Super Puzzle Fighter X: For Online Matching Service (スパーパズルファイターIIX フォーマッチングサービス)

Designing a puzzle game you tread a fine line, make it too challenging and you run the risk of making it inaccessible to gamers and make it too easy and people will get bored and assume it is for kids. So, where does Capcom's, Puzzle Fighter Fighter in in the grand scheme of things? Super Puzzle Fighter X: For Online Matching Service, to give it its full, ridiculous title, takes Capcom’s lineup of characters and shrinks them down to compete in a puzzle fight off. The game was released back in 2001, relatively to the tail end of the Dreamcast's life, exclusively through Dreamcast Direct at a reduced retail price of 3,990 yen and was one of the company's final games for the system.

The art style suits the game perfectly

Just like in puzzle stalwarts such as Tetris, Puyo Puyo or Columns, the gameplay in Super Puzzle Fighter X consists of rotating blocks to push them into place at the bottom and create patterns to be eliminated and dropped to your opponents side. The concept is most like Puyo Puyo, which isn't surprising seeings as it is based on an earlier Capcom, Pnickies  which was developed by Puyo Puyo creator Compile, in that you form groups of like-colored pieces which you then eliminate by dropping a circular gem (called Crash Gems) onto the pieces of the same color. From where the Crash Gem lands, any adjacent gem will break, so there’s some strategy in building up a number of gems on your side as any broken gems are then dumped on your opponent’s side.

Detailed CD typical of Capcom

Online for Matching Service (if only it was 2001)
Additionally, if you can clump same coloured gems into a square or larger rectangle, they group into what is called a Power Gem, which is more damaging and causes more gems to reign down on your opponents when broken.  It is really simple to get into and while also being a interesting puzzle game I also enjoyed the back-and-forth, attack-and-counter type of gameplay which you also typically associate with a Capcom fighting game. The action is also displayed in the onscreen battles that go on between your, and the opponents fighters during matches, with characters taunting, attacking and even finishing off opponents with the signature over-the-top finishing moves Capcom is renowned for.

When going for large Power Gems, it's best to build them vertically rather than horizontally

The presentation holds up well today with graphics and menus appearing clean and colourful. The art style is also quite impressive with Capcom taking a significant departure from the serious style of Street Fighter III or the Zero series which were around at the time. Represented in a super-deformed child like appearance known as "Chibi" in Japan, the characters are made up from the Street Fighter and Darkstalkers series' - Ryu, Chun Li, Ken, Sakura, Morrigan, Donovan, Hsien-Ko, Felicia. If you stick at and become proficient enough, Gouki and Dan can also be unlocked as secret characters abd the duo also bring a large amount of comedy with in between fights which parodies and outbursts which hardcore fans will love. The audio largely consists of Street Fighter 2 remixes which had me humming along during times and quite suits the fast-paced action of the game.

End of fight quotes are present and as ridiculous as ever!

In addition to the regular X mode, the game also throws in a Y Mode, and Z Mode. Y Mode offers more action as blocks explode once you get a stack of three aligned, while Z Mode offers a different puzzle aspect as you have to switch blocks around with a 2x2 box grid. However, it is the original X mode that provides the most frantic gameplay of the bunch and playing it in two player against a human is effortlessly addictive.

While I'm not the biggest fan of the puzzle genre, I extremely enjoyed Puzzle Fighter X. Maybe, it's the presentation which adds a whole additional layer to the game or simply that it is just a well made video game that successfully manages to get the right balance between accessibility and challenge, but if I had to recommend one puzzle game to keep in your Dreamcast collection then this would be the one.