Hindsight : Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo
Cart: Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo
Cab: PSN / XBLA
Taking a puzzle concept and badging it with your single most popular franchise was nothing new (See Dr Mario and Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine), but the detail and enthusiasm with which Capcom parodied Street Fighter was joyful. Making it stand apart from the very similar Baku Baku Animal, which was released on the Saturn by Sega.
It’s fair to say that on release this was the most colourful and bold puzzle game there had ever been. Bright recreations of Street Fighter and Darkstalkers characters, shiny primary coloured blocks, and the use of fighting sound effects when you hit your opponent, made for a game that turned two player puzzling into an extremely intense experience.
The game mechanics were only slightly more complex than your basic coloured gem puzzler, but provided a depth of battling that is hard to top even today. There are four types of coloured block, you build these into piles and use ‘crash gems’ (I.e.: detonators) to destroy them. Each colour has its own crash gem. The bigger the pile you destroy, the more blocks you send over to the opponent, but also the more likely it is that a hit from the opponent will send you over the limit. The colour system also allows you to stack up chains which boost your hits.
The depth comes from the blocks that you receive when hit by an opponent. Each block lands with a countdown from 5. You cannot destroy them until they hit zero, apart from by destroying the block next to it. This means you have to anticipate which blocks are counting down and use that as part of your strategy to hit back. In addition, each character sends blocks over in different patterns, which means there is a tactical element to picking characters and how you approach your hits. (E.g.: Akuma, the boss, send over almost a random pattern making it hard to hit back.
Two good players battling has all the intensity and strategy of a game of Street Fighter III or Virtua Fighter 5. Capcom managed to take a puzzler, and tie it in to Street Fighter in a way that added to the game in every single way. From the jaunty versions of the character’s stage music, through to the cute drawings (later to appear in Pocket Fighters), nothing in the whole game felt out-of-place. For a company that has produced over 120 Megaman games and many, many Street Fighter games, they surprisingly managed to get this one right first time.
I have never, before or after, played a puzzle game that generates a comparable tactical battle between the players. Two player Tetris has moments of “You sent me four lines!”, but Puzzle Fighter II is a constant back and forth of hits and strategy, where every move you make directly impact the planning process of the other player.
I bought this game shortly after release, and started a long running series of games against my friends and family, several of whom got very addicted too. It’s fair to say I was pretty damn good at the time, though I’ve lost that edge over the years. Playing it now, it’s still undoubtedly brilliant. While better with friends, it still provides a strong challenge and lots of entertainment value in single player.
Although there are few online players anymore, if you have friends to battle I wholeheartedly recommend buying the Xbox Live Arcade version. For me it’s still the best block puzzler ever released, and yes, that statement includes Tetris. Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo takes the simple but repetitive challenge of Tetris and combines it with a depth and excitement that 17 years later, I believe no one has ever bettered.
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Rob is an advertising strategist and author of 'The Ad Pit' blog. Rob has been playing games for 25 years - which makes him feel very old. He used to have a victory ratio of 40:1 in Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, but that was a long time ago! #dogyears