For a time, Street Fighter 2 dominated the arcades. Approximately seven seconds after Guile delivered his first sonic boom, the fighting genre took off like a hadouken, and every producer in the videogame industry cranked out an excuse for super muscular dudes to punch other super muscular dudes. But all good things must come to an end, and, in Japan, Street Fighter 3 wound up losing a number of quarters to… Puyo Puyo Tsu. Huh. Did anybody see that coming? Graduated Tetris beats Street Fighter? What’s next? Some manner of arcade dancing simulator?
The Capcom of the day, still firmly in the market of making videogames, was not going to take this sitting down. No, Capcom decided it would be best to produce a Fighting Puzzle game starring its most popular arcade heavies, and then
steal innovate on the puzzle trend just as spectacularly as they had once innovated on the beat ‘em up craze. Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo was born, and, for the first time ever, Ryu could beat down Hsien-Ko with magical gems.
And then everybody got bored with puzzle games, so Capcom went back to making fighting games. Or fighting game, as the case may be, as we soon received Pocket Fighter aka Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix. On one hand, Pocket Fighter was a clear case of marrying sprites and assets from a puzzle game to the tried and true (and profitable) gameplay of Street Fighter. That’s pretty cheap! On the other hand, Pocket Fighter became a gorgeous and creative excuse for possibly the first grand Capcom fighting crossover. Sure, the roster was pretty much just the usual Street Fighters and Darkstalkers, but the Pocket Fighters had a tendency to don the costumes and moves of some of their more famous Capcom brethren. It sounds lame now, but years before Marvel vs. Capcom would make it all a glorious reality, Felicia morphing into Mega Man and Jill Valentine as a natural part of a combo was fabulous.
But we’re not here to talk about fanservice, we’re here to compare and contrast two different though thoroughly similar games. And what’s the best way to do that? Take a look at their rosters!
Team Street Fighter (both games)
Ryu, Ken, and Chun-Li are locks. They are never not going to appear in a Street Fighter or Street Fighter-adjacent game (“What about Vanilla Street Fighter 3?” “Shut-up.”). Ryu is the headliner, Ken is his sycophantic remora of a friend, and Chun-Li is the legally mandated girl. And speaking of girls, we’ve got Sakura, who was really popular at the time, because… I’m sorry, have you met Japan? That country has some… interests. Also hailing from a street full of fighters is Dan, who was included because he slept with the producer (uh, to be clear, it wasn’t a sexual thing, he’s just really good at cuddling). Oh, and we’ve got Akuma, too, because he needed to get some additional training in before his Tekken debut. Across both Puzzle and Pocket fighting, you’ve got to have your basic Street Fighters.
And, sidenote, Chun-Li is the only one of that bunch that doesn’t forward, down, down forward punch.
Team Darkstalkers (both games)
Back before Capcom had a pile of fighting game franchises (and well before Capcom forgot how to make videogames entirely), Darkstalkers was considered the “mate” to Street Fighter. They were both enjoyable fighting games with random dudes hurling fireballs, but Street Fighter was a very serious game about serious psychic Hitlers and their hockey mask wearing matador ninja, while Darkstalkers was a goofy game where a mummy might turn you into a frog. And it had amazing sprite work with “morphing” fighters that stretch and distort and absolutely preclude their inclusion in any future, polygon-based titles. But they work well for chibi sprite work! So please enjoy the presence of Morrigan, Hsien-Ko, and Felicia! That’s one Darkstalker for every Darkstalker game produced! And at least one of those characters isn’t just weaponized fanservice (though she is mostly weapons)! Yay!
Donovan (appears only in Puzzle Fighter)
Donovan is such a damn weirdo.
