Star Gladiator — Episode 1: Final Crusade — Issue 43

Cap­com’s space opera side series sad­dles up

I pre­vi­ous­ly reviewed Plas­ma Sword, the sequel to Cap­com’s 3D weapon fight­ing game Star Glad­i­a­tor. I played Plas­ma Sword and real­ly liked Cap­com’s approach that com­bined ele­ments from Star Wars with ele­ments of ani­me and fight­ing games. Years lat­er, hav­ing played games like Soul­cal­ibur, I want­ed to play a fight­ing game with weapons. I’m glad I got my hands on the first game in the series, Star Glad­i­a­tor — Episode 1: Final Crusade.
In Star Glad­i­a­tor, in the year 2348 humans have explored space for cen­turies, allow­ing for reg­u­lar peace­ful and trade rela­tion­ships with var­i­ous alien life­forms. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, some alien species have made threats against Earth, result­ing in a defense project cre­at­ed by Dr. Edward Bil­stein that uses ener­gy of the human mind or plas­ma pow­er. Once the project became known, Bil­stein gained fame and prof­it. How­ev­er, the Earth Fed­er­a­tion uncov­ers that Bil­stein engaged in unlaw­ful human exper­i­men­ta­tion dur­ing plas­ma pow­er research and impris­oned him in a satel­lite. Four years lat­er, a fed­er­a­tion base was attacked by dis­ci­ples of Bil­stein known as the Fourth Empire. With the Fourth Empire’s attacks toward Earth con­tin­u­ing, the Fed­er­a­tion’s hopes rely on a project allow­ing plas­ma-pow­ered users to acti­vate their gifts on a whim. That pro­jec­t’s name is Star Gladiator.
Star Glad­i­a­tor is a com­plete depar­ture from usu­al set­up for fight­ing games like Street Fight­er and Dark­stalk­ers. Instead of using a six-but­ton scheme for punch­es and kicks, Cap­com used a four-but­ton set­up that resem­bles Soul­cal­ibur. You have but­tons assigned for kicks, defense, and weapon attacks. I found this sim­ple and easy as I did not strug­gle with fight mechanics. 
You also have use of two counter moves called Plas­ma Revers­es: One is called a Plas­ma Reflect, which allows block­ing of an oppo­nen­t’s move and stun­ning them for a brief peri­od. The oth­er, Plas­ma Revenge, allows you to counter an oppo­nen­t’s fast attack while you unleash your own light­ing attack. Star Glad­i­a­tor also intro­duces the Plas­ma Com­bo Sys­tem, which allows you to set­up rapid attacks that, with the right tim­ing, can result in a tech­nique called Plas­ma Final that inflicts major dam­age. Final­ly, anoth­er stand­out fea­ture in Star Glad­i­a­tor is the plas­ma strike abil­i­ty that lets you deliv­er heavy dam­age, if timed per­fect­ly on the opponent. 
Keep­ing with the mechan­ics, let me deliv­er a safe­ty warn­ing: This game has a rotat­ing and hov­er­ing are­na that may cause motion sick­ness. With the rotat­ing are­na, if you are knocked out of bounds, you will lose auto­mat­i­cal­ly. I learned a hard les­son about using the Plas­ma Reflect and Plas­ma Final tech­niques: Like any oth­er weapon-based fight­er, your tim­ing must be accu­rate; oth­er­wise, your char­ac­ter will be open for a ring-out attack or Plas­ma Final that will end the round before you can blink. And, for those who see the Plas­ma Strike as an easy use any­time weapon: Plas­ma Strike is an impres­sive move; how­ev­er, it can only be used once per round. 
The graph­ics and music are top tier for a 3D fight­ing game from the era it was released. It looks good and tries hard but with­out being over the top. The replay val­ue is strong and is a great show­case for the start of the 3D weapon fight­er genre. 
Star Glad­i­a­tor is a clas­sic 3D fight­er that showed how fight­ing games tran­si­tioned from the arcade to the home mar­ket. I com­mend Cap­com for think­ing for­ward and not rely­ing on the same for­mu­la. Star Glad­i­a­tor is an exam­ple of Cap­com’s bril­liance in the fight­ing game are­na and the series is long over­due to return. There’s cer­tain­ly room for it in today’s space.

