By Colin K. Yu
I still remember when I bought my first Playstation in 1996. I jumped on the Playstation bandwagon right when the craze started spreading about how 2D graphics on cartridges were out and 3D graphics on CDs were in, and it was when Sony switched from the large obnoxious cardboard cases to jewel cases. I was instantly sold on Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo simply because it had cute versions of Capcom's Street Fighter characters. Who knew there was actually a puzzle game that came with it? Soon, I realized the irresistible fun that this game had to offer, and soon I started seeing everything in shades of red, green, blue, and yellow. I can almost entirely blame SPF for the time I almost flunked English because of the endless hours I spent mesmerized by the screen. I still have that original copy in barely playable condition, and now seven years later, my obsession has resurfaced with the Gameboy Advance version of Super Puzzle Fighter. In fact, this review is a bit dated because I've been spending far too time in front of the GBA screen.
First of all, anyone who has played the original console version of Super Puzzle Fighter will feel right at home with the GBA sibling. Due to the fact that SPF is a fairly simplistic game design and runs on a 2D engine, a direct port was delivered with relative ease. Similar to most other puzzle games, SPF uses only two buttons, which suits the GBA system well. The direction pad moves the pieces, and the A and B buttons rotate them, a la Tetris. In the GBA version, graphics and sounds were slightly sacrificed, but not to the point where it detracts from the fun that naturally emanates from this title.
The puzzle system in Super Puzzle Fighter is easy to learn. The system is a competitive one, in which the player is constantly in direct competition with their opponent on the other side of the screen. Players must assemble the blocks that fall in the play field strategically. The goal of the battle is to have the opponent's stack of blocks pass the brim before the player's does.
Each block contains two colored jewel varying from blue, red, yellow, and green. The player must then align similar colors together to form chains. From time to time, a crystal ball will replace one of the jewels of the falling block, which will destroy a chain when connected to one of the same color. This, in turn, will clear the chain off the player's field, and drop counter blocks on the opponent's field. The longer the chain, the greater the damage will be.
Capcom adds in other twists through the gameplay elements. The aforementioned counter blocks are an assortment of jewels with colored numbers in them, ranging from the numbers 1 through 5. The number represents the amount of time before counting down to zero, at which point it transforms into an ordinary jewel of the color of the number. A skilled player will work around these counter blocks and return the favor by sending the damage back to their opponent. There is also the occasional diamond piece that will rescue a player in dire situations. When the diamond is placed on top of a jewel, it will clear all jewels of that same color off the player's field and serve it as an attack to the opponent.
Another strategic element is the player's ability to create super blocks by assembling a 2 x 2 jeweled square of like colors. Players can then add on to these squares by adding on jewels that follow a rectangular shape. When these super blocks are destroyed with a crystal, it will send extra devastating damage to the opposition. With these additional elements of gameplay, it certainly lengthens the battle, as well as its fun factor. If all these nuances sound a tad complicated, SPF comes equipped with a training video hosted by none other than Street Fighter's Dan.
Speaking of which, Super Puzzle Fighter could have done well without the Street Fighter/Darkstalkers license, but it certainly helped. SPF starts with a collection of eight characters with three unlockable ones. This collection includes such fighting all-stars as Street Fighter's Ryu and Ken, and Darkstalkers' Morrigan and Felicia. With such a highly recognizable cast, it gives the title instant marketability, compared to other run-of-the-mill puzzle games. Of course, stapling a famous character does not always sell the game, as was well proven in such lackluster titles as Sonic Shuffle and Rayman Arena.
Capcom went a step further than merely slapping on its characters in SPF, that in most puzzle games do not integrate, even with recent titles. Other than the three difficulty modes, SPF has a Street Puzzle mode. In this mode, players will rival against challenging computer competitors in efforts to win prizes. These prizes differ in value, ranging from character's win icons and costumes, to unlocking playable characters such as Dan and Akuma. The difficulty of the challenges is relative to the worth of the prizes, giving players a good workout of quick reactions and a hint of luck to earn the opportunity to relish the fruits of their labor. While these bonuses are typically aesthetic variations, it is undoubtedly welcomed as it adds more replay value to this already addictive game.
Super Puzzle Fighter's options are considerably extensive. As previous mentioned, there are three standard difficulty modes: Easy, Normal, and Hard. Easy mode is like a wearing a training diaper, due to the fact that the computer will play at slow-as-molasses speed. Hard mode will cause the player to sweat a bit. Training diapers will seem like a viable option as the need to go to the bathroom will be superceded by the true test of skills, which will require the player to muster all their skills while playing through the unlockable Master Arcade mode. Alterations can even be made via the options menu, where the difficulty, match time, number of matches, and speed can be controlled. Also included are music and sound tests, where an unlocked vocal version of Sakura's Song can be heard through all the glory of GBA's speakers.
The real benefit that shines in this version is the ability to link up with a friend and battle on the go. Unfortunately, this friend will need their own copy of SPF to utilize the link system, but using multiple copies allows a fairly seamless competition without having to transfer large amounts of data. But fortune shines on those without a link cable or a second copy of the game because SPF compensates by including the capability for two players to use just a single GBA system. This is accomplished by splitting the system into sides, using the left and right direction buttons and the A and B buttons to move blocks left and right, while the L and R shoulder buttons control the rotating. While a single system multiplayer mode sounds dandy on paper, players may get aggravated by the teeter-tottering of the GBA as buttons are pushed, while head-butting to get the best angle on the screen, especially in sunlight.
If you've played the original console version of Super Puzzle Fighter, or if you've screwed up your original copy by playing it too often i.e. me, I would highly suggest picking this game up for your GBA library. Even if you've never played any version, frankly I would still suggest in investing in it. Super Puzzle Fighter gets addictive quick, to the point where everything looks like they're made of colored jewels, and everyone looks like a super-deformed cartoon character. Or maybe that's just me.