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.

Cardinal Syn is the product of Kronos, the same company responsible for the abysmal PlayStation fighter Criticom and the mediocre Dark Rift for the N64. Cardinal Syn sticks to the Kronos model as a good-looking 3D fighter that offers nothing in the vein of innovative gameplay.

The game starts out with eight playable characters, but every time you beat the tournament mode the game unlocks a new playable character. It's got the usual modes of play we've come to expect from fighting games: tournament, vs., team battle, survival, and training mode. Cardinal Syn, as far as gameplay features go, is fairly standard. The only crazy things outside the norm are the in-game hazards and treasure chests. The hazards include things such as a mining car that rumbles down the tracks, which you and your opponent happen to be fighting on, or a giant snowball that crashes down a nearby mountain. The levels also have various treasure chests lying about that contain health, added strength, and bombs that damage your character.

Visually, Cardinal Syn is quite appealing. The characters and the 3D arenas that they fight in are incredibly detailed. The motion of the characters is a little fast but looks fairly fluid. That mixed with snazzy lighting effects gives Cardinal Syn a very clean look. All of this is seen from a camera angle that for most of the time is a side view, although sometimes the view is obscured for a frustrating second or two when a piece of the background gets in the way. The music and sound effects fit the medieval theme of the game quite well. With the clashing of swords and over-the-top modern gothic music, the game sounds noticeably rich.

The AI of the computer-controlled fighters is just plain poor. They run through preset patterns that you can see even after only a short time playing, and once you've learned the patterns, you simply create a pattern that counters theirs. Needless to say, this becomes incredibly boring. Even on the hardest setting the gameplay is composed of knocking your opponent down and trying to keep him there. Otherwise he gets up and starts this seemingly endless barrage of high and low attacks.

Cardinal Syn has some nice graphics and sound to set it apart from other games in the genre, at least on the surface. But once all is said and done, with its typical weapon-based fighting system that plays like Soul Blade and Dynasty Warriors, Cardinal Syn just ends up coming off as another 3D fighting game knockoff.

With a long, sullied history of extremely poor DBZ games before it, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai was a bit of a revelation when it was released in 2002. Here was a 3D fighting game that, while not offering the deepest combat system, was still reasonably fun to play. Moreover, it featured a great story mode that basically summed up the entire run of the Dragon Ball Z manga-cum-anime in just a few hours. A year later, we got a sequel with improved cel-shaded graphics, but the slick story mode was replaced by a lame board game, and the additions made to the gameplay just didn't seem to mesh with what was already there. Dimps, the little-known developer responsible for the entire Budokai series, learned some lessons and has now returned to the scene with Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3. This is far and away the best Dragon Ball Z game around, and it's a must-have for DBZ fans. However, the action is also so fast-paced and viscerally satisfying that it can genuinely appeal even to those otherwise uninterested in Dragon Ball Z.

The action in the Budokai games has never been particularly technical, and though Budokai 3 retains all the fundamentals, it adds several new gameplay mechanics that have significant impact on the action. The first is the new teleportation counter system, which, following a simple tap of the D pad and the X button at the right moment, will instantly teleport you right behind your opponent so you can deliver unto him or her a nice, crushing blow. If your opponent is quick enough on his or her feet, though, he or she can pull a reversal and teleport behind you, keeping this move from being an overpowered one. This little teleport maneuver can also be used to pop up behind your opponent after he or she has been knocked through the air, which lets you ping-pong him or her back and forth a few times. While this may sound like kind of an oddball mechanic to outsiders, Dragon Ball Z fans will recognize it as an integral part of just about any DBZ fight.

Also key to Dragon Ball Z are massive energy attacks, which the Budokai series has dutifully represented. Budokai 3 is the first entry in the series to introduce the concept of a "beam struggle," which basically involves two characters throwing a massive beam of energy at each other. Each then tries to overpower the other's beam. Once you find yourself locked in a beam struggle, all you need to do is rotate the analog sticks or mash on the buttons as fast as you can while hoping that you're faster than your opponent. Tactically, it's not a big deal, but it brings the gameplay experience that much closer to the source material. Also, some very heavy lighting and particle effects make the beam struggles look extremely cool.

All of your energy-based moves use up ki, which is represented by a set of bars that are separate from your life-energy bar. You can fill up these bars just by connecting with your attacks, or if there's a lull in the action, you can stand still and power up, which fills your meter rapidly but exposes you to attacks. Keeping your ki meter full is of paramount importance, because your basic punch, kick, and grapple moves won't have as much of an effect when your ki meter is empty. Ki is also needed for transformations, such as when Frieza evolves through his different forms or when any of the Saiyans want to go into their blonde-hair, blue-eyed super-Saiyan mode. But probably the most important use of ki in Budokai 3 involves hyper mode. If you have enough ki (four bars will do), you can press all four face buttons to enter hyper mode. The intense red glow given off by characters in hyper mode is unmistakable, and when they're in this state, they have a few moves they can't execute otherwise.

The dragon rush is the most important move strategically, just because it comes into play more often than other moves. If you're in hyper mode and you have your opponent on the ropes, a well-timed press of the circle button will launch a dragon rush, which boils the rock-paper-scissors underpinning of all fighting games down to its very essence. The camera cuts from the usual side-profile position to give more-cinematic shots of the character that launched the dragon rush to unleash incredible pummeling attacks on his or her opponent. However, the attacker has to get a little lucky if he or she wants to do the most possible damage. At three points during the dragon rush, both players have to press one of the face buttons. If the attacker can avoid hitting the same button as the player being attacked at each of these intervals, the series of attacks will end with a punishing energy blast. If the button presses match up at any point, though, the defender can cancel out the dragon rush and go back to regular action. The action is so incredibly over-the-top, and the camera cuts so perfectly, that the dragon rush is mind-blowing the first time you see it. The downer is that the dragon rush is basically the same for every single character, though there are a few subtle permutations based on specific characters and specific environments. More variety would have been nice, but the dragon rushes are still fantastic additions to the action.

Knuckle Up is a masterpiece of simplicity. With an elegant control scheme and old-school, pattern-oriented gameplay, Knuckle Up is universally playable and invariably fun. Veteran gamers will hail the game as the mobile answer to Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! for the NES. Newcomers to the genre will enjoy Knuckle Up's lighthearted approach to character design and its strategic sparring.

Knuckle Up is basically a series of boss fights in the classic, video game sense. Each of your opponents has a distinct fighting style and pattern, which, once learned, leads you to victory. For example, one character, The Mole, will fiercely guard his face and body, rendering him invulnerable. Occasionally, though, after blocking a few blows, he will unleash a torrent of punches on you. If you are able to dodge these, you'll have a chance to hit him a couple of times before he returns to blocking. Rinse and repeat.

The best feature of Knuckle Up is its no-nonsense control, which uses only your phone's five-way directional pad. The up key performs a quick jab; the down key blocks; the left and right keys control lateral movement; and the "OK" button launches a haymaker. While this system does not allow for a great degree of punch variety, it is infinitely preferable to the more complex control of competing games, such as Sorrent's Fox Sports Boxing, which requires the use of number keys in conjunction with the directional pad. Knuckle Up's limited repertoire of punches is not a big weakness. It is far easier to manage two punches than it is seven. After all, Knuckle Up is an arcade-style game, not a boxing simulation.

The game's graphics are appropriately cartoony. While the visuals aren't going to trigger fits of ecstasy in gamers, the goofy character sprites might elicit a few laughs. I found Pretty Boy, a scrawny blond of exceptional pallor, to be particularly amusing to look at.

The only thing keeping Knuckle Up from obtaining a higher score is that the game ends too soon. The final boss, Tubby McGraw, is fairly easy to overcome, once you learn his formulaic approach to butt-kicking. A greater complement of characters would have made a welcome addition to the title. Better still (dare we say it?), a multiplayer mode could have been added to allow a player to challenge an anonymous combatant on the Sprint Vision network. Such a feature would have made this game immortal. Alas.

Nevertheless, Knuckle Up packs a lot of classic flavor into its mobile punch. Its simplified, robust gameplay makes it a great game for the medium. Highly recommended.

Virtual On has been the mech-lover's dream since it first appeared in arcades back in the mid-'90s and subsequently in the A-for-effort port to the Sega Saturn in 1997. When AM3 unleashed the Model 3-powered sequel, Oratorio Tangram, the general opinion was that the game was little more than a flashier, more graphically potent version of its predecessor. In the meantime, similar games like Armored Core and Frame Gride have come along and upped the ante with customizable parts and stunning graphics, respectively. Now that games like Virtua Fighter 3tb, Sega Bass Fishing, and Sega Rally 2 have all found their way home, how does Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram fare as not only a Model 3 conversion but as a port to the consumer market?

