Retro Replay — Soulcalibur II (GameCube version) — Issue 41

Heart and soul of calibur

Some­times, when you’re the sequel to one of the great­est fight­ing games of all time, you need no intro­duc­tion and you’re allowed to have repeat praise heaped on your shoulders.

We pre­vi­ous­ly reviewed the PlaySta­tion 2 ver­sion of Soul­cal­ibur II in 4Q2010, yet here we are again talk­ing about it in glow­ing terms for the Game­Cube ver­sion. There isn’t much new to say oth­er than this port is just as beau­ti­ful as the PS2 version. 

With the addi­tion of Link to the cast for this ver­sion, the game is even bet­ter. Link fits right in with the pro­ceed­ings and man­ages to unbal­ance the game heav­i­ly in his favor. He’s the per­fect addi­tion, to be honest.

With a killer sound­track, beau­ti­ful graph­ics that hold up after 20 years, a deep sto­ry­line and supe­ri­or game­play to almost every­thing avail­able on the mar­ket at the time, Soul­cal­ibur II is a wor­thy suc­ces­sor in every way to one of the great­est fight­ing games ever made.

Street Fighter V — Issue 41

Don’t call it a come­back: SFV cleans up after launch

I’m going to be intense­ly per­son­al for a minute: My life by the time of my mid-30s was not fun. It was a time of change, reboots in near­ly every area (part­ner, career, school again), loss and learn­ing from the mis­takes of my 20s. I’m good now, but it wasn’t with­out strug­gle and pain.
And the old­est entry in the fight game can com­mis­er­ate with me because they know what that time is like. Street Fight­er V is sit­ting at the bar with me, drown­ing its sor­rows because it and the series, too, went through it in its mid-30s and like me is doing much bet­ter than one could expect after the struggle.
SFV didn’t start out as mag­i­cal as it has become. The launch was mired in prob­lems and things just weren’t where they should be. The game’s sto­ry mode didn’t launch along­side the actu­al game and the net­code was ter­ri­ble. But what a dif­fer­ence time makes. 

The sto­ry, while still not as engross­ing as past entries, has improved. It moves the SF world mythos along and makes sense if you know the series’ past. Tak­ing place between Ultra SFIV and SF3: 3rd Strike, Char­lie wakes up in a tomb and is guid­ed to steal an item from Guile, which would help him defeat M. Bison. Third Strike boss Gill dri­ves the plot over­all, tying up the loose ends between SFII and the endgame of 3rd Strike, which is the known end of the series sto­ry­line-wise. I love that Gill is tied into this as it always seemed like he was out of place as the end of SF lore. I nev­er ful­ly under­stood why he was the boss of that tril­o­gy of games except as some­thing new for Cap­com to try because every­one was sick of M. Bison by that point.

While I’m impressed with the sto­ry, I’m more impressed with the pre­sen­ta­tion. Much like its pre­de­ces­sors, SFV looks gor­geous. The back­grounds are beau­ti­ful as are most of the char­ac­ter designs. Even the menus look good. Some­times, when I start the game, I take a sec­ond just to mar­vel at the main menu and how the modes are pre­sent­ed. And let’s talk about the sound­track for a sec­ond. The music is all-around amaz­ing. Every time I get in-game, I dis­cov­er anoth­er track that I feel like I haven’t pre­vi­ous­ly heard, and I fall in love all over again. It’s so good that it’s worth track­ing down and adding to your music collection.

While I love the game, there is a big sec­tion I don’t care for: the play style. I’m an Alpha purist, specif­i­cal­ly SF Alpha 3. That’s my Street Fight­er style and has been for years. How­ev­er, SFV plays kind of stiff — a lot like SFIV — and that’s hard for me to grasp. It’s playable, obvi­ous­ly, but it’s not my style of Street Fight­er play. And that’s OK. It real­ly doesn’t detract from the game’s abil­i­ty to shine or be Street Fight­er, but it’s not my per­son­al pref­er­ence to play. It is a lot of fun to watch being played pro­fes­sion­al­ly, though.

Street Fight­er V has come a long way as the most cur­rent entry in the series. Game ele­ments have got­ten a lot of pol­ish, whether it’s fix­ing the net­code or expand­ing the ros­ter with old favorites and skins allud­ing to long-dor­mant char­ac­ters. It’s now the flag­ship game it should have been, and it’s still rul­ing the fight game roost while every­one waits for the announced Street Fight­er 6. 