Street Fighter Alpha 3 — Issue 43

The Alpha of the genre wears its crown well

Street Fight­er per­fec­tion.” That’s what they were call­ing it in adver­tise­ments in 1999. Per­fec­tion it is. There are a select few Street Fight­er games that we can call per­fect, and Street Fight­er Alpha 3 is at the top of that list.
Street Fight­er Alpha 3 begins and ends with the con­cepts of Street Fight­er II and choic­es. Alpha 3 — set between 1987’s Street Fight­er and 1991’s Street Fight­er II — goes back­ward in sto­ry­line to tell the sto­ry of the future. Street Fight­er II is what it is: A fight­ing game with sim­ple mechan­ics and super moves — as of Super Tur­bo in 1994. But choic­es? In a Street Fight­er game, no less? Unheard of, until Alpha 3. 
The mechan­ics present choic­es ear­ly and fre­quent­ly. Once you pick your char­ac­ter, you then choose the fight­ing style from three main choic­es (four in the Dream­cast ver­sion). A‑ISM is straight-up Street Fight­er Alpha. It plays just like the pre­vi­ous games in the series and grants access to three bars of mul­ti­ple super moves. V‑ISM fea­tures man­u­al cus­tom com­bos, first seen in Alpha 2 and removes super moves. X‑ISM is most con­sis­tent­ly like Super Street Fight­er II Tur­bo, with access to one bar of super meter and one super move. There are dis­tinct dif­fer­ences and nuances to using each ISM, and advan­tages and dis­ad­van­tages in their styles with top char­ac­ters for each. What works for Alpha 3 the most is the fact that there is so much vari­ety for a sin­gle char­ac­ter across all three ISMs. You can make some­thing out of noth­ing with almost every­one on the ros­ter, even the low­er-tier characters.
And the ros­ter is some­thing to behold in this game. The arcade ver­sion has a nice ros­ter of who’s who in Street Fight­er up to this point but get­ting it home for the con­sole ver­sions adds even more playable char­ac­ters. Favorites like Evil Ryu, Shin Aku­ma and Guile join in the fun and make it an even more round­ed cast. Basi­cal­ly, if they were in Super Tur­bo or men­tioned in Street Fight­er they’re here with a few new addi­tions like Cody, R. Mika and Karin.
The ros­ter plays nice­ly as well. The mechan­ics are easy to under­stand, espe­cial­ly if you have pre­vi­ous expo­sure to Street Fight­er in any form. It plays beau­ti­ful­ly and han­dles well in all of its var­i­ous modes.
And a vari­ety of modes there are. While some have to be unlocked — such as Final Bat­tle and Dra­mat­ic Bat­tle — the oth­er modes are fun to play and are well-inter­con­nect­ed. One of the best modes avail­able from the out­set is World Tour Mode. This is where you should spend most of your time because it’s fan­tas­tic. Trav­el­ing around the world fac­ing var­i­ous Street Fight­ers with spe­cif­ic con­di­tions that uti­lize the dif­fer­ent ISMs is the per­fect way to learn how Alpha 3 works. Using World Tour Mode effec­tive­ly blows the game wide open and is fun to play through with a ton of replay value. 
Also adding val­ue is the sound­track, one of Cap­com’s mas­ter­pieces. The game is set in the mid-to-late 1980s and it sounds appro­pri­ate to that era. Beyond the bangers for mul­ti­ple char­ac­ters — Sagat, Bal­rog and Juli/Juni instant­ly come to mind — even the nar­ra­tion deserves praise. It’s over the top but it fits per­fect­ly. The sound­track also works well with the graph­ics. The sprites are big and col­or­ful as are the detailed and stun­ning stages. It’s one of Cap­com’s bet­ter-look­ing games and is a mas­sive improve­ment from the rest of the Alpha series. It almost looks like it belongs in an entire­ly dif­fer­ent game series.
A per­fect sound­track, visu­als and game­play expe­ri­ence is what Street Fight­er Alpha 3 brings to the table. As usu­al, it took Cap­com to get it right by the count of three, but right is an under­state­ment. Even after near­ly 25 years, this is tru­ly Street Fight­er perfection.

