“To me the arcade experience is the ultimate gaming experience.”
Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, or SPF2THDR for “short”, is a PS3 game I recently picked up in the Humble Capcom PlayStation Bundle. I remembered it from the arcades of the 90’s but it was just there to steal my money. I feel like I wasn’t smart enough to get how to play it then. Maybe I’m still not smart enough! *gasp*
Puzzle Fighter II (no way I’m writing out that whole title) is a tile-matching puzzle game in the vein of Tetris, though the gimmick here is the game’s colorfully populated by chibi-fied versions of Capcom characters. You may recognize hardcore bruisers like Ryu, Ken and Chun Li from Street Fighter or femme fatales like Morrigan and Felicia from Darkstalkers. They’ve been turned into chubby cherubs for your weeaboo delight in this pink, ultra-cutesy game about stacking up jewels.
Now as awesome as all that sounds (take a minute to steady your heavy breathing), the downside is there are only eight playable characters. Dozens of fighters in all of Capcom’s rosters and they could only come up with eight for the Puzzle Fighter treatment. At least the final battle with
Dan Akuma is hilarious. You get to see the fanged and muscled fighting fiend say: “I am Akuma! Also a master puzzler.”
If you’re thinking “Well hey maybe there’s more characters in the other Puzzle Fighter games”, let me be the one to burst that bubble but there are no other Puzzle Fighter games. This is it. Yeah, I know it’s called Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, implying there was a first title and this is the sequel. But this game is merely named as a parody of Super Street Fighter II Turbo, and there are no other games. There’s no magic in the world and Santa Claus isn’t real and at the end of the Planet of the Apes you find out it was Earth the whole time. Reality.
The objective of Puzzle Fighter is to fill up your opponent’s “pit” while keeping yours free. Gems fall down Tetris-style from the fourth column to the right. Gems can be rotated and the next set of gems are indicated on the screen. You must match up the four different colors of gems to form larger squares and rectangles called Power Gems. Gems and Power Gems can be destroyed with Crash Gems, which destroy gems or Power Gems of their own color when placed adjacent to them.
The gems you destroy send Counter Gems over to your opponent’s side. Each of the eight characters have their own drop patterns of Counter Gems they will send. These Counter Gems take up precious space and turn into regular colored gems once their timer runs out (the timer decreases by one with every set of gems a player places). It’s funny to see the super deformed characters attack each other, squeaking out move names like “Hadoken!”, when a really good layer of Counter Gems are sent over.
You earn extra points, and attack with more Counter Gems, for destroying large Power Gems or for causing Chain Combos to deal even more friendship-ending damage.
Every 25th set of gems you can place will include an almighty Diamond. The Diamond acts like a Crash Gem except it destroys all of the gems of that color on your side, adjacent or not.
It’s best to get used to playing Puzzle Fighter at a frantic pace. If you can place gems faster than your opponent, you can send over more Counter Gems than they can keep up with and reach the Diamonds before them. It’s also wise to set up Chain Combos and be clever about the Crash Gems you place so that you only destroy large sets of Power Gems, rather than destroying little bits of gems only.
Puzzle Fighter is a fun and unique competitive game with little variety. It’s good for a few rounds, maybe between friends, but there’s not much to do after that. The HD version includes four different modes of gameplay: balanced, arcade, match three, and rotate four similar to Bejeweled (a funny comparison) and Candy Crush. There is also multiplayer (both local and online) and four difficulty settings. But after playing it for a little while, it gets tiring pretty fast, unless you’re really a puzzle-lover. The lack of variety even for an HD remix makes me suspect there wasn’t much remixing at all when this was being developed. Good things there’s always Gem Fighter!
The 8-Bit Review
This is an HD update? They did a really poor job of “updating” these graphics as in some cases they look worse than the original game back on the PlayStation and in the arcades. This is clearer no where else than with the game’s puzzle fighters during matches. The character sprites went from classic pixelated sharpness to blurry “smooth-filtered” smudges. Boy, I hate sprite smoothing. The effect alongside the cleanness of the backgrounds, the gems and the text is nothing short of jarring. It looks awful. It looks like the graphics belong in two different games. The new elemental effects on the gems is a paltry trade off for good character sprites.