Some­times, with the strug­gle comes the rewards and SFV has more than earned its life fight money.

Samurai Shodown 2019 — Issue 39

Show­ing up to show out

Vet­er­an fight­ing series Samu­rai Shodown returns with few flaws

SNK has done it again. Gor­geous graph­ics, fun play mechan­ics and a sol­id fight­ing game engine make up the core of one of its flag­ship fight­ing fran­chis­es fea­tur­ing samu­rai. If you’re in the mode for beau­ti­ful fight­ing in the Japan­ese feu­dal era, you’ve come to the right place in the 2019 revival of Samu­rai Shodown.

Get­ting back to the root of what makes Samu­rai Shodown fun and unique, the 2019 reboot is basic in every way. The bare­bones options mean there isn’t much to do, but if you’re look­ing to just pick a fight­er and jump in, it’s clear­ly there for that. You choose from 18 base ros­ter fight­ers and duke it out in feu­dal Japan with var­i­ous moti­va­tions. All are inves­ti­gat­ing a com­ing cat­a­stro­phe, but their inten­tion in the face of a sin­is­ter envi­ron­ment is unique. Time­line-wise, the game is set between the pre­quel Samu­rai Shodown V and the orig­i­nal Samu­rai Shodown. So, you’re get­ting a taste of the sto­ry before the main series even kicks off.

The char­ac­ters, as well as the back­grounds, are stun­ning. SNK has always been known for its impres­sive atten­tion to detail when it comes to graph­ics with Samu­rai Shodown, and this entry is no dif­fer­ent. The col­ors pop with an empha­sis on non-real­is­tic graph­ics that resem­ble what we know in the West as ukiyo‑e and wood­block paint­ings; every­thing is utter­ly gor­geous, begin­ning with the menu and options screens.

As a title set in feu­dal Japan, the music must reflect the envi­ron­ment — and it’s well done as well. The use of tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese instru­ments has always been present in Samu­rai Shodown and it’s used lib­er­al­ly and to great effect. Also, the voice work is excel­lent. We appre­ci­ate the Japan­ese lan­guage, and it sounds beau­ti­ful and clear here.

We do have an obvi­ous issue with the reboot, despite its beau­ty. There is a notice­able lack of things to do once you stop mar­veling at the graph­ics. Where are the modes beyond the stan­dard offer­ings? So much more could have been added, espe­cial­ly with the series’ his­to­ry at hand. It’s a pret­ty pack­age but it’s miss­ing a lot.

Samu­rai Shodown has been around for a long time, and this revival is just that: A return to the roots of a fan­tas­tic fight­ing game series. This entry is stun­ning and grace­ful yet just enough to whet the appetite of a fight­ing game new­com­er or a sea­soned vet­er­an. With this suc­cess, SNK now knows what it needs to do to show up and show out with the renewed inter­est in the show­stop­per that is Samu­rai Shodown.

Tekken 7: Fated Retribution — Issue 38

Tekken’s fate unknown after mile­stone entry

Tekken is about a cer­tain sub­stance and style. The fight­ing engine is so deep in Tekken that if you’re just start­ing with the sev­enth game, you’re at an imme­di­ate dis­ad­van­tage because you’re behind. Way behind. Sto­ry-wise, you’re behind, too. There’s so much going on with the Mishi­ma clan that you’re bound to be ask­ing the ques­tion: Why now? Tekken isn’t just answer­ing that; it’s pos­ing the ques­tion of what’s next?

For the Mishi­ma clan — and Tekken’s ros­ter at large — the future is the ques­tion on everyone’s mind, but to get there, Tekken 7 stakes its ambi­tions on look­ing back to tell the sto­ry of the future. Spoil­er alert: With Hei­hachi gone, there’s only Kazuya and Jin left to car­ry on the blood feud of the clan. The sur­round­ing enti­ties are on either side of the con­flict between father and son, and there will be casu­al­ties. But that isn’t Tekken 7’s main sto­ry to tell. Real­ly, it’s two ques­tions: How did Kazuya become enmeshed in the dev­il gene fool­ish­ness, and how is Hei­hachi entan­gled in that as well? The answers lay with new char­ac­ter Kazu­mi Mishi­ma, Kazuya’s moth­er and Heihachi’s wife. She plays a cen­tral role in unrav­el­ing the mys­tery of Kazuya’s trans­for­ma­tion using the dev­il gene and why Hei­hachi threw his child off a cliff more than 40 years before.