Okay, so here’s Donovan’s deal: he’s basically the Angel (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) of the Darkstalkers world. He’s a tortured half-demon that has made it his goal to hunt the wild and wacky Darkstalkers cast (or at least Vampire Savior). And there’s a twist! He’s got a little girl sidekick that is silent, creepy, and likely destined to destroy the world. There’s your hook, ladies and germs! Who doesn’t want to watch the tortured adventures of sullen wolf and cub? All aboard the glowering train! Choo choo!
Except… that isn’t what anybody wants from Darkstalkers. Darkstalkers is a game where you can ram a yeti into a merman at high speeds. This is not a place you want to see brooding, it’s a place you want to see giant bee people, or maybe Little Red Riding Hood with an uzi. Tortured soul with a sword is maybe not the best fit, even if the sword can talk.
So, I guess, with Puzzle Fighter trying to be a “smart” take on fighting games (that’s what a puzzle game is, doncha know), Capcom included its most morose character. However, Donovan did not return for Pocket Fighter, because, geez, what a downer.
Devilotte (appears only in Puzzle Fighter)
Princess Devilotte de Death Satan IX, daughter of Satan, originally appeared in Cyberbots: Fullmetal Madness, a 2-D fighting game about giant robots. This title never made it to the west in any capacity, though, because we know what we did. More’s the pity, because we never got to experience Devilotte, a character that was apparently designed as an homage to Dragon Quest’s Princess “Going to Be Punching You Now” Alena. Do… do you need to know anything more about this character? She’s basically a mix between Alena, Team Rocket, that one pirate from Mark of the Wolves, and Alice Liddell. And she communicates primarily through explosions! She’s the perfect character! No wonder she cameos in every other Capcom game.
… But she kinda didn’t have a moveset outside of her mech, so no Pocket Fighter Devilotte for you.
Zangief (appears only in Pocket Fighter)
Zangief’s invitation to Puzzle Fighter must have been lost in the mail. It’s not like he wasn’t requested for the puzzle game because he still hasn’t been able to figure out pants or something. He could compete in a puzzle game anytime he wants! Gems are not more complicated than bears!
Ibuki (appears only in Pocket Fighter)
Ah, the requisite “shape of things to come” character. Ibuki was introduced in Street Fighter 3, and one would suppose her inclusion in Pocket Fighter was an attempt to further bolster the popularity of the future/death of the Street Fighter franchise. At the time, she was likely just the Street Fighter 3 character most likely to fit in the Pocket Capcom Universe, and one could bet that the more interesting parts of the SF3 roster would go on to appear in later titles. I mean, ninja school girl is cool an’ all, but how can that compete with stretchy electric albino man? Or the hulking marquee character? Or the unforgettable Captain Banana Hammock? Look, Ibuki just snuck in on a technicality, and that’s all there is to it.
And then she returned in Street Fighter x Tekken.
And was one of the few SF3 characters to sneak into Street Fighter 4.
And then she returned for Street Fighter 5!
God, I just want to fight Q again, but, noooooo, we have to deal with Sakura: The Next Generation over and over again. Bah! Go be stealthy somewhere else, you damn ninja!
Tessa (appears only in Pocket Fighter… like, ever)
Red Earth aka Totally Bitchin’ War-Zard: The Battle for the Side of Metal Steve’s Van (insert guitar solo here) was a fighting game contemporary of Street Fighter 3. It was also never ported to a single home console, because Capcom makes awful decisions. This is a game where a lion-man wearing a loincloth can fight a dinosaur. And, no, I don’t mean like some Soulcalibur Lizard Man, I mean a freaking t-rex. And there’s a snail man that is a lot more interesting than the description “snail man” could ever allow. And there was Tessa, too, a witch woman who is “researching magic” by walloping a chimera with a magic staff. As you do.
Tessa snuck into Pocket Fighter likely for the same reason as Ibuki (let’s promote some new games!), but, unlike her Street Fighter buddy, no one recognized her from her origin game. No one. The audience of 1998 was mostly convinced she was an original character made just for this title. And that’s fine! She just kind of fails as a promotion for Red Earth when no one has a damn clue that game even exists. So… good hustle, Tessa?
