One of the genres that innovates the most is the puzzle genre. People seem to invent the oddest ideas of how we can exercise our wit, and with the relatively good hardware we have today a lot more potential than before. Super Puzzle Fighter 2 on the Gameboy Advance is a good example of a fun idea that keeps you completely focused during the entire gaming session. At first sight the game looks a lot like Tetris, but there are in fact some major differences that make the game more fast-paced and enjoyable.
In Super Puzzle Fighter 2 there are two players fighting each other, but not exactly in the Street Fighter sense of the word. You see, you and the AI / human opponent have your own rectangular area where colored gems fall from the top to the bottom, two at a time. As the gems fall down you’ll want to place them so they form larger gems, which are called Power Gems, or at least so they form lines. At times you get Crush Gems, which you place next to one or more gems of the same color to destroy the ones that are connected. When you do destroy gems they’ll be transferred to the opponent, and the distribution depends on the character you’re using, so if you’d like to be really good then you’ll probably need to memorize the character’s way of distributing gems, so you can be prepared. Once in a while you also get Super Gems, which aren’t of a particular color, but if you place it on top of a blue gem it’ll destroy every blue gem in your field. Winning is done by sending enough gems over to the other side so your opponents area fills up, so he or she can’t get any new gems. The gems you send over have a time limit of sorts, because they need five “turns” (five new gems need to drop) to be transformed into regular gems. Until that time the “opponent gems” are difficult to blow up, because they aren’t of any real color, so you can only blow up a few. Unlike Tetris you won’t clear lines when they form a horizontal line, and one of the two gems that are connected to each other will fall down if one is stuck. To really get good in the game you’ll need to master the art of combos, which means for instance that if you blow up a chunk of red gems a yellow crush gem falls down to yellow chunk, blowing that one up, which maybe makes a blue crush gem fall down and hit a blue chunk. Doing combos is important, because it’ll send more gems over to your opponent, and one of the things that makes the game really exciting is how you can be very close to your doom, when a chunk of opponent blocks transform into regular blocks, blowing up two thirds of your screen – making you the leader, instead of the person who thought you were dead meat. This can obviously go both ways, but at times it seems as if the game just doesn’t want you to win. Actually getting a crush gem with the right color you need isn’t always easy, so at times you simply have to rely on luck. I don’t really like how skill doesn’t entirely decide whether you win or lose a game, but you can at least keep in mind that both players are given the same gems, so what you do with them is what’s important.
At the main menu you can choose between Arcade Mode, where you choose between eight 'kid’ versions of characters from the Street Fighter and Dark Stalker. You do matches against each of these, until you ultimately have to fight Akuma, the big fiery bad-guy who, I believe, was introduced in Super Street Figher 2 Alpha (or something like that). When you’re tired with the Arcade Mode you can try the Street Puzzle mode, where you first select one of the characters, and then get a menu where you can choose to unlock different portions of the game. (eg. the voice collection of Ryu). Doing so requires you to beat a character, which tends to be extra difficult in this mode, but is obviously rewarding if you’re looking for more replay-value. Thirdly you have the Versus Mode, where you select a character, and your opponent’s character, and then fight like you normally would. The most fun mode is Link Battle, where you can fight against a human opponent using a link cable and two Gameboy Advance units. In the options you can specify things like the AI difficulty, number of rounds in a match against the CPU, number of rounds against a human, sound effect volume, and music volume.
Graphically the game looks quite good, with plenty of bright colors, nice animations at the middle part of the screen where you see the two opponent do some of the moves we’ve grown accustomed to in the actual beat’em up games. In the background you also see redrawn backgrounds that were used in the two fighting games, which might make you a little nostalgic if you ever get time to take your eyes off the gems. The 'kid’ theme is projected not only with the young versions of the characters, but also in the music, which are slightly cuter remixes of the now famous tunes from Street Fighter, and the not quite as famous tunes from Dark Stalker. The quality of the sound effects and music is quite decent, although there were a few “bugs” in the playback, but nothing serious.
The Puzzle Fighter games have already been at the arcade and other consoles, and has garnered a sizable fan-base. The game’s mechanics are surprisingly addictive, and will always require your full attention, so combining that with a cute and good looking Street Fighter / Dark Stalker theme you end up with a very nice game. I do wish there were more modes to choose from, because even being able to unlock a good number of things is great, but there could be other options. Super Puzzle Fighter 2’s graphics and audio is a reasonably good standard – not groundbreaking, yet good enough to keep you playing. I don’t know if I can recommend this game to someone who doesn’t have friends who also have Gameboy Advance units, because you’re likely to grow tired of the CPU opponent after a few hours, but if you do have human challengers this game can easily turn a dull evening into something much more enjoyable.