While Bandai Nam­co is set­ting up the pay­off, look around. You’re in a Tekken game and many things will be true at once: The sound will be phe­nom­e­nal, and the graph­ics will be stun­ning. After all, this is a Tekken title; the King of the Iron Fist tour­na­ment does not slouch. What’s strik­ing is, this is a four-year-old game and it still looks decent. Tekken has nev­er been one to hold back when it comes to looks, and even with the upgrad­ed PlaySta­tion 4 Pro, it’s still a good-look­ing game. Tekken 7 could look worse with the ben­e­fit of more pro­cess­ing pow­er, and some sec­tions do show the age of the game. How­ev­er, it’s min­i­mal as far as Tekken is con­cerned, and Tekken 7 is still a pow­er­house when com­pared to every­thing else on the market.

The sound­track is excel­lent, though I want­ed a lit­tle more from it. I real­ize that not every Tekken sound­track is going to be the first Tag, where every track was a banger. How­ev­er, this is Tekken, and a cer­tain bar has been set by past games that cur­rent games must live up to. There are some bangers here, but not near­ly enough. For ref­er­ence, I have every Tekken sound­track ever released, arcade and home ver­sions. For the first four games, I have the entire sound­track saved on my iPod. As the series pro­gressed, I had few­er songs from each sound­track. As of Tekken 7, I have two tracks. It’s a good sound­track, but it just isn’t any­thing I haven’t heard before in a Tekken game. Tekken 8, or what­ev­er it will be called, will have to step things up in the sound department.

As far as Tekken’s playa­bil­i­ty, I can’t real­ly attest to it on a hands-on lev­el. Full dis­clo­sure: I’m not a good Tekken play­er. That said, how­ev­er, I find it a lit­tle eas­i­er to pick up Tekken and play with the new fea­tures added in the arcade mode. I real­ly like that there’s an easy com­bo assist fea­ture. It makes it far less frus­trat­ing to learn the com­bo sys­tem, and it makes it much eas­i­er for begin­ners to under­stand how moves flow together.

Tekken, despite hav­ing only four attack but­tons, has always been about depth, and that’s scary for the unini­ti­at­ed like myself. With the assist fea­ture, I’m more inclined to take the time to learn and dig just a lit­tle deep­er with the series. It’s a fan­tas­tic addi­tion that needs to stick around in future entries.

The char­ac­ter cus­tomiza­tion mode also deserves some praise as it’s com­ing along nice­ly. It’s been around now for at least three games, and it’s got­ten bet­ter each iter­a­tion. This is part of the depth of Tekken — along with its engine and com­bo sys­tem — that makes it such a great series. Tekken 7 takes care of the details, and the obvi­ous love and care put into the cus­tomiza­tion sys­tem gives the game con­tin­ued life, even as it gets a lit­tle long in the tooth. The fact that new char­ac­ters and upgrades are still being released is fan­tas­tic con­sid­er­ing the game’s age.

With the sto­ry­line dic­tat­ing growth and the graph­ics engine need­ing to catch up to oth­er fight­ing game dar­lings, Tekken has its work cut out in keep­ing up with the sur­round­ing com­pe­ti­tion. Tekken 7 does an admirable job demon­strat­ing its sta­bil­i­ty and abil­i­ty to lead the pack as the King of the Iron Fist, and its longevi­ty and intu­itive fea­tures con­tin­ue to make it an attrac­tive option for those need­ing a fix from Mishi­ma and Co. Tekken 7 is good enough to keep its crown and can prob­a­bly shrug off new chal­lenges for the throne until its time for the eighth go-round. Long live the king.

Injustice 2: Legendary Edition — Issue 38

Injus­tice 2 hits right notes in super rematch

The intri­ca­cies of deter­min­ing the win­ner of the sto­ried fight between Bat­man and the Jok­er all depend on prep time for Bat­man and the Joker’s mani­a­cal state at the time of the bat­tle. We’ve thought this through and deter­mined that even with min­i­mal prep time, Bat­man could win this fight con­sid­er­ing his pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ence with the Jok­er. To sim­u­late it, we would need only one thing: the Injus­tice series of games. And con­sid­er­ing Injus­tice 2 has more chances for this to hap­pen with prop­er sim­u­la­tion, you can best believe we’re div­ing deep into the sol­id sequel DC com­ic book fight­ing game.