Then again, did anyone realize Pocket Fighter existed? Super Puzzle Fighter 2 HD and a complete lack of a matching Pocket Fighter HD seems to point to a resounding “no” on that one. Guess Donovan beats Tessa in the grand history of fighting/puzzle games.
FGC #355 Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo
- System: Playstation and Saturn (really!) initially, and a HD rerelease on Playstation 3/Xbox 360. Also, there was a Dreamcast version in Japan, because Capcom loved that lil’ loser.
- Number of players: Two, which is simultaneously very common for puzzle games, and very unusual. “Head to Head Puzzle Title”.
- Port-o-Call: Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD is supposedly the superior version, but it cuts out a lot of the little endearing details of the original. Everybody only gets one win quote, for one thing, and the sprite work looks downright fuzzy against otherwise HD gameplay. All that said, I did mostly play the HD version for this review, as it was inevitably going to capture better, even if it did drop the essential musical tempo changes.
- Favorite Character (SPF2T Exclusive): Devilotte is number one with a bullet (giant robot). On a slightly related note, where did that “anime laugh” thing originate? You know, with the holding your hand below your chin and laughing like Marie Antoinette? Just curious.
- Goggle Bob Fact: I stole this game from my buddy Sean. He hasn’t noticed yet. Wait, no, he’s noticed, but every time it comes up, I distract him by talking about the president. The system works!
- Did you know? The console (though not HD) versions of the game include Mei-Ling and Anita as hidden characters… but they were already palling around with Hsien-Ko and Donovan, so they’re more or less just easter eggs. On the other hand, who didn’t enjoy seeing Orange Hulk and Red Venom in Marvel vs. Capcom?
- Would I play again: Odds are good, as this is one of the few puzzle games that actually has some recognition among the locals. And it’s loaded on the Playstation 3 anyway…
FGC #355 Pocket Fighter
- System: Playstation is my Pocket Fighter platform of choice, but Saturn, Arcade, and even Wonder Swan are also available. The Wonder Swan version doesn’t look that bad!… for a black and white title, anyway. Also, Pocket Fighter inexplicably popped up on the Street Fighter Alpha Anthology on Playstation 2, too.
- Number of Players: It’s two. It’s always two.
- What’s in a name: Wikipedia claims this game is known as Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix in North America, and is Pocket Fighter only in Japan. However, scroll up, see that American title screen, and tell me it says all that gem nonsense. I can still hear the silly “Pocket Fighter!” title announcement echoing in my head.
- Speaking of Voice Acting: In Japan, apparently the narrated scenes for the opening and closing had full voice acting, and it just didn’t get translated for the trip across the sea. While this usually bothers me, I am almost certain I don’t need to hear Playstation-era voice acting for my favorite chibi street fighters.
- Favorite Character (Pocket Fighter exclusive): Tessa seems to play the most like Blanka, and he was always my Street Fighter 2 main, so here we are. And now I can pretend I’m playing as Shining Chariot of Little Witch Academia, so that’s a plus, too.
- Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: In two decades of Capcom fighting games, this is the only Capcom title where the women outnumber the men. Go ahead and figure out the reason for that.
- Did you know? Dan’s official backstory is that, when he’s in a serious mood, he’s trying to avenge his father’s murder at the hands of Sagat (well, more like manslaughter, but still!). So, naturally, Dan’s default special attack in Pocket Fighter is attacking with the green, rotting corpse of his father like it’s (he’s?) a hammer. This makes Dan more well-adjusted than Batman.
- Would I play again: I kinda love this game. Of all the Playstation fighting games (including the entire Alpha series and early Vs. titles) I think I’m most likely to play this one first. Strange but true! Then again, I’m also pretty strange…
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen another Sonic game, and we’re going to race it up against a Mario game. You gotta go fast, after all. Please look forward to it!