Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Two New Fighters - Well, not really new.

I started playing two new fighting games, except they're only new to me. One of them has the number 4 in the title and a Greatest Hits label on it - Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution. The other one is a release from last summer, Tournament of Legends. Both of the games have a SEGA logo on them, but I would argue that it's of no importance in at least one case.

I had played the regular PS2 version of Virtua Fighter 4 many years ago and couldn't get into it at the time because I was playing a lot of Tekken and I seemed to have bad habits from Tekken that prevented me from really digging into VF4. It also didn't help that VF4Evo came out for PS2 just weeks after I finally bought a cheap copy of VF4. In disgust, I traded in my copy of VF4 the next time I unloaded some games. I had only traded in games a couple of times, mostly to thin out my collection to stuff that I'm still willing to play , and I was clearly not playing VF4. I have tried this series several times, and it doesn't seem to click in like Tekken or Soul Calibur or the Street Fighter games do. I suppose that it could be argued that since I haven't been playing Virtua Fighter since the first one, some of the standard conventions of the game are foreign to me and it would take me a while to get into them. This makes sense, I seem to have a similar problem with the King of Fighters games.

So, I suck at it. I can't do the moves where you have to press two buttons and let go of one of the two buttons after a single frame. I haven't found a character that makes sense yet enough that I can move past the button presses and just play the game. But, I can see that this is a great game with lots of depth and strategy because I am familiar enough with Tekken and Soul Calibur and Dead or Alive to see that Virtua Fighter does a lot of the things that those other games do. In several cases, they are more simply and cleanly done in VF, largely because of the 3-button interface. I have a harder time with the combos in VF because they don't match into the muscle memory of the other fighters I have played. I decided to start with Goh, since he is a new character in this version of the game. I have even fewer expectations about him than I might about the other characters, and a strange fondness for him because he reminds me (appearance-wise) of Brian Fury from Tekken a little bit. They have the same manic intensity in their eyes.

As a side note, during the time that I was writing this, I got to play a little Tekken 6. Bryan Fury plays mostly the same, but for some reason he doesn't look as good. Something is wrong, perhaps he fell down in the 'uncanny valley' a little. My favorite new character is the quick and versatile Alisa Bosconovitch. The yodeling music on the sheep board is a laugh riot.

The other game, Tournament of Legends, was originally just supposed to be a gladiator game, made especially for Wii in an attempt to get the Wiimote and Nunchuck controls acting like your sword and shield. The preview of the graphics were somewhat impressive for a Wii game, but as I recall all of the characters were human. Before they had a distributor, the game was just called 'Gladiator A.D. '. In finding a distributor, developer High Voltage went with Sega again, having distributed some of their other more recent games. Around the time of making that decision they ended up changing the game to have more mythological characters in it. I can only presume that Sega wanted them to broaden their audience and go for a 'T' rating. The weapons and the attacks that were shown in the original version of the game were not changed much, only the characters themselves seem to have changed. It probably made the story of each character a little more interesting than if they had just been random gladiators or barbarians. My older son likes the idea of the game, especially being able to switch the weapons and attributes among the characters. While he is perfectly happy using the Wiimote and Nunchuck to control Tatsunoko vs Capcom, he switched to using the Classic Controller for Tournament of Legends after just a few playthroughs. I warned him that we might have to switch, especially if he felt like the motion controls weren't doing what he wanted. My biggest problem with the game is that the camera is placed oddly for a fighting game. The original 'Gladiator A.D.' version of the game put the camera mostly behind your character for single player mode, making your character slightly transparent so that you can see the stance and the movement of your opponent easily. Its revision moves the camera off-axis a little more than that, but it's more like 35-40 degrees now instead of 15 or 20, and the foreground character isn't transparent. Also, you are not always the foreground character, so depending on who is ahead in a round, sometimes the viewing angle switches. If there is a massive swing in the direction of a match, there is a massive swing in the direction of the camera. It's odd enough to play a fighting game from a wacky diagonal perspective, it's even odder to have to play it with your character sort of facing you and not being able to see what move the computer controlled character is about to do because one of its hands are being shielded by their body.

Between the attempted implementation of motion controls and the odd visibility issues, the game is not as engaging to play as most fighting games. The background elements are interesting, as each one has its own quick-time event required to dodge away from various environmental hazards, but after a while you start rooting for the Kraken or the Giant Crab to just take out the two fighters and end the match. The armor system for the characters is also innovative and interesting, but it's hard to direct an attack to a specific area of your opponent when the controls are hard to deal with in the first place. It would have been nice if they had taken advantage of the Wii Motion Plus technology, or at least offered it as an option, but there is the concern that it would 'break' the game and confer too much of an advantage to a Wii Motion Plus player against an opponent with the standard controls. Ultimately, my problem with the game is that it's a step backwards in many respects and High Voltage could theoretically gotten some help in that regard. There's no particular reason that a fighting game for Wii has to look worse than the GameCube version of Soul Calibur. Granted, High Voltage is not NAMCO, but there's no reason they couldn't have gotten some help from Sega. The controls feel sluggish – again, Sega could certainly helped them out with this as well. How a fighting game plays has so much to do with the feel of the controls and the pacing of the action. I'm sure that Sega's AM2 team was busy with Virtua Something-or-another, and I'm sure that even if AM2 had given High Voltage some pointers, they wouldn't have seemed as important as ideas that came from within the team. I really wanted to like this game, and I will still hold out hope for new companies to make a good fighting game every once in a while. Maybe High Voltage Software can take what they learned in making Tournament of Legends and refine it into something that will get their partners at Sega to take notice.

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