Injus­tice 2 is a com­pe­tent sto­ry­teller in its quest to be a DC com­ic book sim­u­la­tor. Set after the fall of Superman’s tyran­ni­cal regime, Injus­tice 2 places Bat­man at the fore­front again to take on the task of rebuild­ing soci­ety and com­bat­ing a new threat in the form of The Soci­ety. Mix­ing in long­time Super­man foe Bra­ni­ac only adds to the chaos. What it boils down to is that these are char­ac­ters you know from the DC uni­verse — even if you’re pass­ing­ly famil­iar with them — fight­ing it out to stop Super­man from con­tin­u­ing his reign of tyran­ny estab­lished in the pre­vi­ous game.

Where Injus­tice 2 shines is its pre­sen­ta­tion and its char­ac­ters. Every­thing that looked good in the first Injus­tice is much-bet­ter look­ing the sec­ond time around. The user inter­face got a new­er, sleek­er coat of paint, and all the char­ac­ter mod­els and back­grounds look bet­ter and clean­er, too. The char­ac­ter select screen even looks bet­ter and more flu­id. NetherRealm’s fight­ing game visu­als get bet­ter with each game, so this is just a tes­ta­ment to their grow­ing prowess. The music isn’t stand­out, but it’s serviceable.

Despite its shiny upgrad­ed pre­sen­ta­tion, I’m still not a fan of how it plays. The com­bat doesn’t feel nat­ur­al, like say, how Mor­tal Kom­bat feels. It still feels like it’s a step or two behind MK and like it’s try­ing too hard to dif­fer­en­ti­ate itself from that series by throw­ing a wrench into the basic com­bo setups. I’m also not a fan of the unlock sys­tem. It’s a lot of gear to unlock for a lot of char­ac­ters, but I don’t real­ly have the time or the incli­na­tion to sit and work on it. I’m not say­ing have it unlocked imme­di­ate­ly when I first start the game, but I am say­ing it needs to be eas­i­er. The expe­ri­ence is not the most enjoyable.

Injus­tice 2 is a nice upgrade from the first game. It’s got the name fac­tor, char­ac­ters you prob­a­bly know and slick pre­sen­ta­tion that will catch most anyone’s eye who is into fight­ing games. Whether you’re a com­ic book fan or a casu­al fight­ing game con­nois­seur, Injus­tice 2 is worth a look to see if it’s worth its weight in kryptonite.

Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite — Issue 38

Mar­vel vs. Cap­com now infi­nite­ly frus­trat­ing series

The Mar­vel fight­ing game scene is well known by now and well worn. Pret­ty much, any­one who’s any­one in the Mar­vel com­ic uni­verse and movies has been in a Mar­vel Ver­sus game. This is noth­ing new by now. You’ve seen these peo­ple before and, if you’re a Cap­com fan, you have seen their side of the ros­ter in oth­er games before you got here. So, what exact­ly are you get­ting out of play­ing the lat­est iter­a­tion in the long-run­ning Mar­vel Ver­sus Cap­com series? Not much, but Cap­com already knew that. They just hoped you wouldn’t notice.

If you’re invest­ed in the Mar­vel Cin­e­mat­ic Uni­verse but don’t know any­thing about the comics, MvC: Infi­nite serves as a start­ing point for under­stand­ing the comics side of things in prepa­ra­tion for Avengers Endgame. Oh, yeah, there’s some Cap­com sto­ry set up, too, as an after­thought. Real­ly, this is sev­er­al sto­ries mashed togeth­er: From Mar­vel, you get the Infin­i­ty Saga and Age of Ultron sto­ry; from Cap­com comes Sig­ma and Mega Man X’s sto­ry and some of Vam­pire Savior/Darkstalker’s 3 arc deal­ing with Jedah Dohma. The sto­ry kind of makes sense in a mashed-up way. It’s not half bad, giv­en that the pre­vi­ous efforts of Mar­vel vs. Cap­com 3 to give a cin­e­mat­ic team up was decent and miles ahead of any oth­er title in the series to date. Most­ly, the Mar­vel Ver­sus series has fol­lowed an estab­lished com­ic book arc — Mar­vel vs. Street Fight­er was most­ly Apoc­a­lypse and the first Mar­vel vs. Cap­com focused on Onslaught — and this is no dif­fer­ent. Where it fal­ters is oversimplification.