The first part of that question can be answered like this - VO:OT is, graphically, the best Model 3 conversion yet, with incredibly accurate models and all the special effects of the arcade, with little to no compromises made. Whereas Virtua Fighter 3 had inconsistencies and slowdown compared with the original arcade version, and Sega Rally 2 lacked the full-bodied look of its arcade counterpart, VO:OT is basically a pixel-perfect translation. Closer than any Model 3 conversion yet, the game never suffers from any sort of slowdown and cruises along at a shimmering 60 frames per second at all times. Sega hasn't taken any shortcuts to achieve this either. Every background, while admittedly simple, is rendered in full three dimensions, while special effects abound at every turn. After an impressive opening CG sequence, you'll be treated to a parade of light-sourcing effects, gorgeous gourad-shading, crystal-clear transparencies, and other effects that most gamers now take for granted. However, you've never seen graphics like these, wrapped around polygonal models like these, in such high resolutions as these, since Soul Calibur.

Despite all the visual mayhem onscreen, Sega still found ways to implement real-time shadows as well, keeping the entire graphics package intact. While definitely different, this is the first game to visually stun you the way Soul Calibur did. On par with every graphical hardware effect out there, Virtual On: OT is a visual tour de force. The graphics look so good, in fact, that you will find yourself in the game's watch mode for hours just watching the comp-controlled mechs duke it out. Each mech, designed by Macross designer Katohi Hajime, is constructed of a huge number of polygons and is represented in a DNA model and an RNA model. These differing models feature different attacks and color schemes. While some backgrounds are spare and barren, others are replete with large stalagmites jutting up from the ground or large obstacles and structures to hide behind and use for cover. Other stages will add elevating slopes and hills where you can mount your attack or defense. Some battles even take place underwater, a la Dural circa Virtua Fighter 2. Intelligent use of these geographical elements will often be the difference between a loss and a win. Your mech also changes in appearance as you take damage, much as the robots did in the old PlayStation title Zero Divide. When a part of a leg or arm is blown off, for example, you'll see interior parts of the mech showing through.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Soul Calibur II Review

By definition, one cannot improve upon perfection. So, considering that 1999's Soul Calibur for the Dreamcast is widely considered to be a flawless fighting game, maybe that explains why Namco didn't take many risks with the sequel, which has finally hit the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube. If you played and enjoyed the original Soul Calibur, chances are good that you'll also enjoy the sequel since it's so much like the first game. That also means Soul Calibur II won't impress you as much as its predecessor, since you've seen most of these characters, their weapons, and their moves before, and the available gameplay modes are nothing out of the ordinary. Nevertheless, on its own terms, Soul Calibur II is by all means a great fighting game, and Namco has done a fine job of making each respective console version equally enticing.

For the majority of players, the most significant difference between Soul Calibur II and its predecessor will be cosmetic, though the visuals haven't been overhauled completely. The returning characters all look different and the stages are all new, but many of the animations (even for some of the new characters) are recycled from the previous game, as is the flow and feel of a typical match. As before, gameplay involves four buttons, corresponding to your character's horizontal slash, vertical slash, kick, and guard. Using various combinations of these and the directional pad, you can make your characters unleash dozens of different moves. A number of the characters even have alternate fighting stances, which they can readily switch between to vary up their attacks.

There's a two-tiered rock-paper-scissors system here that's more or less identical to the system that worked so well in Soul Calibur: Low attacks hit high-blocking opponents, mid attacks hit low-blocking opponents, and high attacks tend to beat out mid attacks. Additionally, vertical slashes tend to have priority over horizontal slashes but can be dodged laterally, while horizontal slashes can counter an opponent who's sidestepping too often. Add in guard impact moves, which all characters can use to deflect their foes' attacks, and soul charge moves, which all characters can use to power up their attacks, and you've got a deep, tried-and-true combat system. The gameplay has been tweaked since Soul Calibur, to account for some of the issues that highly experienced players of the previous game picked up on. However, most players won't really notice the different properties of crouching or of lateral movement or things like that. Of further note, the game controls well using the default PS2, Xbox, and GameCube controllers. The PS2 controller is best suited, and the GameCube's directional pad is a little small, but all of these are responsive and more than serviceable with the game.

All of the Soul Calibur cast returns either in form or in spirit. From the samurai Mitsurugi to the undead pirate Cervantes, from the nunchaku-wielding Maxi to the female ninja Taki, from the bizarre Voldo to the aptly named Nightmare, most all the old favorites are intact, each with a smattering of new moves. Some have changed more than others, but for the most part, tactics and combos that worked well in Soul Calibur still work well here. There are a number of new characters in the game, though aside from the exclusive character in each console version of the game, only two characters are completely new: Raphael, a fencer whose feints and ripostes suitably capture the elegance and effectiveness of this fighting style, and Talim, a young girl whose speed and expertise with her twin blades make up for her small stature.

The special-guest characters in each version of the game are well done in their own right and are about as fully realized as the rest of the cast. The PlayStation 2 version gets the Tekken series' grizzled old karate master, Heihachi Mishima. The Xbox version gets Spawn, Todd McFarlane's muscle-bound comic book antihero. And the GameCube version gets none other than Link from The Legend of Zelda. These characters have been heavily promoted and talked about, and though none of them fits in very well with the rest of Soul Calibur II's characters, they each look good, are competitive, and have their own unique fighting styles. Heihachi has all the ferocious kicks and punches that make him a powerhouse in Tekken and looks better than ever before. Spawn has a limited ability to fly and can inflict massive damage with his ax. And Link's got all his classic moves and all his classic weapons, including the boomerang, the bow, and the bombs.

Another character is new to the home versions of Soul Calibur II and is not in the arcade original: Necrid, a Todd McFarlane creation specifically designed for this game. Necrid is surprisingly fast and powerful and fights with a ghostly weapon that mimics the other fighters' techniques. But this hunched-over, bloated action figure of a fighting game character seems like he was ripped out of some other game and thrown in here. Surely, it's great to have as many characters as possible in a fighting game. But there's also something to be said for having a cohesive look and style across all the characters. Each fighter in Soul Calibur for the Dreamcast, though remarkably different, at least looked like he or she belonged in the same game as all the other fighters in the lineup.

At any rate, the exclusive characters represent the biggest difference between the three console versions of Soul Calibur II, and if you're trying to decide on which version to get, you should probably go for the one with the character you'd most like to play as or against. Or if you have a home theater system and an Xbox, then the Xbox version is the way to go, since it features 720p HDTV support and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. The other two versions are no slouches either, though, and natively support surround sound and widescreen progressive scan displays.

Psychic Force was a bizarre and only marginally popular series, and it's not likely that PF2 will be a breakthrough hit. While it does have some new modes and an extra character, it is essentially just the PlayStation version of Psychic Force 2012, a Dreamcast game that will be coming to the US courtesy of Acclaim.

We've seen this series before in the States; the original Psychic Force came out a few years ago (also from Acclaim) and immediately dissolved into obscurity. That's a shame, because if you had given the game a try you would have found that it was unique and interesting. The setup is like this: Two psychic warriors known as psychiccers float inside a huge cube, fire projectiles at each other or, when close, engage in hand-to-hand combat. While a fireball fight might sound pretty unappealing, it's not the same as in other games because there is a full range of motion within the cube (on one plane), and there are many different types of attacks, each one based on a psychic theme. The gravity-based psychiccer can hurl rocks at you, suck you into a black hole, or crush you; the light-based fighter creates beams, lasers, bolts, and prisms.

Once the round starts, the warriors square off, as in any normal fighter - the big difference being that they're suspended in midair. Movement in any direction is possible, and the arena is quite large. There are normal and strong projectiles at your disposal immediately - just tap the button. If you're in close, the energy will be concentrated into fists and feet, as punches and kicks replace psychic energy. When you perform a move, your Psy meter will drain. During a lull, you must charge it back up or you'll be unable to perform any moves besides the basic projectile or punch. Psy and life share one gauge; as life is lost, the space it had occupied can be used for additional Psy storage. The fights can get pretty intense - sometimes it's hard to tell what's going on. The action is quick, and it sometimes feels random, but once you get the hang of it, it begins to make sense.Control is quick and configurable. While the game is peculiar, to say the least, after an hour or so you'll be able to fly around and zap everyone with ease. The ability to place a lot of the more complex functions on their own buttons helps, too. The game is pretty difficult, if not as unrelenting as the Dreamcast version. There are eight difficulty levels, which is sure to please just about anyone.

To differentiate this game from PF2012, the developers had to add something - after all, if it offered an identical set of features but looked and sounded worse, it wouldn't be very tempting. So, the game sports an intensely generic anime opening. It's beginning to seem as though every fighting game has the same opening, actually. There's also a hidden character not found in PF2012, Sonia. Finally, some new modes differentiate it from its Dreamcast cousin.