They would have done much better if they had left well enough alone and simply made the existing sprites crisper, pixel for pixel. This is how not to make an HD update, unlike the swell leap into high-def without “muddying the waters” in the Mega Man Legacy Collection I recently gushed about.
How bad is it? Just look at these side by side comparisons. Most everything looks better in HD, minus the poor characters! The animations and faces are hilarious but it’s too bad they look like an amateur had fun with the blur tool on Photoshop. Originals on the left. HD Remix on the right.
You’d think that remixed versions of the iconic Street Fighter themes would be more awesome. Instead, you’re left with songs that are somehow more generic for having me remixed. The pop/dance flavor is a hit or miss on these themes. I can remember the songs from Street Fighter in the arcade but I can’t really remember any impact of the differences made to them in Puzzle Fighter. Cute idea but not well-executed. Passable puzzle music.
And no “stereo” option? What the?
Taken simply as a competitive, tile-matching puzzle game with all of the HD updates and audio/graphics problems aside, Puzzle Fighter still manages to be an enjoyable, fast-paced game. The flow of each match can change dramatically in seconds. You can go from being on the verge of losing to becoming the winner with a few well-timed (or lucky) gem placements. When the action speeds up there’s a little adrenaline rush that games strive for, but don’t always reach, such as we experienced in the days of the arcade when winning or losing meant keeping or wasting your money.
Puzzle Fighter is fun with friends once they’re given a quick rundown of how it works and a few rounds practice. Local multiplayer is getting rarer and rarer nowadays it seems, so it’s good to see that at least is still in tact. On a side note, they removed some features from the HD version. Some of the character taunts between matches are gone. Why? Well, multiplayer is still here, at least.
In retrospect I’m not sure what was so confusing to wee me in the arcades all those years ago. I wanted to play this game and enjoy it but I think it was just too fast paced to pick up easily. Once you catch on to matching gems to form up Power Gems and how to best place Crash Gems, it becomes a cinch. It may be baffling at first but that’s only because you’re thrown right into the thick of it. You’ll be able to pick it up. I have every confidence in you to match those tiles. The human brain is always looking for recognition and patterns in everything. It’s why we see anthropomorphisms in inanimate objects.
Good for an evening or a Saturday afternoon with a buddy but you won’t get much out of it by your ownsome lonesome. Play through the game eight times with each character and you’ll have about as much as you can stomach. There’s the off-chance you could get addicted to the quick gameplay but how long can that feasibly last? You can’t honeymoon forever with a game that’s as short and limited as this. There isn’t even trophy support. The only thing keeping the replayability up is the fact that its core gameplay is just plain fun. Start it up for a match. Stay for two or three.
As I mentioned above, it may be called Puzzle Fighter II but there is no “Puzzle Fighter One”. It’s one of a kind. Given it’s set in the genre-context of a very common style of puzzle game, and there’s also the fact that all of its characters are borrowed, we can give this an above average score for uniqueness, at the most.
My Personal Grade: 4/10
I think I thought I would enjoy this a little more than I did. Loved it at first but it wore on me quick. I only play it in short bursts now and again. This is perhaps the perfect example of how nostalgia can re-color memories with a rosy tint. I may have involuntarily mixed memories of Puzzle Fighter with Gem Fighter from the ancient arcades of my youth: Tilt and Fun Factory, Funzone and Chuck E. Cheese. More characters, more diverse additions, and cleaner graphics would have gone a long way to making this HD Remix a landmark. It just goes to show that not all old games remain classics. Some are brutally mistreated and repackaged as prostitutes for the modern gamer. Glad I got this one in a bundle, as fun and addicting as it is… Well, maybe I want to play one more match right now…
Aggregated Score: 5.4
Did you enjoy this post? Consider becoming a Warrior of Light and join us in restoring integrity and quality to entertainment journalism. We specialize in long-form, analytical reviews and we aim to expand into a podcast and webzine with paid contributors! See our Patreon page for more info!