The Infin­i­ty Saga is nev­er tru­ly fin­ished in the comics because Mar­vel con­stant­ly returns to it over the years to explain a lot of things. Also, think­ing crit­i­cal­ly about what this is real­ly based on, the sto­ry of the Infin­i­ty Saga real­ly took about 18 of the 22 MCU movies to tell its sto­ry. You can­not tell this sto­ry in two games — Mar­vel Super Heroes being the first to tell this arc. Infi­nite tries to and winds up half accom­plish­ing it with some weird, forced Cap­com sto­ry side fool­ish­ness thrown in for good mea­sure, because hey, Cap­com is also in the name.

You get the sense that if Capcom’s angle of things was removed, this would be just fine, and Infi­nite would be OK with­out it. That does not help Cap­com at all here. Imme­di­ate­ly, it destroys the need for a new team-up game and ren­ders Capcom’s side of the ros­ter unnec­es­sary. I do not feel Ryu or Chun Li are use­ful in any of the sit­u­a­tions pre­sent­ed in the sto­ry mode.

The ros­ter is actu­al­ly not bad, but with the few new addi­tions locked behind a DLC pay­wall, you’re kind of left to won­der would Infi­nite be just a tad bit bet­ter if the more note­wor­thy char­ac­ters were avail­able from the start. The base group is basi­cal­ly a retread ros­ter from MvC3, and the new addi­tions should have been in the series; the fact that we’re just now get­ting Black Wid­ow, Black Pan­ther, Jedah and the Win­ter Sol­dier is a crime that only Cap­com seems to like committing.

In addi­tion to the gener­ic over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of the sto­ry, the pre­sen­ta­tion is just as gener­ic and bland. The Mar­vel Ver­sus series has always had strong pre­sen­ta­tion, and to be frank, this ain’t it, as the kids say these days. The back­grounds are good, but some of the char­ac­ter designs have an oof lev­el the size of Ultron Sigma’s final form. They are, quite frankly, ter­ri­ble a lot of the time. There seems to be an attempt at real­ism but not, at the same time, because some of the Mar­vel char­ac­ters look like their MCU coun­ter­parts, but then when you look clos­er, there’s a detail that keeps them from look­ing exact­ly like the actor or actress that plays the character.

For exam­ple, look at Cap­tain Amer­i­ca and Cap­tain Mar­vel. Cap­tain Amer­i­ca, from far away, looks exact­ly like MCU Win­ter Sol­dier-era Cap­tain Amer­i­ca as por­trayed by real-world Cap­tain Amer­i­ca stal­wart Chris Evans. Up close, how­ev­er, Cap looks just enough dif­fer­ent for you to real­ize that Evans prob­a­bly didn’t con­sent to his like­ness for the game. Same for Cap­tain Mar­vel and actress Brie Lar­son. It’s a small but notice­able quib­ble I have here. And, some of these Cap­com char­ac­ters look atro­cious. Ryu’s face on the title screen is hor­rif­ic. The sprites look ter­ri­ble here but in game, he looks fine. It’s a shame because every oth­er game in the series has been OK in terms of the graph­ics. Sure, they weren’t award-win­ning, but they reflect­ed the series’ growth. Infi­nite looks like it took about 10 steps back in a lot of respects.

The music is just as bland. Each iter­a­tion of the Ver­sus series has had some bangers on the sound­track — even the much-maligned Mar­vel vs. Cap­com 2’s sound­track was mem­o­rable if not catchy. Here, there is absolute­ly noth­ing note­wor­thy. It’s the first Ver­sus game where I don’t have some­thing from the sound­track saved, which is not good at all. As I played through the sto­ry mode, I kept wait­ing for some­thing to jump out at me, and I got noth­ing. I was not impressed.

The con­trols didn’t impress, either. There has been a not­ed trend, since MvC3 was released, to sim­pli­fy the game sys­tem for the Ver­sus games to make them more accessible.

