Pocket Fighter was born in the arcades, a wacky hybrid of Capcom fighters and the "super deformed" anime style. This is your traditional one-on-one fighter, with large-headed versions of Street Fighter characters duking it out with excessive amounts of cutesiness. As an added bonus, the WonderSwan version features a card battle mode ? along with networking options via Bandai's cell phone system (only in Japan and probably not any longer). The game also supports data exchange via wondergate and supports a link cable.
If you've played a Street Fighter game in the past twenty years then you probably already know what to expect: It's Ken, Ryu, and a bunch of other vehement guys and gals jumping around and throwing fireballs at each other. In a bizarre twist, the characters transform into different outfits as they fight ? for example, Morrigan becomes a nurse and rams her opponents with wheelchairs, while Sakura dons a kimono and whacks people with a broom. Strange stuff indeed.
Just like Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, Pocket Fighter puts a large emphasis on collecting gems. When an attack lands on an opponent, they drop a jewel. Pick it up, and you'll add some power to your Mighty Combo Gauge, which opens up new combos and special attacks. While the arcade version featured blue, yellow, and red gems, the WonderSwan features gems that are light gray, off-gray, and dark gray. Needless to say, any strategy to be had by collecting specific colors has been lost in translation.
Despite the drab-looking gems, the graphics are far better than anything you'll ever see on the classic Game Boy. There's an impressive amount of animation for each character, and the well-defined sprites stick out against the static backgrounds. There's a significant amount of blurring, though ? but I'll blame that on the WonderSwan's cheap LCD screen as opposed to any programming deficiencies. Many games including this one do see visual improvement on the later WonderSwan models (crystal and color) and I would recommend buying these instead of the original.
This time, the typical six-button control has been scaled down to three keys ? one for punching, kicking, and special attacks. The first thing you'll want to do is customize the controls, since the default setup is simply terrible, the special attack key is mapped to the set of buttons above the d-pad! You'll want to reassign this to the A+B button combination, which makes the game much more playable.
Once you get up and running, it's standard Capcom fare ? if your Combo Gauge is charged up, impressive-looking attacks can be pulled off by simple button-mashing and quarter-circle-forward fireball movements. Sadly, this is Pocket Fighter's greatest weakness ? though the game's control is perfect, the WonderSwan controller is not up to snuff for this type of game. Since the D-pad consists of four separate buttons, executing a successful Dragon Punch motion takes more luck than skill ? and I have no idea how you're supposed to perform Zangief's 360-degree D-pad spin move. No idea.
If you can get over the severe problems in physical control, you'll find a lot to love ? aside from Arcade mode, there's Point Battle (where you fight all the of game's characters with a singular life bar), and Free Battle (versus mode via a link cable). There's also an extras menu in the options screen, which unlocks goodies once you start repeatedly beating the game.
By far, the best add-on is Card Battle mode. In each match, you're dealt a deck of six cards ? these consist of attacks, special moves, power-ups, gems, and escapes. After you select your cards, the computer tabulates your stats against the CPU's ? if your hand comes out on top, you'll be the only one doing the damage. You can also unlock new cards for display in the Card Gallery mode, and trade them with your friends over a link cable. While Card Battle is fun for a few rounds, the slow pacing and somewhat unexciting gameplay remind you that this is primarily a fighting game.
Japanese gamers got to have even more fun, thanks to Pocket Fighter's networking options. Using the WonderGate system, you can link your WonderSwan to a standard DoCoMo cell phone for extra online goodies. Your score rankings can be uploaded, and special cards featuring seven "popular female characters" can be unlocked via a quick download (you can't play as them in Card Battle mode, so don't get too excited). Surprisingly, Training mode and the sound test can only be opened by going online ? what's up with that? I doubt the service is up in Japan but even if it is (and when it was) it doesn't do those of us outside of Japan any good. It certainly would help the game though.
Despite numerous problems with the D-pad, I enjoyed Pocket Fighter. The fighting engine is solid, the graphics are distinctive, and there are tons of gameplay modes and extra options for the hardcore gamers in the crowd. Though it's not in the same league as SNK's godly Match of the Millennium, it is solid enough in its own right. And even with a lot of content inaccessible for those of us outside Japan its still got plenty to enjoy, if you own a WonderSwan this is a must have title.