Street Fight­er Alpha 3 Dream­cast version
The Dream­cast ver­sion war­rants men­tion because it is sig­nif­i­cant­ly dif­fer­ent from the PlaySta­tion and Sat­urn ver­sions. The Dream­cast ver­sion is enhanced with the addi­tion of an online mode and lat­er the Japan only Match­ing Ser­vice, which allowed online play as Cap­com had with sev­er­al oth­er fight­ing game titles such as Vam­pire Chron­i­cles, Mar­vel vs. Cap­com 2 and Super Street Fight­er II X.
The most notable and use­ful changes are the secret char­ac­ters Guile, Evil Ryu and Shin Aku­ma are already unlocked for use and the addi­tion­al ISMs and ISM-Plus mechan­ics avail­able to unlock. The PlaySta­tion ver­sion was plagued by a bug that pre­vent­ed some ISM-Plus items unlock­ing in World Tour Mode. These were made avail­able for the full expe­ri­ence, and the S‑ISM that CPU-con­trolled Final M. Bison uses was also made available.
Final­ly, the Saikyo Dojo mode is avail­able here. This mode pits a weak char­ac­ter against two strong oppo­nents. It imi­tates the Saikyo char­ac­ter select mode avail­able in the PlaySta­tion version.

Ports of Street Fight­er Alpha 3
Street Fight­er Alpha 3, Sony PlaySta­tion, 1999
Street Fight­er Zero 3, Sega Sat­urn, 1999 (Japan only)
Street Fight­er Alpha 3: Saikyo Dojo, Dream­cast, 1999
Street Fight­er Alpha 3: Saikyo-ryu Dojo for Match­ing Ser­vice, Dream­cast, 2000
Street Fight­er Zero 3 Upper, Arcade, 2001
Street Fight­er Alpha 3 Upper, Game Boy Advance, 2003
Street Fight­er Alpha 3 MAX, PlaySta­tion Portable, 2006
Street Fight­er Alpha Anthol­o­gy, PlaySta­tion 2, 2006
Street Fight­er Alpha 3, PlaySta­tion Clas­sic down­load, 2011
Street Fight­er 30th Anniver­sary Col­lec­tion, mul­ti­ple con­soles, 2018

Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha — Issue 43

A Street Fight­er lookalike

I want to love Street Fight­er EX Plus Alpha. I promise, I real­ly do. 
It’s Street Fight­er with­out being Street Fight­er, but that’s the prob­lem. It’s Street Fight­er adja­cent, and it’s not real­ly Street Fight­er. There are mechan­ics, char­ac­ters, and oth­er Street Fight­ery-type things here that make it part of the brand mys­tique, but this isn’t like the oth­ers and that isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly a good thing.
Street Fight­er EX Plus Alpha starts off lur­ing you with the promise of being some kind of “dif­fer­ent” Street Fight­er. It has most if not all of Street Fight­er Alpha’s mechan­ics and it adds a few more. The most notable addi­tions are the ded­i­cat­ed Guard Break and can­ce­lable super moves. Guard Break here is a stun move that leads to a dizzy instead of open­ing an oppo­nent up like in the Alpha series. Super can­cel­ing means you can can­cel one super move into anoth­er. Both mechan­ics instant­ly fresh­en the Street Fight­er II well-worn com­bo for­mu­la and give it a new feel. The game plays solid­ly, akin more to the sim­i­lar­ly toned Rival Schools, and when the AI isn’t being obnox­ious, you can do a lot and feel sat­is­fied about the way it flows.
The ros­ter is decent and com­ple­ments the Street Fight­er name. Sure, you have a lot of Street Fight­er vet­er­ans and main­stays here like Ryu, Guile, Chun-Li, Zang­ief and Ken, but there are some inter­est­ing Ari­ka char­ac­ters, too. Doc­trine Dark and Hoku­to are cool as is Skul­lo­ma­nia. The char­ac­ter designs are nice and make it just a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent from reg­u­lar Street Fight­er with some vari­ety and thought put into them.
While I love the ros­ter, there is some­thing that grinds my nerves. Note that I said when the AI isn’t being obnox­ious it’s playable. At this point, we all are aware of how Cap­com’s AI can be in fight­ing games. Even on the low­est dif­fi­cul­ty lev­el, though, it’s not friend­ly. There were times I bare­ly made it to the fourth fight before I got tak­en out, and I’m a Street Fight­er and over­all fight­ing game vet­er­an. It’s hard to gauge if it’s inten­tion­al giv­en that this once began life as an arcade update, but it cer­tain­ly has that quar­ter-eater feel to it in a bad way.
While I despise the AI, I don’t hate the graph­ics as much as I should. The pre­sen­ta­tion, for its time, is good. The back­grounds are gor­geous in some stages, and the poly­gons are super blocky and polyg­o­nal. How­ev­er, this was 1997, so it’s accept­able giv­en what every­thing else poly­gon-based looked like at the time. Again, as Rival Schools was around at the same time, it’s com­pa­ra­ble to that game but it does­n’t look quite as good. The sound­track is pass­able, much like the graph­ics. It was­n’t impres­sive but it was­n’t ter­ri­ble, either. It’s rem­i­nis­cent of oth­er Cap­com fight­ers at the time, despite this not being devel­oped by Capcom.
There was work to be done going from here, and Ari­ka did make improve­ments. Street Fight­er EX Plus Alpha is ser­vice­able and a good start, but I don’t think I’d stay in this region of Street Fight­er adja­cent. It’s got enough to get me inter­est­ed and going but the AI makes this a frus­trat­ing expe­ri­ence, and it all feels just a lit­tle bit like “well, we aren’t Street Fight­er, but we can slap the name on and try.” Skip this one and see if there’s a lit­tle more Street Fight­er and pizazz to your lik­ing in the lat­er sequels.