While I’m always a fan of draw­ing in the casu­al fan for these types of games, I’m not a fan of ruin­ing a good thing. MvC2 was still acces­si­ble to even the most casu­al fight­ing game play­er, and this is even worse than the ton­ing down of the con­trols between MvC2 and MvC3. There is no depth to the com­bo sys­tem now, and that doesn’t help Infi­nite in any way.

I’m under­whelmed when it comes to Mar­vel vs. Cap­com Infi­nite. Noth­ing plays in its favor, noth­ing makes any sense, and the team-up crossover event is show­ing its age in every facet of the game. There’s noth­ing new here to make me say wow or push me to play as I did the oth­er games in the series. If Cap­com were to lose the Mar­vel license again, it wouldn’t be a shock­er or unwarranted.

 It’s time to admit that the series is not an infi­nite source of amuse­ment. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, at this point, it’s mere­ly a finite source of fight­ing game goodness.

Killer Instinct Gold — Issue 38

A killer Nin­ten­do 64 fight­ing sequel

It’s not been that long ago that Killer Instinct was still being rec­og­nized in the top ech­e­lon of fight­ing game series. But that was then, and this is now, and folks have a crit­i­cal eye toward the lega­cy of the defunct series. What folks real­ly want to know: Where does KI Gold – the 2.5 sequel game – appear in that legacy?

I’m old enough to remem­ber the launch of KI2 and then Gold for the Nin­ten­do 64 in 1996. I was heav­i­ly into fight­ing games then, still stick­ing with Mor­tal Kom­bat and look­ing for some­thing new to sup­ple­ment that fight­ing game itch. Enter Gold, which is an upgrade of KI2 for the home mar­ket. It’s a slight uptick in graph­ics, music and tweaks over the arcade ver­sion. The upgrades make it the bet­ter ver­sion of the game and push it toward must-have sta­tus for the N64.

Con­trol-wise, KI Gold is easy to pick up and a lot more acces­si­ble than its pre­de­ces­sor. For con­text, I bare­ly under­stood the com­bo sys­tem of the first game, but by the time Gold came along, I could hold my own against oth­er KI mas­ters, such as long­time friend of GI David Rhodes. If I could actu­al­ly win some rounds and every so often match­es against him, that’s evi­dence that the sys­tem is improved for casu­al fans. The con­cept of link­ers and chain com­bos made much more sense with a lit­tle in-game expla­na­tion, so this made the learn­ing process a lot eas­i­er to grasp. The change in sys­tems was the best in terms of accessibility.

Gold’s graph­ics are a slight improve­ment over the arcade ver­sion and even more so over the orig­i­nal game. But, in com­par­i­son to oth­er games on the mar­ket at the time, Gold doesn’t hold up par­tic­u­lar­ly well. Putting it along­side oth­er games avail­able at the same time, such as Tekken 2, doesn’t bode well for Gold. In par­tic­u­lar, there are janky tex­tures that snag and tear in the back­ground envi­ron­ments, which detracts from the oth­er­wise sol­id char­ac­ter models.

The sound­track, much like the pre­vi­ous game, car­ries the bur­den for the rest of the game. Rare’s sound depart­ment was known for pump­ing out good music, and Gold’s sound­track has quite a few bangers. It’s a lot of hard rock and a few tech­no tracks thrown in for good mea­sure, but it still holds up. In par­tic­u­lar, the char­ac­ter select theme – which was re-cre­at­ed for the 2013 revival of the series – is a toe-tap­per and still sounds fan­tas­tic on mod­ern sound systems.

But, the per­ti­nent ques­tion still remains: Where does Gold rank in fight­ing game genre lega­cy? It depends. If you care about flashy com­bos and aren’t too much of a tech­ni­cal con­tent fight­ing purist, Gold is prob­a­bly your fan­cy. It’s got enough to draw the casu­al fan in, but it’s light on the tech­ni­cal aspect of fight­ing games that the long­time purist would be look­ing for. It’s fun to play and revis­it from time to time, but if you’re look­ing to get bogged down in frame data and dig a lit­tle deep­er, Gold isn’t going to be your col­or. Your best bet is to look to the future of the series, and let this instinct die out.

Super Street Fighter II4Q2020 issue

Super fight­ing fun again

Though I play a lot of fight­ing game series, I keep com­ing back to Street Fight­er. I don’t know if it’s out of habit or because I’m com­fort­able with the series’ sys­tems, but I find myself inti­mate­ly famil­iar with the Cap­com cre­ation. It start­ed with Street Fight­er II for SNES, not the arcade. As the series moved along incre­men­tal­ly, so did I and I dis­cov­ered the upgrade. The home port of Super Street Fight­er II for SNES was one of the best and that acco­lade still stands after near­ly 30 years.