Most of these modes aren't particularly original, but they are new to PF2 all the same. In addition to arcade, story, and versus, group versus, and survival, the game has Psychiccer's Network and Psy-Expand. Psy-Expand is the only meaningful new mode here. Similar to the world-tour mode of Street Fighter Alpha 3, it lets you modify your character's statistics. You can even gain levels, as each Psy-Expand battle gives you experience points. You can save the character to your memory card and whip him out in any of the other modes on the disc - a pretty interesting addition but not something you'd miss if it suddenly disappeared. Finally, there's an album mode, where you can access the attractive high-resolution artwork shown at the completion of the game. Basically, if you have the DC version it's going to take a hard sell to get you to switch to the PS version, unless you're a true Psychic Force completist. The good news is that even if Acclaim decides it has had enough PF for a lifetime, this is an English-heavy import.

Do you have an open mind when it comes to fighters? If you do, then you might do well to check this game out. If your interest has been piqued, it comes down to one thing: Do you have a Dreamcast? If you do, skip this version. If you don't, then you might be in for an esoteric treat. The gameplay is weird but good, the graphics are reasonably attractive, the music is neat, and the character designs are cool. All in all it's a slick little bit of fun, though not deep enough to hold your attention for long.

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Reviews

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is going mobile. The PlayStation Vita version of this chaotic, 2D fighter features everything you'd expect from the console version, along with some welcome additions. These include replay support for online matches, as well as support for Heroes and Heralds mode right out of the gate. The Vita's direction pad, thumbstick, and face buttons all work well for a fighting game, and there's even touch-screen support. Of course, UMVC3 is just as challenging as before and can break your heart with a single combo. It's mean, it's flashy, but most importantly, it's Marvel, baby!

This version of UMVC3 runs just as smoothly as its console counterpart. The only sluggishness occurs when performing hypercombos, but it is minor enough to be negligible. All of the fighters are rendered in full detail and beautifully shown on the small screen. Of course, some concession had to be made when working on less-powerful hardware. This means all the special effects--fireballs, impact flashes, and the like--have been knocked down to a lower resolution.

The Vita's front touch screen can also be used in single-player or multiplayer. Movement is performed by swiping in a direction, while tapping the screens makes your character attack, usually with a basic combo that ends with an ultra. It's little more than a gimmick and can be filtered out when searching for online opponents.

The 12 new fighters from the console version are all included, and many of them personify the game's shift in focus between MVC3 and Ultimate. Together with the original cast, they raise the total to an impressive 48 fighters. Players who prefer to rush in aggressively will find Wesker's moveset to their liking, while those who relish keeping foes at a distance will appreciate Hawkeye and Ghost Rider. Additional tweaks to the fighting mechanics, such as scaling back X-factor and beefing up team aerial combos, carry over into this version as well.

You're not on your own to discover these changes. Mission mode, which teaches players basic techniques for the cast, has been updated to accommodate all of these tweaks. The 12 new characters have their own mission sets, while the missions for veterans have been updated. Unfortunately, this mode has issues in the way it presents information, so if you don't know your gram from your ragtime shot, then you constantly have to pause the game and dive into the menu to see the move's input. Being able to watch a demonstration of the current mission would also have been appreciated.

The Shadow Mode downloadable content from MVC3 is altogether absent. Its replacement is Heroes and Heralds mode. Heroes and Heralds has you collecting cards and assigning them to your three-person team to unlock new bonuses and abilities. The steady trickle of new cards, as well as the new abilities they confer, make this an addictive addition. But with so many radically different card abilities, it can be confusing to go up against enemy teams if you don't have all of the cards memorized.

One feature that fans were dying for in the original Marvel vs. Capcom 3 that made it into Ultimate is a spectator mode during online play. No longer are you confined to watching two sets of life bars tick down while awaiting your turn; now, you can see all of the action for yourself. Replay support is also included in the Vita version. From a replay-specific leaderboard, you can sort through replays based on region and even save them to your Vita's memory. When viewing replays, you can scroll through the action frame by frame, show input data, and even pull up an overlay that shows character hit boxes.

During our play sessions, online play did have some hiccups. Part of this was the aforementioned slowdown during hypercombos, but at other times, it was simply lag. Few games went by completely free of lag; however, what lag we did encounter was brief and didn't significantly detract from the experience. And just like on consoles, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 for the Vita may feel inviting at first, but when you sink a little deeper, you discover a game in which victory and defeat hinge on a fine line. It's a high-risk, high-reward system that buries you in a brightly colored light show at the slightest misstep. This game makes a graceful transition to the handheld space while retaining everything from the console version.

One Piece: Pirates Carnival Review

The great thing about Japan's entertainment industry is that it quite often seems like the people making it are completely out of their minds. Case in point, Shonen Jump's One Piece, a manga-turned-anime that is all the rage in Japan and has seen a few not-so-great fighting-game translations in North America. This isn't the place to get filled in on the epic 430-plus chapters of the manga series--but to put you in the right frame of thought, a little boy chases his dream of worldwide acceptance and recognition, there's some non-FDA-approved fruit involved, face faulting is played out in barbaric proportions, and the world's most inoffensive pirates go about their business. It's nonsensical by nature, and developer hand uses this backdrop extensively for its party game based on the series, One Piece: Pirates Carnival. Unfortunately, the minigames themselves aren't that great, and more often than not, the overabundance of Monkey D. Luffy and his crew drag on an otherwise interesting design like an anchor in the mud.

You can have it all laid out for you in a tutorial, but Pirates Carnival's primary mode of play is far easier to comprehend on a hands-on basis. On that note, the One Piece-themed minigames are bundled up in an overarching game that somewhat resembles Reversi (or Othello, for you sophisticated types), played with four players instead of two. Pirates Carnival is best served as a party game, and up to four human players can jump in and take control of any one of the current Straw Hat Pirates, sans Franky. However, solo play is also an option, and you can select up to three CPU players on four different difficulty settings. The initial square board comprises 25 panels, with each player calling one corner home. After battling it out in an initial minigame to see who controls the center panel and goes first, each player takes turns flipping panels to reveal variously themed One Piece cards, which have a corresponding monetary value. Panels come in four different varieties: minigame, event, captain, or davy back fight. Minigame is the most prevalent variety, and flipping one of these gives you a choice of three minigames to compete in. The winner of the game takes control of the panel, regardless of who flipped it. Event cards are freebie panels, and they usually come with a beneficial side effect, such as commandeering one of your opponent's panels or giving you an extra turn. Captain panels have the highest value and are actually twofers, with the catch being that they are a three-on-one game. Davy back fights let you contest a panel controlled by an opponent, potentially letting you make off with the sweet booty hiding underneath. The Reversi element factors in when you surround an opponent's panel or panels with your own, effectively letting you plunder an opponent's hard-earned winnings in true piratical fashion.

Even though many of the minigames skew toward the absurd and get massive style points in that respect, their core mechanics lack the depth and variety necessary to give them any substance. One of the more enjoyable minigames involves skydiving 10,000 meters to land on a tiny boat in the middle of the ocean, with an octopus acting as parachute to measure your descent. It isn't overly complex, as you'll only be using the thumbstick to aim your descent and one button to unfurl the octopus, but it creates a highly competitive situation and is utterly ludicrous in its presentation. However, most of the other minigames only share this one's simple control scheme. In fact, a large portion of the minigames can be controlled with just one or two buttons. In one sense, this could be good, because it stays away from overly complicated controls for these short games. But in another sense it is bad, because a lot of the games end up feeling very similar from one to the next, and they have a tendency to devolve into button-mashing affairs, though there are a few decent timing-based games. Plus, even though there are supposedly 30-plus minigames in the package, you'll have access to only about two-thirds without having to undergo some hardcore frustration unlocking other boards, which isn't exactly ideal for a party game. And even then, you tend to see the same minigames appear time and time again, so the variety that theoretically should be here simply isn't. Plus, you'll have easy access to only three boards, all of which are square, which seems to miss the opportunity of adding a unique twist to the Reversi strategy.

Aside from the lackluster minigames, Pirates Carnival has several frustrating elements that further run it aground. Board games can swing in and out of your favor in an instant, and it's possible to lose the game even though you've won the majority of the minigames. Losing on a lucky draw of a no-contest event card when you're squaring off against difficult opponents to unlock a new board can be annoying, to say the least. Luck also plays too large of a factor in many of the minigames, and again, it can be infuriating to lose a crucial panel in such a way. Also, despite being able to select the difficulty level of your opponent, the overall difficulty level seems to be more dynamic than static. For instance, it is entirely possible to get inexplicably trounced by an easy opponent if you're leading the board by a healthy margin, and harder opponents will occasionally lighten up if you're well behind in total panels. However, regardless of whether you're winning or losing big, at least once per game the board will instantly change hands, so the Reversi strategic layer tends to lose a lot of its appeal.

