I have been waiting for years to see an official Puzzle Fighter game come to Android. When I first heard the game was finally in development, I have to say I had quite a few trepidations that Capcom would turn the game into yet another free-to-play shell of a once great tile-matching multiplayer game. While my concerns were valid seeing that it is indeed a free-to-play release chock full of in-app purchases, loot boxes, and multiple currencies, the puzzle-based multiplayer gameplay hasn't actually been altered all that much.
Now don't get me wrong. I would've much rather seen a premium release of this title priced at $5-$10, but in the mobile gaming world, you rarely get what you wish for. Sadly we will all have to either deal with the way this game is shadily monetized or just flat out skip it all together. I for one am choosing to give it a go despite this issue.
To begin with, you start with one random character. You will use that character to learn the ropes of the gameplay to later customize a team of up to three characters you dutifully unlock through gacha draws. But once you finish this tutorial you will only be able to use one character, so choose wisely as each player has their own unique move set.
For those unfamiliar with how the central concept of the Puzzle Fighter series works, it is a clone of the base mechanics found in Sega's tile-matcher Puyo Puyo. Mainly they both play a lot like Tetris, but instead of lining up a bunch of different shapes, you are dealing with an assortment of falling colored gemstones that need to be matched.
The beauty of this style of gameplay is that it can be very strategic. Instead of clearing every block as soon as you can, you build up your gems by grouping colors together in order to get a significant jump on your opponent. Once you clear one of the larger groups of gems you have collected, they will all rain down on your adversary screwing up their flow and plans.
What is great, is that this core gameplay still holds true even with the addition of the smarmy loot boxes and multiple currencies. Of course, the whole thing is not trouble free, as it does appear players with the largest wallets will be able to purchase more characters as well as some extra moves that may be out of most people's price range.
The way these moves work is once you have your characters selected for your team, you can then set them up with two special moves that will help you out during any match. These are minor advantages, but they are advantages all the same. Considering that this is a multiplayer focused game, it's worrisome that the higher priced moves will be overly powerful when compared to the ones free players will be able to use early on. This means we will all have to rely on the built-in matchmaking in order to have fair fights, which is often not the case for games such as this. So far it appears to be working as intended, but that may change once this game officially releases and players have had more time to level up their characters.
Once you have your character equipped and your move set chosen you can jump into one of two different gameplay modes. There is an online mode where you will play against other real players, and there is a mission-based mode where you complete specific missions to unlock new loot boxes. What is troubling is that the current balancing will have you grinding for a bit in the multiplayer mode in order to strengthen your characters enough to handle the mission-based gameplay.
When it comes time to deal with the in-app purchases it is disheartening to see that they range as high as $104.53. They are used for purchasing gems, which are in turn used for buying the secondary currency of coins or for unlocking new characters. Obviously, those that pay will have an easier time with the unbalanced mission-based gameplay.
So while there is plenty to be concerned about when considering Puzzle Fighter is a free-to-play game, it still contains the majority of the fun any fan of the series should instantly recognize. So at best this is a mixed bag. That is why I leave it to you the readers to decide whether or not this is a game you would enjoy when it does officially release. It may not be exactly what we have all been asking for, but it does retain the majority of the Puzzle Fighter fun found in any of the earlier titles in the series.