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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.