Pirates Carnival delivers big-time on the fan service, but the frequent interruptions kill the pacing of the game. Namely, voice work has been crammed in to the brim. The English-version voice actors deliver their shtick in context with which character revealed which card, and it's actually quite impressive considering all of the various permutations that are available. Most minigames are also prefaced by fully voiced short intro cutscenes or hand-drawn manga-style stills, all featuring the same gratuitous amount of face faulting that One Piece is known for. Graphically, the game features a mix of the aforementioned stills and cel-shaded animation, and the crew appears as caricatured sprites in the minigames, which all look decent enough. Also, Luffy's exuberance apparently extends to each board's backgrounds, as windmills and small islands defy their facticity as inanimate objects and bounce with mindless glee. It's really quite perplexing.

The downside to the extensive use of the license here is that it really drags down the pace of the game. Between Luffy making claims to the pirate throne, a rules-explanation screen, Buggy the Clown brandishing his cutlass before a minigame, and a loading screen, you're in for a lot of sitting and staring, waiting and wishing to just do something. Add in that most minigames are in the neighborhood of 60 to 90 seconds max, and there's proportionally very little gameplay in the board game mode as a result.

In a party atmosphere, Pirates Carnival will occasionally offer the kind of fun that causes people to absolutely freak when they lose in a tight match. A party atmosphere will probably go a long way in making the game's quirky sense of humor a bit easier to swallow, as well as helping you overlook some of the game's ho-hum minigames and agonizing pacing. However, the minigames lack the depth necessary to keep the game entertaining for very long. And though they have a lot of character, none of what's here is particularly compelling or enjoyable. In fact, without the board game premise, you really won't find a strong reason to go back to any of these games just for playing's sake. And that's where Pirates Carnival ultimately fails.

The inherent novelty of Fighter Maker 2 is that it gives budding game designers a little taste of what it's like to build the most basic of fighting games--down to even the smallest of animations. But that novelty will quickly fade once you discover the poorly designed interface, a somewhat limited create-a-fighter feature that's far less robust than similar features found in wrestling games, and a distinct lack of clear information on how to properly use certain modes. Indeed, all of this may even go so far as to completely dash some people's aspirations of becoming a game designer, and those who are willing to tackle the incredibly high learning curve will still find Fighter Maker 2 to be time consuming, if nothing else.

Though the focus of Fighter Maker 2 is creation, there's a prebuilt fighting game already included, but let's get this out of the way: It's pretty poor in comparison to most fighting games, due to its simplistic nature, and you probably won't be able to play it for more than a few minutes before boredom sinks in. Granted, the characters featured in this mode and the gameplay mechanics are included for demonstration purposes only, to give you an idea of what a character should play like and how he or she should animate, but it's definitely not a redeeming feature in Fighter Maker 2.

The editing feature in the game is essentially broken down into three different sections--appearance, animation, and sequences. In the appearance section, you can change the sex, clothing, hair, face, and a few other aspects of your character, but there's a surprising lack of variety in just about every customizable category. The fact that there isn't a weight adjustment feature is also severely limiting, because it doesn't allow you to create some of the most well known video game characters. Instead, you're left with a generic ninja or kung fu master, all of which are the same size.

The animation mode in the create-a-fighter option is easily the most intimidating aspect of the game. Not only do you have to animate your character, but you have to do so using key-frame animation, which essentially means that every frame of animation is edited manually. It's not particularly difficult to learn how to use this mode, but making even the most basic animation look somewhat decent can be very time consuming.

The animations you create can then be used in the sequence mode, which is where you can turn them into actual moves. The sequence mode also lets you determine how and when certain attacks can take place, how much damage they inflict on an opponent, and their range of effect, among other things. Unfortunately, this mode can be a little confusing at first simply because it's not entirely clear what it is you're supposed to be doing, and the manual offers very little help since it doesn't define some of the more mysterious options displayed on the screen. The absence of detailed information on the individual modes and the poorly designed interface, which just clutters up the screen, make the editing options in Fighter Maker 2 a chore as opposed to a meaningful experience into the world of a game developer.

Unfortunately, Fighter Maker 2 won't win any points from a visual standpoint either. The game has poor character models that look as though they were ripped straight from an old PlayStation game, complete with muddy textures. The backgrounds are also pretty mundane and sport the infinite fighting-plane visual technique seen in the earlier Tekken games, where the characters never actually come any closer to the objects in the environment. It's worth noting that the game does maintain a brisk frame rate, but given the bare-bones look of the game, there's no reason it shouldn't.

As for the sound, there really isn't much there. You'll hear all of the generic sound effects used in just about every single fighting game to date as well as an equally uninspired soundtrack that admittedly works well with the environments that the characters are fighting in, but that's about it.

Fighter Maker 2 does give some insight into what it's like to develop a fighting game if you're willing to spend a number of hours to effectively integrate all of the game's features. It just takes far too much time to perform the simplest of functions, and while the key-frame animation feature gives you a lot of freedom, it would have been better if it were a little less time consuming. In the end, Fighter Maker 2 will probably intimidate most of the people who are genuinely interested in the creation aspect of video games.

Soulcalibur first wowed arcade-goers with its impressive 3D visuals and sublime head-to-head combat in 1998. The following year, a Dreamcast version packed with new features was released and quickly became a best-seller on Sega's fledgling console. Soulcalibur has since spawned a couple of sequels (the third is scheduled for release later this month) and an adventure game spin-off, but the Dreamcast game is arguably still the pick of the bunch and should be a no-brainer now that a version of it is available on Xbox Live Arcade for 800 points ($10). It's not quite that simple, though, because while Soulcalibur's gameplay has survived the transition intact, the same unfortunately can't be said for all of its gameplay modes.

Specifically, the XBLA version of Soulcalibur lacks the Dreamcast game's Battle Mission mode, which was easily the most significant and inventive addition made to the arcade game for the console release. There's no point dwelling on features that didn't make the cut in the context of this review, but for those of you unfamiliar with Battle Mission mode, it was composed of challenges that built upon the regular one-on-one formula by adding gusts of wind, quicksand, dangerous rats, and other hazards. Needless to say, its omission is disappointing.

In the Dreamcast game, playing through Battle Mission mode served as a tutorial of sorts and was the only way to unlock over 300 pieces of art in a gallery, some of which would in turn unlock new character profiles and gameplay options. All of the unlockable content is still present in the XBLA game, but it's available from the outset, which makes it much less compelling. Also available from the outset are all 19 of the characters on Soulcalibur's roster, several of whom needed to be unlocked before you could play as them originally.

Soulcalibur's fighters are a varied bunch. The requisite samurai, ninja, and martial artist character archetypes are all accounted for, and do battle with more unusual combatants that include a lizardman, a powerful golem, a European knight, a pirate, and the mysterious warrior Yoshimitsu--perhaps best known as a character from the Tekken series in which he's also a regular. Even characters with seemingly similar fighting styles and controls play differently because, unlike their counterparts in most other fighting games, they're armed with axes, nunchaku, staffs, and a veritable collection of different swords. You don't get to choose weapons with different properties as you could in subsequent games (and in Soul Blade before them), but there's plenty of variety here, and you're sure to find at least a handful of characters that you like to play.

Gameplay modes in Soulcalibur include Arcade, Vs Battle, Team Battle, Time Attack, Survival, and Extra Survival, most of which will be self-explanatory if you're at all familiar with the fighting genre. Extra Survival mode is a little unusual; it challenges you to beat as many opponents consecutively as possible in the same way that the garden-variety Survival mode does, but every battle is won by the first combatant to land a blow. Be quick, be good at blocking, or don't bother. Online leaderboards for the Survival, Extra Survival, and Time Attack modes are a good way to see how your skills stack up against those of other players around the world. They're not nearly as compelling as competitive online play would have been, though, and it's unfortunate that Soulcalibur shows its age in this regard when the rest of the game has stood the test of time so well.

The controls are accessible and responsive. The Japanese voice work for the characters, the English-language announcer, and the tunes specific to each of the different-shaped stages that you fight sound good. And the original 480p visuals have been reworked just enough that they look decent on a modern 1080p setup. There's no option to play in widescreen, though, so if you play on a widescreen display you're stuck with unsightly borders on either side of the playing area.

Since it lacks the Battle Mission mode the Xbox Live Arcade version of Soulcalibur is inferior to the Dreamcast game and, at least where online features are concerned, it's inferior to other XBLA fighters such as Street Fighter II' Hyper Fighting and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. Soulcalibur is still an extremely good fighting game, though, and provided you have a friend to play it with on your couch, it'll certainly keep you entertained until Soulcalibur IV arrives in stores.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Last year's Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai for the PlayStation Portable was a decent fighting game that succeeded on its ability to deliver manic action with a good amount of over-the-top, Dragon Ball Z flair. A year later, Atari returns with Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai - Another Road. It was a wise decision not to call it Shin Budokai 2, as Another Road brazenly recycles nearly everything of consequence from the first Shin Budokai. What's there is still good, but the package feels kind of pointless.

