There’s a lot of buzz out there right now surrounding Capcom for a few good reasons. First, Mega Man recently celebrated its 30th birthday. (Welcome to the dirty thirties Mr. Blue Bomber!) To celebrate, Capcom announced that Mega Man 11, the first canonical entry in the series in 7 years, would be coming in 2018. Second, it announced a re-release of the classic Mega Man games as well as the X series (X1-8) for PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch (!!!)
Oh, and they just released this crazy addictive mobile game called Puzzle Fighter.
For those of you that are unfamiliar, to uncover the origins of Puzzle Fighter you need to set your wayback machines to the year 1996. The Dow was trading in the mid 6,000s, Clinton was heading into his second term as President, and the N64 broke into the home console market. In the midst of all this, Capcom developed an arcade game called Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo. This was actually the first game in the series, and therein lied Capcom’s ability to poke fun at itself.
The concept is fairly simple. You have square “gems” of 4 different colors: blue, red, yellow, and green. By combining 4 or more like-colored gems together you create a “power gem”. There are also “crash gems” – these are circles of the same 4 colors that, when placed next to a corresponding square gem, will break it. By breaking gems, you then drop timed gems in a particular pattern that obstructs your opponents strategies. There’s also a special “diamond” gem that immediately destroys all gems of whatever color it lands on.
The first player to have their gems fill the screen (think Tetris) loses. Still confused? Enjoy this video featuring Dan-sensei himself from the original arcade version!
This game was my go-to whenever I’d make trips to the nickel arcade. It was fast, furious, and tons of fun. It also featured Morrigan, probably one of my favorite fighting game characters ever, so that’s an added bonus.
Since the original arcade incarnation, it also saw a port to the Playstation, and then to more recent consoles on the Playstation Network and the Xbox Live Arcade.
Capcom’s latest incarnation on mobile platforms, however, takes things to a new level.
Puzzle Fighter lives once again! This time, you form a team of up to three fighters. The general concept is the same – build power gems and smash them to defeat your enemy. This time, however, there are actual health bars to whittle down, so matches can’t go on for too long.
As you destroy gems you charge up your “super meter”, located in the bottom right hand corner. When active, this is a powerful attack that can help finish off your opponent, or help even the playing field.
Each of the fighters have an “affinity”, which means if you shatter power gems of a particular color, it will have more of an impact on your opponent. In addition, you can level up a variety of skills depending on the size of the power gem you break.
By acquiring “skill cards”, and using them in conjunction with coins to increase the power of your skills, you can level up your warriors as you claw your way through the rankings of Puzzle Fighter’s competitive scene.
The original Puzzle Fighter offered a healthy roster of characters, from Street Fighter to Darkstalkers, and the mobile version continues this tradition. Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li…sure, they’re there. And so is Dante, X, Jill Valentine, Morrigan and (coming soon) Servbot! Your first few rounds you unlock a random handful of characters, and of course you have the option of unlocking more by spending Gems (currency, not puzzle gems) – but we’ll get to that more in a minute.
Once you’ve built your team, it’s off to the races! No, seriously, the competitive brackets built into Puzzle Fighter are done pretty darn well. There’s a decent-sized “Rookie” pool for you to familiarize yourself with the game, and soon enough you’re clawing your way through the Bronze league and beyond. Currently there are 9 total leagues, 3 each in Bronze, Silver and Gold. Platinum, Diamond and Legend leagues are still in progress, but it gives us a fun glimpse into the competitive field ahead.
I’m particularly happy that the gameplay has remained largely intact. I know it seems hard to mess with mechanics as simple as Puzzle Fighter, but it certainly could have gotten messy if they wanted to add more colors, change up gem mechanics, etc. The changes that were made, such as adding a health bar, simply make sense.
Besides competitive online matches, there are a handful of “Missions” you can accomplish that are refreshed every 8-12 hours. Battling against a CPU, victory will grant you bonus coins, a chest with additional skill cards, and possibly gems. In addition, you can create a network of friends and challenge them to non-competitive spars. A great way to sharpen your skills, or help mentor someone new to the ways of Puzzle Fighter.
One last positive thing before moving on – let’s talk about micro-transactions, ok? Mobile games and micro-transactions are pretty much synonymous at this point, what sets games apart is how well they execute them. On that note, I have to say Puzzle Fighter does a pretty damn good job. As I mentioned before, you unlock a handful of characters at the start of the game, and you also earn chests with some good loot to get you started. As you beat online opponents, you get to “spin the wheel” at Honda’s shop to earn more prizes. This properly incentivizes you to dive into the competitive scene. Missions also provide coins, skill cards, and occasionally Gems that you can use to purchase upgrades and unlock characters. I’ve fought my way to the Silver rank so far and as of yet haven’t felt compelled to purchase anything. I don’t get pop-ups or “recommendations” to purchase gems or coins after every match. The shop is discreet. It’s there, but not necessary. Thanks Capcom, for doing micro-transactions in a classy way.
Now, as good as this game is, there are still a handful of flaws that gnaw at me.
Because there are options to purchase gems, coins, and characters, you may encounter a few rounds where you feel as though pay-to-win was more than a small factor in your opponents heavy-hitting attacks. When you both destroy a 2×2 power gem, and you end up taking more damage, that’s a direct result of the other player having acquired more skill cards and coins. Did they pay the iron price? Maybe. Maybe not. The uncertainty will bug you.
The matchmaking system is generally solid, but there were a few times where I was placed way out of my league. Sure it was fun to beat an Ultra Bronze when I was still in my Rookie division, but getting paired against an Ultra Silver when I was mid-range Bronze was a big ol’ wallop fest. Consistency is key.
Finally, I do wish there was an arcade or story mode built in. While there are a couple cool offline options (missions and vs. play with friends), an arcade mode that you can adjust difficulty on to earn coins/upgrades would be a fantastic addition. Hell, I’d pay $4.99 for that Capcom!
Overall, Puzzle Fighter is the first mobile game to capture and maintain my attention since Fallout Shelter drained my life-force back in 2015. It’s a fantastic revival of a fantastic arcade game, and I look forward to spending more time Puzzle Fighting my way to the top. You can find it on the App Store and Google Play store. See you out there!
- Classic gameplay left intact for fast and fun puzzle combat
- Great roster of characters to choose from
- Missions and casual friend-matches provide plenty of entertainment in non-competitive arenas
- Microtransactions present, but not shoved in your face
- Sometimes matchmaking can be way off base
- Leveling up skills can make it feel like "pay-to-win" at times
- No arcade/story mode