Puzzle Fighter on iPhone is a rare thing for me to be covering on the (web) pages of Disposable Media. I really enjoy puzzle games, I like fighting games too, but versus puzzlers are something I’ve never been too good at (you could say the same thing about me and versus fighters, but that’s something for another article…) Even so, I like the idea of pitting your block-matching dexterity against someone else and seeing who can hold out the longest and build up terrifying potential chains without unleashing them too soon and having to start over. I haven’t played many modern versus puzzlers in this format for some time, but when news of Puzzle Fighter on iPhone appeared on my feeds I thought I’d have a look. I first heard about the game coming to mobile in late August-early September, but it wasn’t released until earlier this month. The game is free and supported by in-app purchases, but you can still thrash about with other cheapskates after going through some mandatory tutorials on how to play.
Puzzle Fighter on iPhone – old man reflexes
The gameplay of Puzzle Fighter on iPhone is nothing that’s too unfamiliar. Place blocks of the same colour beside one another, land orbs of the same colour onto those blocks to destroy them and deal damage to the opponent, cluster blocks together to form bigger blocks that hold more potential damage when destroyed, and know your enemy – characters have affinities which mean that you’ll want to destroy certain colours more often, depending on the matchup. Whilst the game features Ryu, Chun-Li and other Capcom favourites, you don’t need to know anything about those games as it’s really just window dressing for a block-matching versus puzzler. Personally I’m not sure if I like the super-deformed look of the characters and the simple cartoony backdrops, but you’ll barely be looking at them because the gameplay will hold your attention. That is, if you haven’t thrown your phone across the room in the mobile equivalent of a ragequit.
Yes, my old man (well 30something) reflexes can’t keep up with the kids as well as they used to, but I did manage a few wins and some very close losses. When it comes down to the wire there’s always that moment where you think about going for low-damage setups and chipping away, rather than trying to join a big bunch of blocks together, and it makes for a tense few last moments, but if you like your versus combat to be about reads and skill, you might be a bit frustrated when the game doesn’t give you the colours you need. Then again, that can be said for most versus puzzlers, so it’s not really a criticism of Puzzle Fighter on iPhone.
Puzzle Fighter on iPhone – rolling the dice
However, salty defeats are the least of the game’s problems. As you’d expect, it’s supported by IAPs – including loot boxes – and it features an experience points system, so if you want to get a head start in online play you’re either going to be grinding levels or paying to roll the dice. Anyone who read my October article will know how I feel about loot boxes, and here they exist in the form of chests – there are three tiers of chest that contain coins, costumes, cards and more. This might mean that versus matches may sometimes be a battle of who has the biggest wallet, and the internet has already responded as you’d expect (just thank Christ that you didn’t have to pay for the app itself – an £11.99 price tag slapped on to something containing this many shopping and loot box options would be even more of a disgrace.)
For this reason alone, I found the novelty of Puzzle Fighter on iPhone to wear off quickly – there’s a fun game in there (albeit one that came out on PSX in the late 90s – which you can still buy on the PS Store via the HD remake) but the joy of versus puzzlers is knowing that you’re both working with the same tools and you’re not going to be at a disadvantage because there’s no downloadable extra characters. Here, you’ll start to enjoy yourself but only feel worn down by the prospect of grinding or rolling the dice to stand a chance in versus play. By all means, create ways to support your free to play game, but not to the extent that the game feels like a chore. Have cooldowns, have banner adverts, have a giant pop-up promotion that won’t go away until 30 seconds… but buying your way to victory can turn a fun premise into something that nobody wants a part of.