The action is identical, offering straightforward, one-on-one fighting. The cast offers little in the way of surprises, featuring most of the major heroes and villains from the Frieza Saga on through to Dragon Ball GT, many of whom come in multiple forms. There are a good number of fighters to choose from, but there's not much of an attempt to balance them, with some fighters simply being rated as more powerful than others. There are plenty of signature DBZ touches to the gameplay, with a heavy focus on ridiculously potent energy attacks, most of which are unique to each fighter. Aside from their different power levels and special attacks, though, every fighter in Another Road handles identically, so once you've mastered one fighter, there's not a lot left to learn.

The gameplay modes are also stock for the genre, with a local, wireless two-player versus mode, an arcade mode, as well as survival, time trial, and challenge modes. As was the original Shin Budokai, Another Road is a pretty good-looking game. The environments are pretty bland and there are lots of blurry textures, but the characters look sharp and are well animated, and most of the time the game is soaked with crazy, explosive effects. Sometimes all of the glowing characters and massive energy attacks get to be too much, though, and there's occasionally some pronounced slowdown. Most of the voice work and sound effects have been pulled directly from the show, giving it a sense of authenticity, though during battle the fighters have a tendency to repeat the same few exclamations in rapid succession.

So what sets Another Road apart from the original Shin Budokai? Mostly it's the new single-player story mode, aptly named "Another Road." Rather than plodding through the same tired sagas that have been done to death in just about every prior Dragon Ball Z game, Another Road conjures up a sort of "What If?" story about Babidi appearing in the alternate future where Future Trunks the future. It quickly snowballs into a much greater conflict that involves loads of time travel and trips to the afterlife, as well as just about every Dragon Ball Z character you'd care to mention. While storytelling has never been a real strength of Dragon Ball Z, the arc in Another Road is so singularly focused on cramming in as much fan service as possible that the nonsensical story borders on insulting.

To its credit, the story mode does add one somewhat interesting layer to the gameplay. Each chapter consists of several missions, each based on a different continent populated with a handful of villages. Often, you can take on these missions in any order you please, but once you do, you'll find yourself with an overworld view of the continent, able to fly around above it in real time. The villains you have to defeat will also be cruising around this overworld, and more often than not they'll immediately start attacking the villages. You can stop them by rushing up to them and attacking, which will initiate a regular, one-on-one fight. Keeping the villages in good health is key, since your character's health bar carries over from fight to fight, and aside from using the extremely limited Senszu beans to replenish your health after losing a fight, the only way to replenish your health is by hovering over a village.

Most of the time, you'll be accompanied by two other hero characters of your choosing. Though you can't control them directly, which characters you choose will inform their behavior, such as whether they'll prioritize defending you or villages from attacks. Between keeping an eye on your health, your companions, the villages, and your enemies, there's a lot to juggle in the overworld. While it's frustrating when you need to be in two places at once, it's satisfying when you're able to keep yourself, your companions, and the villages all in good health. It's too bad, then, that the mode is undermined by fights that pit you against the same opponents over and over again, and an incessant amount of pace-killing load times.

Which characters you choose to back you up can make a big difference in how a mission plays out, though the new power-up system plays a pretty big role as well. In nearly every other Budokai game, powering up your hero was done through capsules that you'd earn either by winning fights, or by purchasing them from a shop with money earned by winning fights. Here, the capsules have been replaced with cards that can be placed on a three-by-three grid for each character. What makes this system functionally different from the capsules is that in addition to cards that boost specific attributes like health, ki, melee attacks, energy attacks, and so on, there are other cards, which, depending on where they're placed on the card grid, will boost the effectiveness of other, adjacent cards. It's not overly involved, but being thoughtful about fighters' card grids can make an appreciable difference in how they perform in a fight.

If you're a DBZ fan who missed the original Shin Budokai, Another Road is a simple, enjoyable fighting game featuring a number of fan-favorite characters, all wrapped up in a tidy portable package. But if you've already played any amount of the original Shin Budokai, the new story mode and card-based power-up system, though interesting, are just not enough.

Unfortunately, the PC doesn't see many original fighting games. Though it's received a handful of ports over the years, most of the attempts to bring original Street Fighter-style action to the home computer have been total failures. One of the lone standouts is the 1993 release of One Must Fall 2097, a robot fighting game that followed the Street Fighter concept by presenting the action from a side view and giving each robot a handful of special attacks. It moved well, contained a good variety of characters and options, and was generally fun to play. Now, a decade later and after years of prerelease chatter, Diversions Entertainment has finally released a follow-up with One Must Fall: Battlegrounds. This new One Must Fall attempts to stay in the fighting genre while also presenting a free-roaming, fully 3D game for up to 16 players. It's a fun take on the fighting genre--once you manage to familiarize yourself with the controls--but some of its radical ideas work better than others.

Battlegrounds puts you in command of a pilot character that controls a giant fighting robot via a neural link. Apparently, this brand of robot fighting has become a popular sport in the future, so your pilot will have no shortage of opponents to face in a handful of different tournament settings. While the single-player game attempts to convey a bit of story here and there, it's mostly limited to some prematch chatter from the other pilots. Each pilot is rated in four different categories. However, the real difference is in the robots themselves.

One Must Fall gives you eight different robots to choose from. Each has its own set of strikes and special attacks. Additionally, each robot has at least one projectile attack, and, fortunately, the game has a pretty good aiming system to help you fire your blasts accurately. The game also has its fair share of rising and dashing attacks, and each robot features a few different superattacks, for good measure. The use of these superattacks are governed by an energy meter that fills as you play. Most of the superattacks are just pumped-up versions of your robot's special moves, though. Battlegrounds uses six buttons in all, one for each of your robot's limbs, one for jumping, and one for evading. Since the game takes place in a fully 3D arena that lets you roam around at will, the evade button is incredibly handy. The robots don't turn very quickly, and you don't have the ability to execute side or rear attacks, so using the evade button to roll out of the way or to perform backflips is key to dodging attacks and preventing enemies from sneaking up behind you while you're attacking another opponent.

The centerpieces to a fighting game's longevity are its balance and the depth of its combo system. The various robots seem pretty balanced, though some of the robots can get a little more combo-crazy than others, especially in some of the game's walled arenas. The game's combo system is very focused on pop-up attacks and juggles. A handful of the game's regular moves will pop a target up into the air. From that point, you can swipe at them while they're coming down and get in a few extra hits. Some robots, like the Katana, have a rising attack that will launch an opponent into the air. The Katana travels up with the enemy robot, and once you come out of the striking animation, you can land a few extra hits. You can even combo some of these moves into and out of supermoves. All in all, One Must Fall's combo system isn't the deepest in the world, but rather than stick to a somewhat rigid system of canned combos, it goes for a slightly more free-form feel that lets you try out new things.

Though the game has a good deal of single-player tournament options and various difficulty levels to choose from, fighting game AI only goes so far. Competitive multiplayer is where the genre gets most of its replay value. As mentioned, One Must Fall: Battlegrounds contains online multiplayer for up to 16 players. When the players all have good, fast connections to the server, this works fine. However, trying to fight a laggy player isn't any fun at all. Your hits don't land, the other fighter skips around the arena, and so on. The game has two multiplayer modes. Last man standing gives the last remaining player in a round one point, and play continues until a point limit is reached. In demolition, you earn points for causing damage, and the game ends when a point total has been reached. Both games can also be played in team variants.

One Must Fall's robots look pretty nice, though the game doesn't do a very good job of conveying the supposedly gigantic size of the fighters. The arenas come in various shapes and sizes, and some of these look good, as well. However, the animation leaves a bit to be desired. For example, you'll execute the same attacks regardless of your posture. So, if you're running and hit an attack button, you don't get any sort of running attack. Instead, your robot just plants its feet and goes through the same attack animation that it would if you were standing still. A lot of the basic walking and movement animations aren't very good, either.

Basically, the game really lacks polish from start to finish, from the menus to the generic-looking particle effects. The game is also pretty processor-intensive. Though the listed requirements aren't terribly steep, the frame rate is pretty jumpy on systems that are well beyond the 1 GHz recommended processor. When we moved it up to a Radeon 9800 Pro and a 3 GHz processor, the game ran very smoothly at the default 800x600 resolution, but moving the resolution up much higher than that had a noticeable impact on the frame rate. The game actually looks decent at 800x600, though, so this isn't that much of a problem.

Battlegrounds' sound also could have helped convey the size of the robots by using loud, bass-heavy footsteps, but the game unfortunately doesn't have anything like that. Most of the sound effects consist of pretty uneventful metal-on-metal clanks and crashes, as well as your standard laser and projectile effects. The music consists of a bunch of upbeat melodic tracks that sound like they were ripped out of the Amiga demo scene. As a whole, the game's sound gives the game a sort of throwback feel that's indicative of its decade-old roots.

