Game: Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown
Available on: Xbox LIVE Arcade, PlayStation Network (Reviewed on Xbox LIVE Arcade)
People forget that Virtua Fighter, the polygonal brainchild of SEGA legend Yu Suzuki, has been around a lot longer than the other 3D fighting games, some of which have eclipsed it in the popularity stakes here in the Western videogame market. However, the landmark series, which has stayed true to its simplistic button layout and emphasis on counter-attacks and intelligent gameplay, is still hugely popular in Japan; particularly in arcades, where the SEGA arcade hardware is treated with far more reverence and respect that on these shores.
Virtua Fighter 5 is unquestionably a brilliant fighting game, which deserves the same attention as anything Capcom or Namco have released recently. It is a title that has rich rewards for those prepared to master its deceptively complex mechanics. Despite having a simple three-button control scheme, Virtua Fighter succeeds in the variety of its characters and the way they react to each other and the differently sized and shaped environments around them. Every single combatant on the roster behaves completely differently and has a completely unique set of moves. Some of the moves are incredibly difficult to pull off, but when you do master one of the bone-crushing martial arts combos it feels like much more of an achievement when compared to unleashing a Street Fighter Ultra, for example.
In its original Lindbergh arcade form, Virtua Fighter 5 first landed in Japanese arcades way back in 2006. There have been home ports in the meantime, but they have had their issues, particularly the PlayStation 3 version which committed the cardinal sin of lacking online play; unacceptable for a fighting game this side of 2005. So while it may seem like SEGA are taking the piss in releasing a revision of a six year old game, unless you live near to a purveyor of first class arcade hardware, or live in Japan, it is unlikely you would have had the opportunity to sample the many updates that Virtua Fighter 5 has received in recent years.
Final Showdown, as its name suggests, is supposed to be the last of these revisions, the ultimate refinement of the game, featuring two new characters to play with and the most balanced gameplay SEGA could muster. It was released not on Lindbergh hardware but on their even more powerful RingEdge system, a Pentium Dual-Core fuelled behemoth that represents a ludicrous jump in power and technology when you take a look back at Suzuki’s 1993 original.
So what can fight fans expect for their 1200 MS points? In a nutshell, you get a super Virtua Fighter experience, but only if your tastes are geared towards competitive play. The game itself is excellent as I have outlined, and the two new characters are decent additions, even if one of them is not strictly a newb. Taka-Arashi is a gargantuan sumo wrestler, who initially debuted back in Virtua Fighter 3, but was abandoned by the series creators as his larger size didn’t fit in with the style of the game. He returns here, with a completely tweaked range of moves and style, his massive size and power being extremely fun to play with when compared to some of the somewhat interchangeable martial arts dudes. The second new face is Jean Kujo, a mysterious French karateka assassin.
The single player experience is pretty barren. There is an arcade mode which features a run through against a series of opponents before a boss, however there is no story and there are zero cut-scenes. There is a score attack mode, which rewards you for pulverising the gauntlet of enemies in not only the quickest time, but also the most technically adept and flashy fashion. Then there’s the License Challenge, something that has been pinched from the excellent home version of Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution, which basically features fights where you need to not only kick your opponents ass, but do so whilst meeting some set conditions.
There is a great tutorial mode and a very comprehensive training mode, which will go some way towards teaching you the game inside out. Like with similar modes on other fighters, the tutorial begins by showing you the very basics – punches, kicks, standard blocking – but continues all the way up to the mental multi-hit combos, throw escapes and advanced techniques that you will need in order to venture online. The training mode has a fully adjustable training dummy that can be programmed to react in different ways, and very helpful data supplied on screen showing you inputs or even the area your strikes have landed on your opponent.
Online play is excellent, and flawlessly implemented. If you are a veteran to the series, the online battles will be a boon, but whilst matchmaking does help, new fighters may find that they get their backsides handed to them with alarming regularity, which is why it certainly pays newcomers to take full advantage of the excellent training facilities. The servers do appear to be packed with some darned good Virtua Fighter veterans, so be prepared to eat several beatdowns before you taste success. There are casual lobbies, winner stays on scenarios, and the opportunity to watch other people duking it out; so there is plenty to do.
Extra fun can be had, but you will have to pay for it. There are a plethora of downloadable costumes and novelty items to customise your fighters, and a downloadable “Special Sparring” mode, which kind of compensates for the lack of Kumite or Quest mode (series mainstays which would have been most welcome), and features fights against computer opponents, dolled up in fruity gear, and with A.I. that tries to mimic human players. It most resembles a similar offering included in Soul Calibur V, however you didn’t have to shell out any extra money for that. It is a damn shame that the costumes and items could not have just been included as unlockable stuff in-game, as save for some quite easy to obtain Achievements, there isn’t really an awful lot to do; which is a terrible shame.
VERDICT: From a gameplay standpoint, this is undoubtedly the king of Virtua Fighter games, and is an absolute winner either against friends or when you reach the point at which you are able to compete to a reasonable level online. The purity and balance of Yu Suzuki’s seminal work is retained all these years on – there is no need for fireballs and bombast – the nearest things get to that are the inclusion of a Rey Mysterio-esque luchador. It is all about using the myriad of combinations of stick movements and button presses to outmanoeuvre your opponent, like a more violent form of chess. If it is a lengthy single player campaign you want, then you would best opt for the standard port of Virtua Fighter 5, which you can probably obtain for under a fiver now if you shop around, but to test yourself against others with a strong online mode, and enjoy the new characters (the sumo lad in particular is as fun a fighting game character as I have played around with in ages), Final Showdown is well worth the cost of admission. I cannot see that many hardcore fight fans will be too bothered about all of the silly DLC costume nonsense.