it unfair. If anything, pitting a seasoned puzzle gamer against someone who’s only just learning the ropes? THAT is unfair. You wouldn’t wanna do that. That would be mean. You mean bastard. Stop being a bastard. I bet you like Dan, don’t you? You bastard. How dare you. DAN-LOVER. NO ONE LIKES DAN SO NO ONE LIKES YOOOOOOOOOOU.
There is also what’s called ‘Street Puzzle’ mode in which you fight it out against the CPU at varying difficulties to earn rewards like music, sound effects, voice collections and the LEGENDARY intermissions collection. THE LEGENDARY INTERMISSION COLLECTION IS GLORIOUS (if a tad short nowadays… thinking about it…) – essentially, it was like a breather for you in between the first four matches and the last four. The developers knew they could have a little bit of fun with what they had going and chucked our favourite characters into HILARIOUS little skits that would somehow raise a smile in between matches. Apart from the Akuma one. That was just sorta… well… crap. I never understood what was going on until I realised what he was doing. He’s surrounded by winged creatures and he’s stripped off the top half of his gi and then a little droplet emoji appears… HE IS WARM. HO HO HO THAT IS WHAT IS HAPPENING.
Yeah, it still sucks.
THIS ONE DOESN’T THOUGH:
YEAH, FUCK YOU DAN.
(That’s Dan underneath the massive spray of attack effects. You get the idea why I like it. There’s another one where he gets bitch-slapped as well.)
It’s a shame you can’t see it better because Hsien-Ko has the best ‘tired of your fucking shit’ resting bitch face I’ve EVER seen in a game. Plus, she gives Dan a fucking sword up the arse. What’s there not to like?
(Aside from the quality of the gif. I DON’T MAKE GIFS. NAFF OFF.)
The crux of this whole review is that this is an immensely satisfying and fun little puzzle game that it not only strategic and fun, it’s charming to boot. It’s one of the major weaknesses I have with games. Puzzle Fighter has it in spades because what you have is a chibi-fied version of a game that eventually became Pocket Fighter and gave us all even more reason to like it. The art style is quirky and fun without being too childish. The mechanics of the game are fun and yet frenetic and exciting. It’s a bundle of laughs from beginning to end and I am never ever getting rid of my copy of it. If anything, this is one of the “NEVER SELLING” games I own. I do also have the HD remake on the PS3 but I am less than impressed by the fact they didn’t do ANYTHING with the sprites at all. That now looks very silly. TIDY, TIDY, TIDY, CAPCOM. I mean… that’s Morrigan in Capcom vs SNK 2 levels of LAZY. BOO. BOO YOU.
ZANGIEF THROWS A TABLE AT YOU.
HSIEN-KO USES RESTING BITCH FACE ON YOU,
IT’S SUPER EFFECTIVE.
AND SHE’S DEAD.