One Must Fall: Battlegrounds is a pretty unique take on the fighting genre. There's definitely something to it, but not all of its concepts hit the mark just right. For instance, the game would have been better if the robots had back attacks or other, better options to prevent enemies from getting behind them. Regardless, there certainly isn't anything else out there that's quite like it, so fans of other fighting games should give it a look.

Wouldn't it be cool if your fully posable martial arts action figures could come to life and clobber each other? This is the core concept of Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic, which demonstrates that the answer to that question is an emphatic maybe. The game is an aesthetic delight that vividly creates the illusion of possessed plastic figurines with elastic strings in their limbs leaping through the air, punching, kicking, and tossing each other around with gusto. Unfortunately, while the visuals help make the game an entertaining diversion for a short while, the gameplay doesn't have the chops to measure up to the presentation.

There's little connection between Fists of Plastic and the original Rag Doll Kung Fu, a 2005 PC game with an unusual mouse-only control scheme. Fists of Plastic is easy to pick up and play, with simple controls that will have you grabbing nunchakus and tossing shurikens in no time. Face buttons are used to punch, kick, jump, and block, and basic combos can be performed by stringing these together. The analog sticks are used not only for movement, but also to rotate your fighter's arms when you need to grab items or swing weapons around. Furthermore, motion controls are smartly incorporated and feel intuitive, requiring you to give the controller a quick jolt to slam the ground or to convert your chi power into a lightning ball you can hurl at your opponents. And a series of single-player challenges give you plenty of ways to develop and test your skills.

Challenges include a straightforward survival mode and a challenge that has you using the propulsive firefly attack to tear through targets like a guided missile. However, in the most enjoyable scenario, you dispose of hapless goons attacking you by grabbing them and tossing them from the cliffs of a moonlit ninja fortress. Initially these challenges seem geared to familiarize you with the mechanics of the game so that you can get the most out of the multiplayer action, but instead they wind up being the most compelling aspect of Fists of Plastic. This is in part because they have a reward system that grants you new heads, torsos, legs, and other items when you achieve certain performance goals, which you can then mix and match to make your own character, providing incentive to come back and improve your high scores. It's also, unfortunately, because the multiplayer element winds up feeling shallow and unfocused in comparison.

Multiplayer modes allow up to four players to compete in four different game modes locally. There's a straightforward Deathmatch mode in which your only goal is to defeat the other players as many times as possible. Wildly thrashing each other has a party-game, button-mashing quality that can be fun for a bit, but the combat isn't deep enough to stay compelling for very long. There's also a King of the Hill mode, which only exacerbates the chaos of Deathmatch, requiring you to fight to control a very small portion of the already small environments. The last two modes, Capture the Fish and Dodgeball, are a bit more interesting and fun. Capture the Fish has you earn points by grabbing a plastic fish and successfully tossing it into a basket, and Dodgeball drops a powerful ball into the level that you can hurl at each other for instant kills. Even these aren't involved enough to keep you coming back for long, though, and while they tend to feel a bit empty with two players, with four they often feel too crowded and messy. Though the loose rag-doll physics look great, they become a hindrance in action, as characters can get caught too easily on aspects of the environment, or each other.

Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic must be downloaded from the PlayStation Network, which makes it all the more baffling that there is no online multiplayer component. Without any online competition, the local multiplayer modes quickly run flat. You can fill up the games with AI opponents if you'd like (with the exception of Capture the Fish--apparently trying to grab a fish and toss it into a basket is too much for the AI to handle), but whatever enjoyment these modes offer comes from their loose party-game feel, and that just isn't as much fun when shared with dummy opponents.

If Fists of Plastic does one thing right, it's the flashy presentation. It's not the most technically demanding game in the world, but it's impressive to see just how well the appearance and movement of the characters realize the concept of combat between action figures. Equally terrific are the environments, which look like lovingly crafted miniature play sets. The sound is good as well, with some catchy tunes that are reminiscent of stereotypical martial arts movie music, along with some vocal samples that would be right at home in a badly dubbed kung-fu flick.

Fists of Plastic is a joy to behold, but the gameplay doesn't deliver on the concept's promise nearly so successfully. At 10 bucks, the shallow combat, dearth of multiplayer modes, and complete lack of online options make this an experience that even most chopsocky fans will find quickly loses its charm.

Incomprehensible plot setups and outrageous situations are nothing new in the vast and peculiar world of Japanese gaming culture. So a game starring a gaggle of pint-sized android schoolgirls that duke it out in a vitriolic war over who gets to eat the last pudding on earth seems pretty tame on the weirdness scale when compared to some of Japan's edgier offerings. A quirky gem hailing from Japan's thriving indie-game development scene, Acceleration of Suguri X Edition packs an oddball mix of bullet-hell blasting and competitive arena fighting that doesn't take itself seriously at all. That's mostly a good thing because the frenetic brawling action found in this small package is well paired with the game's outlandish vibe.

One-on-one arena battles filled with sprays of explosive bullet fire, insane special attacks, and volleys of giant missiles are the pulsing heart of Acceleration of Suguri X Edition. These enticing matches deliver quick and frantic blasts of rollicking good excitement in a handful of solo and multiplayer modes. Combat takes place within a vast circular arena set against a meager medley of unobtrusive backdrops. As the clock ticks down, you and your opponent zip around the screen, unleashing a flurry of rapid attacks until only one character is left standing. Most projectile attacks automatically rocket toward your foe, and melee swings generally push you in her direction too, but that doesn't guarantee a direct hit. A quick dodge maneuver lets you and your opponent move around the battlefield speedily to evade incoming fire, yet dodging too frequently overheats your character and leaves her prone.

Though it's essentially a competitive 2D fighting game, Acceleration of Suguri X Edition plays like a shoot-'em-up, and the addictive qualities of this refreshing combination quickly set in once you get a feel for the controls. It's a shame this requires a bit of frustrating trial and error due to the total lack of any help menu or explanation of how to play. The game just throws you into the fray and expects you to figure out everything on the fly. Button mashing only gets you so far, and it can take some time to get the feel for the types of attacks that different button combinations unleash. The vast majority of moves are pulled off by either a prolonged hold or quick tap of the square, triangle, or circle buttons. What's irritating is that it's not readily apparent that holding L1 while hitting these other buttons lets you fire off a modified version of each attack. Once you overcome that obstacle, battles become a lot more strategic and enjoyable.

Within the confines of each stage's circular boundaries, the twitchy gameplay yields some truly chaotic and dazzling fights to the death. The camera automatically zooms in and out of the action based on how close the combatants get to each other. With both characters spewing laser blasts, orbs of glowing death, explosive projectiles, and other hypnotic volleys back and forth across the screen, it makes for some dizzying rounds of airborne combat. In addition to a few cool-looking variations on several core long-range and melee attack moves, each character has her own set of hyperattacks. These range from giant focused laser beams and satellite orbs that hone in on their targets to chain whips and blocks of bullet-reflecting ice. Every successful blow landed on foes has the dual purpose of whittling down their health bar and charging your special meter, which lets you dish out a crippling barrage each time it's filled.

Diving into straightforward local multiplayer matches in Versus mode against another human opponent is where you'll squeeze the most fun out of Acceleration of Suguri X Edition, but there are a few options for loners. The standard Arcade mode lets you initially pick from one of seven battle-hardened young female combatants and plow through a string of a half-dozen matches per character. Completing these bouts with different characters unlocks new stages, additional fighters to play as, and snippets of background story to read through if you feel so inclined. Then, there's a practice arena for experimenting with moves against the computer and a sparse Story mode with two short campaigns that are heavy on wacky text and bombastic character dialogue. The text-heavy character interactions during story portions are packed with nonsense dialogue that shifts between humorous and annoying. The crisp character graphics from the Arcade mode are dropped for the story sections in favor of slapdash hand-drawn artwork, featuring color-pencil shading that looks more amateurish than charming.

Even with limited content and a few presentation issues, the intense battles and tight gameplay in Acceleration of Suguri X Edition offer a high replay value. If you spend a little time getting to know this shooter-brawler hybrid, you'll want to dig deeper to check out each character's moves, test her unique combat abilities against other adversaries, and grab a pal to pummel over and over again. When you factor in the budget price of this addictive download, a dusting of sugar sweetens most of the sour notes.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-Up Review

In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-Up, you and some friends pick from a roster of beloved characters and proceed to beat the heck out of each other in a diverse array of arenas. Sound familiar? The similarities between this game and the Super Smash Bros. series are clear, from the fast-paced action to the presentation to the announcer's voice. Yet there are a number of notable differences that set Smash-Up apart. Some are positive, like the more-straightforward combat that make it easier to succeed with a variety of characters. Some, like the not-so-sharp visuals and inconsistent victory conditions, are negative. These rough edges keep Smash-Up from making a legitimate bid for the Smash Bros. crown, but it's still an entertaining brawler in its own right.

