Friday, April 6, 2012

Samurai Shodown 2 Review

Putting four-button fighting games on a portable system that only has two buttons is never an easy task. The most popular method for using two buttons to execute different attacks is timing the length of each button press. This means you have to hold a button down a little longer than usual to get it to execute more powerful moves. The trouble with this method is that can hamper your reaction time, since moves don't come out the instant you push the button. While Samurai Shodown 2 for the Neo Geo Pocket employs this timed button press technique, it doesn't take too much away from the gameplay.

Samurai Shodown 2 adds three characters over the last game, which appeared on SNK's older, black-and-white handheld. The game also has a couple of interesting modes. Along with the standard versus mode is the survival mode, where you must defeat as many enemies as possible, receiving only small health recharges between bouts. This mode is tied to the collection of special cards, which add things like increased defense and special attacks. Each character has eight cards to unlock, which are split evenly between the two character modes, slash and bust.

The game uses one button to perform all your weapon attacks, and the other button is used for kicking and dodging. It's a decent enough setup, but using the A button for all your main attacks can get a bit confusing.

The card collection adds some longevity to what would otherwise be a short-lived affair. It would have been nice if it employed a more mission-style mode to it, rather than rely on simple survival matches as its secondary mode. This game doesn't have the universal fighting game appeal that King of Fighters R-2 has, and SS2 should be considered a secondary fighting game at best.

Capcom vs. SNK 2 EO Review

There's really not much new in Capcom vs. SNK 2 EO, the first 2D fighting game for the GameCube and the bazillionth fighting game featuring Ken. This particular version of the game is basically identical to last year's Capcom vs. SNK 2 for the PS2, which was basically identical to Capcom vs. SNK 2 for the Dreamcast, which was a perfect port of the arcade version of the game, which was closely based on the 2-year-old original. All these games have pitted the characters from Capcom's and SNK's many popular fighting games from over the years against each other. Two years ago, the idea of a Capcom vs. SNK game was nothing short of unthinkable, as the two companies were seen as close competitors. Now it's a reality, and the novelty is long gone. What's left is by all means a solid fighting game, filled with many likable characters. Unfortunately, the GameCube's controller just wasn't designed to work well with a game like this, and it cripples your ability to play and enjoy it, regardless of a new control scheme designed for Nintendo's console.

The only real difference between this and older versions of Capcom vs. SNK 2 is the presence of a new optional control scheme exclusively designed for the GameCube. This is an innovative but ultimately misguided attempt to address the fact that the stock GameCube controller is completely unfit for use with a traditional fighting game. For starters, in the new control scheme, you use the GameCube's left analog stick to move your character around, but unfortunately, the analog stick isn't nearly as precise as a digital pad--or a digital arcade stick, for that matter. The controller's two shoulder buttons function as pressure-sensitive punch and kick buttons, allowing you to execute basic attacks haphazardly at best. This bizarre throwback to the giant rubber-coated pressure-sensitive punch and kick buttons from the original Street Fighter arcade game is perhaps amusing, but the amusement ends as soon as you start trying to throw quick flurries of jabs or properly time your roundhouse kicks.

Yet the biggest deal with the new controls is that the right analog stick lets you easily perform all your character's various special moves, which normally would be executed with relatively complex combinations of controller motions and button presses. For example, Russian wrestler Zangief's spinning pile driver, normally requiring a full-circle motion on a joystick or directional pad, is now executed simply by pressing forward on the analog stick. Charge moves such as Guile's sonic boom, which normally require players to press and hold a button or controller direction, now require no charging. Super moves are executed just as easily. Arguably, this grossly simplified control scheme opens up some new tactical possibilities--if you've ever wondered how a computer-controlled Blanka could execute his roll attack while walking forward, well, now you can actually pull off such outrageous stunts. It also saps most of the fun out of the game and makes competitive play pointless. The character balance gets completely thrown off, as relatively hard-to-execute moves are no longer hard to execute, making some of them--like that spinning pile driver--obscenely overpowered. The presence of the traditional control scheme mitigates these problems somewhat, but the GameCube controller doesn't wear it well. That tiny, inconveniently located directional pad is cumbersome to use with this game, and the placement of the other controller buttons is just as bad.

It's somewhat sad that the biggest problem with Capcom vs. SNK 2 EO isn't even really intrinsic to the core game. The good news is, there are a few ways to get around the awful controls, if you desperately want to play Capcom vs. SNK 2 on your GameCube. There's at least one good arcade-style GameCube-compatible joystick available, the X-arcade, and at least one other such peripheral is on the horizon, though currently no standard six-button gamepads are either available or planned for the system. Alternately, you could spend money on converter cables that let you hook up a PlayStation 2 gamepad to your GameCube. These solutions are viable, but costly and awkward, effectively making Capcom vs. SNK 2 EO a lot more expensive and inconvenient to play than it should be.

As a sequel, Capcom vs. SNK 2 adds some new characters, some new moves, some new game mechanics, some new backgrounds, and some new music. However, there's also a lot of the same old graphics, same old sounds, and same old gameplay. The impact of the changes made to the game will depend on how serious you are about your 2D fighters, and given the control issues, it seems ridiculous to discuss the subtler aspects of the gameplay at length.

There are about 40 different characters available in the game, though of course not all of them are completely unique. Some of the better additions in this sequel include Eagle, the British stick fighter who dates all the way back to the original Street Fighter game, and Haohmaru, the cocky sword-wielding samurai from SNK's Samurai Shodown series, whose katana would presumably give him an unfair advantage. Fortunately, other characters have no problem deflecting Haohmaru's long, slow slashes with their forearms. Other notable additions include the kung fu fighter Yun, from Street Fighter III, and Rock Howard, the bastard son of Geese Howard who first appeared in SNK's Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves. Some of the other new characters, such as the over-the-hill martial artist Ryuhaku Todo, from SNK's Art of Fighting, and Maki, a rip-off of SNK's Mai Shiranui who appeared in the sequel to Final Fight, are surprising additions to the lineup, but not necessarily good ones. Capcom and SNK fans alike will probably find that they can think of a few equally rare characters they would have rather seen in the game.