Though Cap­com still hadn’t learned to count to three and Super Street Fight­er II reeks of milk­ing the fran­chise for all it was worth, it’s tech­ni­cal­ly a good port. This is the best ver­sion of the arcade expe­ri­ence before Super Tur­bo, and the SNES, despite its prob­lems with cen­sor­ship, is the best ver­sion you’re going to get. Super is where you’re intro­duced to the four new chal­lengers, who add some inter­est­ing ele­ments. Each of their fight­ing styles are already rep­re­sent­ed in the game with oth­er stal­warts, but they’re fun to play, nevertheless.

The music has hit its peak here, too. It’s the same as the orig­i­nal Street Fight­er II and Hyper Fight­ing, but it’s Street Fight­er at peak Street Fight­er. That also applies to the con­trols. It’s the Street Fight­er that you know and love but cleaned up just a tad.

My main gripe with the game is the fact that it’s not Street Fight­er III, which it would have been if not for the insis­tence of Cap­com not count­ing ahead. Cap­com knew it had a win­ner on its hands but repeat­ed­ly milked the fran­chise until there was noth­ing else to wring from it. Super would absolute­ly have been great if not for the fact that Super Tur­bo came a year lat­er and there had already been two oth­er incre­men­tal iter­a­tions of the game pre­vi­ous­ly. That cheap­ens Super to a degree all around. How­ev­er, giv­en that Super Tur­bo did not come home from the arcades for the SNES, Super gets a boost in nos­tal­gic factor.

What you need to take away from SSFII is the refine­ment of the Street Fight­er II expe­ri­ence, and this is where it shines. Every­thing about Street Fight­er II was at peak con­di­tion and refined to a tee with this iter­a­tion. Yes, this is pre-Tur­bo super moves and spe­cials but in a way that makes it the last true unspoiled Street Fight­er II expe­ri­ence. It was so good that lat­er Street Fight­er games attempt to repli­cate this ver­sion with modes that play like Super with no super moves and most, if not all, of its mechan­ics. That’s how you know it’s a defin­ing moment in a series’ lifes­pan. It’s a super fight­ing game for a super sys­tem that still holds up.

Naruto Clash of Ninja 2 — 3Q2020 issue

Retro Naru­to revis­its Chunin Exams arc

When it comes to the Naru­to video game fran­chise, com­pli­cat­ed con­cepts have nev­er been part of the equa­tion. There’s noth­ing remote­ly hard about any of the games under the ban­ner and almost all are known for their pick up and play abil­i­ty. So, it stands to rea­son that the Naru­to: Clash of Nin­ja series is easy to start and get into it, and that rea­son­ing is cor­rect. Clash of Nin­ja 2 con­tin­ues the acces­si­bil­i­ty that the series is known for.

Naru­to is a great long-run­ning starter series if you’re just get­ting into ani­me. The basic premise of the ani­me is the basis of Clash of Nin­ja as well: A strong-willed boy from a world of nin­jas strives to be the best he can be and one day become the leader of his vil­lage. Because of a dev­as­tat­ing attack on his vil­lage the night he was born, Naru­to is orphaned and ostra­cized by his fel­low vil­lagers while host­ing a crea­ture known as the Nine-tailed Fox. He grad­u­ates from his village’s acad­e­my and is placed on a team fea­tur­ing his crush Saku­ra and his rival Sasuke while learn­ing team­work and the ways of nin­jut­su. Clash of Nin­ja 2 fol­lows the first half of the series, with Naru­to work­ing with his team­mates through the Chunin (first lev­el) exams that the nin­ja acad­e­my grad­u­ates face.

Clash of Nin­ja 2 does an admirable telling the begin­ning part of the sto­ry of Naru­to, sto­ry-wise. Because the begin­ning of Naru­to is sim­ple to under­stand and fol­low, the punch of char­ac­ters and addi­tions aren’t over­whelm­ing, and it’s easy to keep up with the action and char­ac­ter moti­va­tion. Every­one is rec­og­niz­able from the ani­me and it’s easy enough to actu­al­ly fol­low the sto­ry and learn more about the ani­me with­out the filler that the series is known for.