Most of the fighters are longtime TMNT standbys, though a few of the unlockable characters will be unfamiliar to lapsed fans. While each character does play differently, their core movesets are fairly similar. You have a basic attack and a strong attack, the latter of which is slower, but has a bigger range and is more powerful. Using either of these attacks while pushing the analog stick in a given direction will activate a different move, so like in Smash Bros., you have a solid array of moves that are very easy to perform. Unlike in Smash Bros., none of the characters have flashy special moves. Though one character's strong attack may involve a katana while another character's involves a gun, the range and power of these attacks aren't drastically different. There are no lightning bolts, and nobody is swallowing anybody else. The moves are similar enough that you can choose any character and still have a reasonable degree of success, but they are also different enough to make each character unique. Combat isn't flashy or diverse, but this makes Smash-Up accessible to Smash Bros. veterans and new brawlers alike.

But just because there aren't crazy special moves doesn't mean the combat isn't engaging. Because the differences between characters aren't as drastic, successful players have to get the most out of their repertoire. Positioning and blocking are as important as striking. You can launch quick attacks from the walls and dodge strikes while jumping, making the air as much a part of the battlefield as the ground. There are also ninja power-ups that you can grab and use, including fire breath, throwing knives, bombs, giant magical claw marks, and your own personal tornado shield. If you don't like the power-up that has appeared, you can hold a button to call up a pointer, which you can then use to change the power-up. In theory this adds an interesting strategic wrinkle to the game, but in practice, it's tough to find a spare moment to point and shoot.

The action is fast-paced and frantic, though you will encounter some rough patches, especially if you're accustomed to playing Smash Bros. Most notably, when you are knocked down, you often stay on the ground unable to move just a bit longer than you'd like. It's not a huge difference, but over the course of the match, you'll undoubtedly be knocked down enough to notice the delay. This can be frustrating at first, and though this frustration wanes as you play more, you'll still have aggravating moments of prone impotence. Smash-Up also gives you a split-second chance to break your opponent's grab, but the analog stick wiggling and Wii Remote waggling required to do so don't seem to register consistently (Wii Remote and Nunchuk, GameCube controller, and Classic controller are supported). On the whole the combat is fun and engaging, but there's nothing particularly exciting or unique about it.

The arenas that you fight in do their part to help spice up the action. Only two are static, enclosed areas. The rest feature hazards like bottomless pits, collapsing structures, or vicious monster crocodiles that can devour you in an instant. One level forces you to traverse a moving train as your opponents uncouple the cars in front of you, though you can easily get caught in a frustrating damage loop if you are left behind in a tunnel. For the most part, these arenas are varied and interesting, though they aren't exactly pretty. When the camera pulls out, it can be tough to judge distances, and the visuals aren't as clean and sharp as they should be. It can be hard to differentiate between characters, especially when there are similarly clad fighters in a match (four green bipedal turtles, for example). To help you spot your character, Smash-Up puts a glowing aura around each fighter. These colored outlines are certainly distinct, but they can also be fairly distracting. Fortunately, you can turn them off and use the initials that appear below each character to guide you, but it's a shame Smash-Up's visuals aren't quite up to speed with the gameplay.

In addition to four-player battles, you can take on a series of solo fights in Arcade mode. This short story arc features some lame cutscenes, but victory allows you to unlock the playable characters you'll encounter there. (Other, stranger characters are unlockable by completing a large number of matches in other modes or by using a cheat code.) You'll play a few minigames throughout your journey, and these are reasonable diversions that allow you to earn shells, which you can then use to unlock bonus items. An amusing shooting gallery lets you shoot shells at targets to unlock figurine parts, and you can also spend your shells to build a trophy that you can wager in online matches. Smash-Up features smooth online play that lets you fight with friends or jump into a random match. There are also various ways to set up local tournaments for up to eight players, and there's a mission mode that presents a long list of different battle scenarios for you to complete. This all adds up to a lot of extra stuff to do and goes a long way toward giving you more bang for your buck.

Smash-Up is best when played against some friends on your couch, but there are some issues in the Battle Royal mode that can mess with your matches. In a number of different match types, the victory conditions are not always consistent. At the end of each match, your match statistics are displayed in four categories: lives left, knockouts, times knocked out, and remaining health. In some Knockout matches, the player who reached the requisite number of KOs (five) lost to a player with only two KOs. In similar matches, the first player to five KOs won. It's unclear whether this is a bug or whether the game is using some undisplayed stats to calculate the winner. And in some Last Man Standing matches, the last man standing came in second. Whatever the reason for these irregularities, you'll find the inconsistent scoring to be baffling at best and aggravating at worst.

Despite these scoring issues and the not-so-great visuals, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-Up is a fun, engaging brawler. The combat is solid and fast-paced, and though it's not exactly innovative, it's good enough to support some entertaining fights. If you're looking for a new source of Wii-powered beatdowns, Smash-Up fits the bill.

Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus is the first game from Studio Gigante, a development house started by Mortal Kombat co-creator John Tobias and a handful of former MK team members. Tobias was widely recognized as the more story-minded side of the Boon-Tobias duo, and you can see some of his penchant for fleshing out a fighting game with some back story here. Unfortunately, the game's sharp graphics and elaborate universe--well, elaborate for a fighting game, anyway--are nullified by its subpar gameplay.

Tao Feng takes place in futuristic Metro-China, which is actually the real estate formerly known as California. Here, two ancient Chinese sects known as the Pale Lotus and the Black Mantis are engaged in a never-ending struggle to eradicate one another. At the moment, the two sides are attempting to recover ancient artifacts that are said to grant immortality. This all ties into the quest mode, in which each sect has one artifact and is attempting to recover the other. Each artifact is broken up into six pieces, and each piece is placed in the care of a particular fighter, so each character's stint in the quest mode will put him or her up against the six rival fighters of the opposing sect. Each fight is introduced by a little background information that describes how the opposing fighter fits into all this. Once all the artifacts have been recovered, you are sent into a six-on-one team battle against the game's boss character, who, in classic Mortal Kombat fashion, is best beaten by simply jumping and punching until he's defeated.

The 12 fighters themselves are a fairly diverse bunch, though each in turn is fairly typical of the sort of characters found in other fighting games. You'll run into characters like Exile, the large, lumbering fighter who appears on the cover of the game, and Divinity, the female traitor who wears an open-fronted outfit that's surprisingly similar to the one worn by Kylie Minogue in her video for "Can't Get You Out of My Head."

Rather than adhere to the standard fighting game system of best-of-three-round matches, the game instead takes a Killer Instinct-like approach, giving each player three meters full of health. When one player's meter empties out, the fight stops for a brief time as the character recovers, and play continues until one player has lost all three life bars. The gameplay in Tao Feng is focused more on strikes and combos than on projectile attacks or any sort of supernatural behavior, though each player does have a supermove or two--usually an unblockable projectile of some kind--that can be used when his or her chi meter is filled. The chi meter can also be used to heal limb injuries, which occur if you block too many attacks and cut those limbs' effectiveness in half. In addition to standard strings of attacks, you can make use of parts of the environment. You can kick off nearby walls for airborne attacks or grab and swing around poles and trees to gain momentum for kicks and so on. The game uses four buttons for strikes--two punches and two kicks. The combos are somewhat Tekken-like in their execution, though they require a bit more precision.

Unfortunately, the game doesn't establish a firm set of rock-paper-scissors-like systems, and the gameplay quickly boils down to the tedious tactic of waiting for an opponent to whiff on a move, executing your most powerful combo attack, and then retreating to wait for another mistake. Many combos don't have a lot of startup or recovery time, making it easier than it probably should be to get another combo attempt started before the blocking player can punish you for failing to land your strikes. All this combines to make the gameplay feel incredibly shallow and very boring, because once you've learned a few basic combos, there's little reason to mess with any of the other moves in your character's repertoire.

Beyond the quest mode, the game also contains the standard set of fighting game modes, including versus, team battle, and training. They all function about how you'd expect, though there's a curious problem in the game's training mode. The game asks you to perform a specific move, but it won't actually tell you how to execute the move unless you bring it up in the pause menu. Considering that most of the players who will go through the training mode probably won't have any idea what something like "trailing punch long form combo" even refers to, let alone which string of button presses is required to execute that combo, this seems like a real oversight on the developer's part. Showing the button presses underneath the name of the move, rather than making you ask the computer to demo the move so you can see what the commands are, would have been very welcome.