Street Fighter Collection — Issue 43

World War­riors col­lect­ing mad mon­ey in this bundle

Let’s be frank and call Street Fight­er Col­lec­tion what it real­ly is: A mon­ey grab of the finest order. Thank­ful­ly, it’s a good mon­ey grab for the time peri­od it was released in but make no mis­take that you’d have to be a hard-up Street Fight­er devo­tee to grasp the inher­ent val­ue of the con­tents from Capcom.
Street Fight­er Col­lec­tion fea­tures three games: Street Fight­er Alpha 2 Gold, Super Street Fight­er II and Super Street Fight­er II Tur­bo, two cer­ti­fied hits then and now and one that could have been left at home in com­par­i­son with the others.
Street Fight­er Alpha 2 Gold is a slight­ly more enhanced port of the cus­tom com­bo clas­sic, fea­tur­ing Cam­my as a secret char­ac­ter and the peren­ni­al sec­ond-best evil shotokan Evil Ryu. There isn’t much else dif­fer­ent in this port, and Alpha 2 is what it is: a bet­ter ver­sion of War­rior’s Dreams. Take that for what it’s worth if it’s the decid­ing fac­tor in purchasing.
The oth­er side of the coin are the Super Street Fight­er II games. Plain old New Chal­lengers is here, and it’s instant­ly made irrel­e­vant by includ­ing Super Tur­bo. Super Tur­bo is every­thing New Chal­lengers hoped to be with super moves includ­ed, so the col­lec­tion real­ly did­n’t need New Chal­lengers. The only pos­si­ble rea­son that both revi­sions were includ­ed in the col­lec­tion is because it was a way to have the most recent Street Fight­er II revi­sions in the lat­est gen­er­a­tion at the time. Super Tur­bo was­n’t released for home con­soles for obvi­ous rea­sons — no one was spend­ing $70 for anoth­er Street Fight­er revi­sion when New Chal­lengers had just been released in 1993 for the dom­i­nant Super Nin­ten­do. Cap­com might have been fool­ish, but they weren’t try­ing to push their luck, either. Make no mis­take, Super Tur­bo is the draw here, just by its exis­tence alone.
Because this is a col­lec­tion of already exist­ing games, we’re not touch­ing on the graph­ics, sights and sounds, because you’re already famil­iar with Street Fight­er II and Street Fight­er Alpha 2. None of that changed for these ports and that’s actu­al­ly a good thing.
If you’re going to buy this col­lec­tion, buy it because it’s arcade per­fect for Super and Super Tur­bo. Sure, you can find oth­er ver­sions of these games these days and in faster, bet­ter for­mats, but this isn’t a bad col­lec­tion if you remem­ber what exact­ly they stood for: Acces­si­ble Super Street Fight­er II revi­sions and an exer­cise in Cap­com cash grab mechanics.

