It’s been 11 years since Puzzle Fighter first debuted in arcades, following up with superb home ports on the Saturn and PlayStation. Later consoles hosted the title in portable form, and in 2001, Japanese Dreamcast owners were graced with the first online Puzzle Fighter. This latest rendition for the Xbox Live Arcade only misses one step on its quest to become the definitive version of this classic.
For those unfamiliar, Puzzle Fighter is Capcom’s spin on the ever prevalent “gem dropping” genre. It’s filled with familiar characters from the Darkstalkers and Street Fighter series. Breaking tradition, there is no marathon or high score to reach for. This is combative puzzle gaming in the vein of the one-on-one fighters Capcom is renowned for.
Immensely strategic, fans know the intensity present by the back and forth action Puzzle Fighter provides. Pieces are not simply destroyed by matching colors. They build, and the mass of blocks created becomes your attack – matching gems that spin and glow destroys them. This is the only means of destroying the pieces and dropping them unto your opponent.
Those that are familiar will find this edition pleasing to the eye, with redrawn gems, backgrounds, and character portraits. Sadly, the sprites remain intact, smoothed to avoid the jagged edges sprites bring with them. New visual effects when gems explode add little, and it’s arguably a downgrade compared to the mass of gem fragments previously present.
As a Live Arcade effort, online play is easily the best part of this $10 purchase. Ranked matches are playable in classic Puzzle Fighter mode (called simply X) and an altered mode (X’) which re-balances certain characters to make each battle an equal affair. Player matches also allow for Y and Z modes, radically altering the mechanics into more familiar puzzle game roots.
Single player is where this nearly flawless classic has always struggled. Saturn and PlayStation owners will fondly remember the Street Puzzle mode, which unlocked numerous bonuses from extra music, different win icons, characters, and voice samples. This is sadly missing from the Xbox Live edition, though for a $10 product, the online features more than make up for the lacking single player. Also, the well-rounded achievements do give some purpose to playing solo.
With its addictive, challenging hook, Puzzle Fighter will have an extensive virtual shelf life. It’s unlikely you’ll hop online in a year’s time and struggle to find competition. Even without the single player depth, the strong core the game provides is more than enough value.
Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence. This game can also be found on: PS3, PC.