Tao Feng's strongest aspect is its appearance, by a long shot. The game has a sharp, crisp look in both its characters and its environments. The animation is passable, and the texture work--which takes a cue from the SNK fighting game Art of Fighting by depicting cuts, scrapes, and bruises on the characters as they sustain damage--is nicely done. The game's environments are pretty cool as well, taking you from a seaside pier, to an arcade filled with humorously titled arcade machines, to an ice-filled cave. The game also makes nice use of some colored lighting and other effects in a few spots, most notably in the rooftop level. The game's camera manages to get in the way of the gameplay at times by shifting perspectives quickly and without warning. This perspective change can move your player from the left side of the fight to the right side and vice versa, which can mean serious trouble if you're in the middle of trying to block an incoming attack, since this turns your block stance into defenseless forward movement. The sounds of the fighting in Tao Feng are good, and the characters' voices, though used sparingly, are also good. The game's music stays in the background and does the job.

Tao Feng looks and sounds just fine, but it doesn't have a strong enough fighting system to make it a viable option for fans of the genre. Players looking for a solid fighting game on the Xbox would be better off sticking with the reigning champions, Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance and Capcom vs. SNK 2 EO.

Mortal Kombat 4 Review

The Mortal Kombat series is one of the premier arcade series around today. The series, which until now utilized digitized actors to give the game an extra layer of realism, has been the topic of comic books, movies, action figures, and even Senate hearings. The fourth time around the game has gone polygonal, giving the developers much more leeway when it comes to adding new moves, holds, and characters. Also, weapons have been added into the mix, with each character possessing a different sword, club, or staff to beat his enemies with.

The storyline of MK4 picks up the loose ends left behind by both MK3 and the console-exclusive MK Mythologies: Sub-Zero. With Shao Kahn defeated, Shinnok picks up the slack as the main bad guy. However, he is also a selectable character, which left arcade players with no big boss to look forward to. To remedy that, the home version contains MK1's four-armed bad boy, Goro. Goro looks terrific in 3D, moves very fluidly, and has all the great moves he had in MK1, as well as a few additional ones. He isn't selectable from the start, but a code makes him (as well as Noob Saibot, another hidden character) playable. Returning characters include Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Liu Kang, Johnny Cage, Sonya, and Raiden. Most of the old characters retain their old moves and add a new one here and there. The new characters fit very well into the MK universe, a welcome change from most fighting game sequels.

While the graphics may not be quite as detailed as the arcade version, they are very close, and the game runs very fast with hardware acceleration. The software-rendered graphics look pretty blocky, although a patch has been released that allows a higher resolution in software mode. The music comes off the CD, resulting in an arcade-perfect soundtrack. The character voices, while occasionally goofy sounding, are all present. The arcade version's endings used the game engine, but they have been redone for the PC version, and the results look fantastic. The game now plays the high-quality rendered FMV endings instead.

Whether or not the game plays like the arcade version all depends on which controller you use. You're going to need at least a six-button gamepad to properly play the game. The Sidewinder pad works perfectly, although some of the game's fatalities are hard to do on any controller other than the arcade's. MK4's combo system has been greatly simplified when compared with previous MKs. Each character can start a combo the same way, and some of the more damaging moves in the previous games (the uppercut, for instance) have been weakened. The introduction of weapons seems silly at first, but once you've played for a while and gotten used to using them, they really do add a new dimension to the game. Each character has two fatalities, and there are two stage fatalities. The fatalities look nice, but too many of them are merely 3D updates to old fatalities, and the new fatalities in MK4 simply aren't that great. It would have been nice to see some more innovation here. A few modes have been added to the game, including a practice mode, which shows all the characters' moves and fatalities. There are also three types of endurance fights, a team battle mode, and a tournament mode.

If you aren't a fan of the previous Mortal Kombat games, this one won't make you a fan. It's pretty much the same game but with a few 3D elements tossed in. But fans of the other versions of MK4 won't be disappointed with this excellent translation.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Fighting on the Nintendo DS goes online courtesy of Ultimate Mortal Kombat, a two-game compilation that contains a quality port of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and a version of Puzzle Kombat, the MK-themed puzzle game that Midway inserted as an extra in Mortal Kombat: Deception. By itself, as a single-player game, it's a bit of a dud. But if you're a fighting aficionado with a DS and wireless access to the Internet, this is a pretty cool package.

Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 was the last 2D game in the MK series and, by far, the fastest of the bunch. It added a run button that the previous games didn't have, amped up the combo system, and added a lot of interesting new characters, all while maintaining the game's digital, photographic look. The finishing moves got more ridiculous, too, with animalities--where your fighter turns into some kind of animal and does something to your opponent--joining the regular fatalities, babalities, and friendships. But even the regular fatalities became crazier. For example, Liu Kang can make an MK2 arcade machine drop out of the sky to crush his victim. It wasn't as serious as the Mortal Kombat games that came before it, and it's certainly not as serious as the darker set of MK games that appeared on the previous generation of consoles. It's goofy, but it's also one of the better 2D fighters from its era. It controls just fine on the DS, and it's still a lot of fun.

There's a catch, though. The Mortal Kombat series has been saddled with some of the worst computer-controlled fighters in the history of the genre. Although the first three fights are easy, afterward the artificial intelligence shifts into "win" gear, where it just reacts to every single little thing you do. It's not a fair fight, and it's not a fun fight. The only realistic way to win is to exploit its reactive nature and trick it, which isn't too hard. On the other hand, it also isn't any fun. If you want to enjoy Ultimate Mortal Kombat, be prepared to play it against someone else.

You can play multiplayer against another person using only one copy of the game, but you'll be limited to a couple of characters, so this isn't really viable for long-term excitement. Locally, you'll need two copies of the game to play it right, or you can connect to the Internet and seek out competition online. The online mode works surprisingly well, and in most cases, our matches against other humans were free from noticeable latency. However, the occasional match was sluggish and choppy, so as with most things involving an Internet connection, your mileage may vary. The game keeps track of your rating, which is a score based on your wins and losses. You can match up against friends using the standard friend-code system, or jump in against random players. All of this stuff also applies to Puzzle Kombat.

Puzzle Kombat is a blocks-and-crash-gems style of puzzle game. It's effectively a rip-off of Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, but with Mortal Kombat combatants instead of Street Fighter characters. Each character can pull out a different special move by filling up a meter. These moves include the ability to jumble up your opponent's pit, to remove blocks from your own, and so on. It's a functional but unexciting puzzle game that made for a cute bonus back in Mortal Kombat: Deception, where it was one part of a game with many modes. Here, where it gets equal billing with UMK3, it comes across as a little stale.

Graphically, the games look just fine. UMK3 looks like the arcade version but smaller. As a result, the characters are somewhat less detailed than they were in the arcades. For example, you won't really be able to see the look on Stryker's face as he straps dynamite to his foe and then plugs his ears for the blast. Also, there are a handful of pauses and black frames that pop up when you perform fatalities, change background stages by uppercutting your enemy through the ceiling, or do anything else that forces the game to quickly load some new graphics from the cart. The game uses the inactive screen to show you your fighter's special moves, which is useful if you don't already have them memorized. The music is sharp, and the sound effects are good as well.

If you're a DS-owning Mortal Kombat fan, this is a great offering that's certainly worth owning, but only if you're properly equipped to take your DS online. You probably won't want to play alone for more than 15 minutes, so be sure to take that into account before you buy.

Fighter Destiny 2 is a sequel that rests solely on its predecessor's innovative gameplay mechanics and doesn't really offer anything new. For N64 fighting-game fans who may have missed the first game, the second one definitely deserves a look. However, the game's lack of new graphical gameplay and features make it hard even for fans of the first game to see the difference between the two.

The one thing that really sets Fighter Destiny 2 apart from the other N64 fighters is the game's point-scoring system. Instead of simply pummeling opponents with various moves until their life bars have been depleted, the game uses a point-scoring system to determine the winner. Strategies vary in point value; for example, knockdowns are worth more points than ringouts. The scoring system makes playing the game a bit more interesting than most fighting games, since it allows players to employ different strategies for earning points, which varies the gameplay. For instance, some players may try to accumulate points by going for easy one-point ringouts, while others may go for more points all at once by taking their opponents down with a riskier throw.

The game features a standard fighting-game mode that allows you to go through the game, beating opponent after opponent. There is also a Tekken-styled training mode that lets you see and attempt to master each character's moves. The game even has an odd but entertaining board-game mode in which you compete with others. The objective here is to complete the challenges you land on to advance.

Graphically, Fighter Destiny 2 is a decent-looking fighting game. The fighter models seem somewhat detailed and vaguely realistic. The nondescript arenas and fighting platforms are adequate. Fans of the first Fighters Destiny will undoubtedly notice that the graphics haven't changed a bit. In fact, aside from the game's interface and a few of the special effects when fighters are struck, the games look very similar. The sequel's sound hasn't changed much either. The game still has the same various grunts and thuds from the first game that don't sound very real but seem to fit the game rather well.

In the end, Fighter Destiny 2 is incredibly similar to the original - so much so that even fans of the first game will be let down by the sequel's identical graphics, gameplay, and overall lack of innovation. For those of you who are interested in Fighter Destiny 2 and haven't played the original, pick up a used copy of Fighters Destiny first.