Capcom vs. SNK: Millennium Fight 2000 — Issue 42

The fight of the century

Who would win between Cap­com and SNK?
That’s the ques­tion that was at the fore­front of every­one’s mind in the ear­ly 2000s. The rival­ry between the com­pa­nies was well known, and the streets were hot with love for their respec­tive fight­ing game series. When Cap­com vs. SNK was released, the ques­tion was answered, though we still did­n’t know who was bet­ter defin­i­tive­ly. There’s a sequel for that.
What CvS did get right was the ini­tial ques­tion. Take some of the best and most pop­u­lar fight­ing game char­ac­ters from both com­pa­nies and pit them against each oth­er. Mar­quee SNK names like Ter­ry Bog­a­rd, Mai Shu­ranui, King and Rugal Bern­stein face off against Cap­com main­stays like Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, and Sagat. The full ros­ter has some­one for every­one from each com­pa­ny. If you like grap­plers, there’s Zang­ief rep­re­sent­ing Cap­com while Raiden shows up for SNK. Love fight­ing teenage girls? You’re cov­ered with Saku­ra and Yuri. The selec­tion is a nice buf­fet to choose from.
But then it gets a lit­tle more inter­est­ing. Each char­ac­ter is slot­ted into a one-to-four ratio cat­e­go­ry. Heavy hit­ters like Aku­ma and Orochi Iori, usu­al­ly hid­den boss char­ac­ters in their respec­tive games, are Ratio 4. Ratio 3 fea­tures boss char­ac­ters such as M. Bison, Geese and Rugal. Ratio 2 is for the mid­dle-class fight­er like Ryu, Ken, Kyo Kusana­gi and Mai. In the low­est ratio are light­weights like Saku­ra, Ben­i­maru, Yuri and Dhal­sim. The Ratio Sys­tem allows mul­ti­ple com­bi­na­tions so long as the ratio equals four. Build­ing your team is cru­cial because of the pow­er bal­ance impli­ca­tions and their poten­tial matchups.
The in-depth fight­ing sys­tem is not with­out its flaws, how­ev­er. The place­ment of some char­ac­ters in the Ratio Sys­tem is ques­tion­able and their movesets being pressed between EX and reg­u­lar cat­e­go­riza­tion is arti­fi­cial lim­i­ta­tions imposed at best. This is fixed in the sequel but here it’s a prob­lem that slight­ly affects game­play adversely.
In addi­tion to the Ratio Sys­tem there is the Groove Sys­tem. A two-part func­tion, the Groove Sys­tem deter­mines how the char­ac­ters per­form cer­tain basic moves like rolling and dash­ing and how super moves work. Cap­com Groove plays a lot like Street Fight­er Alpha 3 with access to Lev­el 3 supers imme­di­ate­ly with enough super meter built up. SNK Groove plays sim­i­lar­ly to the Extra Mode in the King of Fight­ers series. Here, you only get access to Lev­el 3 supers when your life meter is flash­ing, though you can charge your meter man­u­al­ly to gain Lev­el 1 supers. There’s a lot of strat­e­gy involved in choos­ing the right Groove and apply­ing its prop­er­ties to your advan­tage, which is a nice change of pace.
Cap­com vs. SNK also gets its envi­ron­ment right. The game looks fan­tas­tic, with beau­ti­ful back­grounds of famil­iar loca­tions for both com­pa­nies. Of spe­cial note is the SNK graph­ic mode for Cap­com char­ac­ters. Shinkiro out­did him­self with the stun­ning and life­like art­work. I was­n’t super famil­iar with his work before­hand because I was­n’t an SNK enthu­si­ast. But, you can con­sid­er me a devo­tee as of this game because I fell in love with his art through his char­ac­ter portraits.
And, along­side the gor­geous envi­ron­ments is a won­der­ful­ly nos­tal­gic sound­track. Sure, there are some new tracks, but the meat and pota­toes are in the old­er remixed tracks. The sound mix­es well with the action, and there are quite a few bops to be had here. The sound­track is one worth adding to the collection.
Cap­com vs. SNK is a great start for the fran­chise. It’s built with vet­er­ans in mind, but even as a new­com­er you can find a char­ac­ter to learn and devel­op. Cap­com banked on the unini­ti­at­ed tak­ing the time to learn the back­ground of the char­ac­ters fea­tured, and the result is worth tak­ing a spin 22 years after its ini­tial release. No, the ques­tion of who’s the best was­n’t answered here, but it’s one worth explor­ing in a top-notch release for the Dream­cast fight­ing game library.

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.