Ever since the advent of the best selling (and often imitated and pirated) Tetris , there has been a small genre of 'puzzle games' that have existed in the background of mainstream gaming. With little or no emphasis on graphics, gameplay is their bread and butter.
[image1]Most of these games are one-player games, and have had more impact on the gaming industry than you might think. Don't believe me? How many hours have you spent playing Tetris? Or Columns? Or Minesweeper? It is my contention (I have no proof) that the most-played video game of all time is Windows Solitaire. It just has to be.
A newer trend has given us a few competitive, two-player puzzle games likeDr. Mario and Bust-a-Move (aka Puzzle Bubble). Enter Capcom with a new game and the unlikely title Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo.
The game incorporates young versions of characters from the popularStreet Fighter and Darkstalkers games. But these characters are really only there for show, and a little comic relief. The gameplay is completely puzzle-centered.
The game itself most closely resembles Columns. You have a rectangular playing field and pairs of colored gems drop down from the ceiling. You can move them left and right or rotate them, until you drop them strategically where you want them. The goal is to gather many gems of the same color together and then drop one of the occasional round, glowing 'crash gems' of the appropriate color onto your group. All the gems of the same color that are touching will burst apart, and remaining gems will fall as gravity demands.
The key here is that there is another rectangle on the other side of the screen, where your opponent (computer or human) is doing the exact same thing. Whenever you burst gems, you drop extra gems onto your opponent's side that they have no control over. Do it right, and their side fills up more quickly than your own. A player loses when their side fills up completely and there is no room for more gems, much like in Tetris orColumns.
[image2]Now back to the 'fighter' part of the game. You get to choose one of 8 different child-like fighters, such as Ryu from Street Fighter or Felicia from Darkstalkers. They stand in the middle of the screen next to your opponent's fighter. When you burst gems, your fighter beats up on the opposing fighter automatically. Your choice of fighter also determines the pattern in which you drop gems on your opponent. However, for the most part, they are just eye-candy.
Games are fast paced, fun, and leave room for amazing, last-minute, turnaround victories. Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo simply took over the PlayStation and the big monitor in the Game Revolution offices for several days straight. People played (mostly) against each other, a few played arcade mode, but 'street puzzle' mode also got a lot of play. 'Street puzzle' mode allows you to win different easter eggs, such as special icons, songs, graphics, and access to three additional fighters (Akuma, Devilot, and Dan). Seldom have I seen a game so addicting.
Unfortunately, I discovered a serious flaw in the game after a few days of play. The best strategy is not to intelligently place and rotate gems. It actually works better if you just drop them as quickly as possible and let the great god Chaos sort them out.
This is made possible by one final type of gem that occasionally falls from the ceiling: the 'rainbow gem'. This gem simply destroys all gems of a single color, allowing the rest to become more concentrated. Unlike other games of this type, there are enough 'crash' and 'rainbow' gems that you will not kill yourself by just dropping objects as quickly as possible. More speed means more 'crash gems', which means bursting more gems, which means burying your opponent.
Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo is much more fun when you spend the time dropping your gems carefully in order to win. Dropping them as fast as you can, with no thought, is really kinda boring. It made the game feel much more like luck than strategy.
I'm not sure why they made the game this way. It would certainly make the programmer's job creating an AI simpler; however, that seems like a bad reason. I searched the options in vain for a way to turn off the 'rainbow gems', which would have limited the speed strategy and made the game fun again, but there was none.
It seems a shame to lower the grade of a game that showed so much potential, and for such a seemingly minor flaw. But this 'minor' flaw changed the gameplay dramatically. And suddenly you had to play that way if you wanted to win. And suddenly it wasn't as much fun. And suddenly it wasn't the most popular game in the office any more.