I never played Puzzle Fighter before HD Remix. And I must say that I regret missing the various ports that have popped up over the years, because this is one hell of a game. I’m not huge on puzzle games, myself. I even go so far as to resist reviewing games like Lumines and Meteos simply because my level of frustration with the game ends up maximized come writing time, which would leave me giving biased review. But not with this one. This is one fun, addictive game.
Puzzle Fighter fans know what’s coming. The game plays somewhat similarly to Dr. Mario. There is a blank area where an infinite number of pairs of colored blocks fall. Unlike Dr. Mario, blocks are destroyed using special “bomb” pieces, which destroy their own color piece (a yellow bomb destroys yellow blocks), which cascades to all adjacent pieces of a similar color. While that’s nice, what really sets Puzzle Fighter apart from pretty much every other puzzle game around is that it is actually based around beating an opponent.
One player is on the left, the other on the right and they play until they fill up their opponent’s side to the point where no more blocks can fall (that is, the fourth column from the left). As they break blocks on their side, “time blocks” are dropped onto their opponents, which cannot be broken until they drop the specified number of blocks on their own side. The more blocks somebody breaks, the more blocks get sent over to their opponent’s side. The number of blocks dropped on an opponent can be increased by arranging the blocks to form a square or rectangle. Additionally, in Puzzle Fighter, there are twelve selectable characters from the Street Fighter and Darkstalkers series (and Devilot…but nobody knows what she’s from). The characters are differentiated from each other by their drop-patterns. That is, as they drop blocks on their opponents, the colors that come down are in different patterns (Ken has four horizontal rows of different colors, Akuma has all diagonal colors, and so on). Because of this, players end up going back and forth, arranging blocks to correspond with drop patterns in heated waves of blocks being thrown at their opponents. This simple (though I certainly make it sound tough) system ends up being incredibly addictive, and is quite heated when two players are both entrenched in blocks.
HD Remix didn’t just come with a slick (for the most part) graphical redesign, however. It came with some rebalancing to the characters. Anybody who played Puzzle Fighter, back when it had the near-singular distinction of being the only game in the arcades that was a genuine puzzler, will tell you that there were only two characters that could be played with a hope of winning, being Ken (the Street Fighter mainstay) and Donovan (from Darkstalkers), as they had the “least-bad drops” (to quote many people who have played the Puzzle Fighter). The game came with a rebalancing, shaking up the “who’s the best?” argument (just a note, though, that there almost ALWAYS will be a definite best). Whether or not this rebalancing allows more than the two characters to be usable, or whether this just ends up resulting in two different characters to float to the top (early speculation points to Hsien-Ko and Ken) will be seen in coming months, but either way, the characters don’t offer a spectacularly dynamic change between playing as Ryu, Morrigan and anyone else (unlike fighters) with Dan being the exception (he is practically, and intentionally, the worst character in any game ever made) so even if things boil down to only one character being playable, it will still be a great game.
The arcade-style drop patterns are selectable in the “X” mode (the rebalanced is called X’ ). There are also more traditional-puzzle versions of Puzzle Fighter selectable in Y and Z mode, which blocks are broken by lining up three or four blocks respectively. The game isn’t really optimized for this, however, which can result in massive chains that occur simply through chance, capable of immediately decimating an opponent. This is also exploited (rightfully) by some players, who can simply stack the blocks as quickly as possible and hoping for a one-hit-knockout in the form of a seven-break chain. Because of this, X’ (and maybe X) are still the undisputed centerpieces of the game, with Y and Z modes only worth dabbling with on occasion. The greatest of the improvements still lie in the online versus mode, which is seriously impressive, despite occasional lag spikes that can make some matches frustrating.
Graphically, the game looks pretty good to the standard definition TV owner (like me). But points simply need to be docked for the re-recycling of Pocket Fighter sprites. While it was, more or less, acceptable to use the sprites way back when in the arcades, in HD, the completely untouched sprites that represent the “Fighter” half of Puzzle Fighter look blurry when put on an HDTV (or in screenshots). This is sharply contrasted by the high-res, perfectly angular and highly colorful blocks and pieces that got redone, and well-done artwork. The sprites really needed to get the HD treatment along with everything else.
While CaPCom did come up a sliver short of a real “HD” Remix of Puzzle Fighter, this is still one of the premiere downloadable games. While this ten dollar download is higher than many reworked arcade games, this is still worth getting. With the numerous Dan-related laughs that will undoubtedly occur, it’s definitely worth checking out for Street Fighter fans. And because of the well-crafted, addicting gameplay, it’s something everyone should check out.