Graph­i­cal­ly, Clash of Nin­ja looks just like the ani­me, which is a bonus in its favor. The game is gor­geous and bright, and it accom­plish­es the goal of mak­ing you feel like you’re play­ing the ani­me instead of a game. Like­wise, the music and voice act­ing are great and feel and sound like they were pulled direct­ly from the anime’s soundtrack.

Mov­ing around with­in Clash of Nin­ja 2 is a sol­id expe­ri­ence. It’s easy to pull off moves and com­bos, and coun­ters are easy to under­stand and get the hang of with a lit­tle prac­tice. My only prob­lem is that every­one seems to play the same way, so there’s not much vari­ety in the movesets. The char­ac­ter you choose is mere­ly cos­met­ic with the movesets and mechan­ics not chang­ing from char­ac­ter to char­ac­ter. Oth­er than that, the abil­i­ty to jump right in and get to work is a wel­come and refresh­ing change of pace in a cat­e­go­ry of gam­ing known for its some­times-chal­leng­ing mechanics.

Even though there have been more games released in the Clash of Nin­ja series and oth­er Naru­to fight­ing games added to its lengthy reper­toire, Clash of Nin­ja 2 is just where you need to start if you’re want­i­ng to get into fight­ing games and have a love for ani­me or Naru­to. With a wealth of modes, great visu­als and facil­i­tat­ed abil­i­ty to ease into game­play, this is one well-regard­ed ninja.

Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax — 3Q2020 issue

Ani­me fight­er cre­ates clash of titans

If you’re a fight­ing game enthu­si­ast like myself, you’re hap­py to see the com­mu­ni­ty enjoy­ing main­stream suc­cess now in the esports land­scape. For many years, it was rel­e­gat­ed to a fringe activ­i­ty, some­thing only nerds with noth­ing else bet­ter to do and a lack of hygiene were known for enter­tain­ing. Now, it’s all over the place and there’s mon­ey to be earned. But this is now a pro­fes­sion­al-grade enter­prise and ani­me games are tak­ing cen­ter stage. One of the best? Denge­ki Bunko: Fight­ing Climax.

The game series that I lov­ing­ly refer to as that “all-star ani­me fight­ing game” is a blast to play. You choose from 19 playable and 30 assist char­ac­ters from var­i­ous ani­me series who team up in duos to fight each oth­er. Even if you’re mild­ly into ani­me, there are some well-known stars of the medi­um and some obscure names that will make you do a lit­tle research. For instance, your favorite edi­tor is an ani­me junkie and has seen or heard of most of the series with some stand­out selec­tions that she’s per­son­al­ly watched: Oreimo, Boo­giepop Phan­tom, The Dev­il is a Part-Timer and Torado­ra. There are oth­ers like Sword Art Online that are main­stream enough to draw in even the newest ani­me watcher. 

So, how does it play? Much like you’d expect an ani­me game to play: Super floaty physics and off-the-wall attacks that feel like they do a ton of dam­age but prob­a­bly don’t in terms of fight­ing games. The game feels good once you start play­ing, and like most games of the genre, there are lev­els to the play sys­tem. You can come in on the ground floor of fight­ing game knowl­edge and be able to play and then there’s com­pet­i­tive fight­ing game-lev­el of play that requires inti­mate knowl­edge of the game’s sys­tems. That range serves the game well as a draw for mul­ti­ple groups and it’s a tes­ta­ment to Sega’s devel­op­ment prowess.

The voice act­ing, a major part of a project like this, must be top notch and it is. Because Sega gar­nered most of the ani­ma­tions’ voice actors, there’s a high lev­el of con­sis­ten­cy and gloss over the game’s audio. The back­grounds are also faith­ful to the dif­fer­ent ani­me series, so expect to be wowed with the pro­duc­tion values.

Over­all, if you’re into ani­me enough to go to con­ven­tions reg­u­lar­ly or just hav­ing a pass­ing inter­est, Denge­ki Bunko: Fight­ing Cli­max is a good buy. Yes, it’s got that “super ani­me” feel to it, but there’s a sol­id engine and mechan­ics wrapped up in an extreme­ly gor­geous pack­age that deserves to be played here. This fan­cy fan-ser­vice fight­er is enough to make an otaku like myself sit up and take notice.