Games on the AVE: Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown Review
|Also available on PS3|
The modern renaissance of fighting games that began with the release of Street Fighter IV has had many positive effects on the genre. It has brought new players into the fighting game fold, and the increased audience allows for classic series that may have fallen by the wayside to be revived and put in the hands of new players eager to see the diverse breadth of experiences the genre has to offer. The original iterations of Virtua Fighter 5 released in 2007 struggled to make an impact: the original PlayStation 3 release lacked any sort of online play, while the Xbox 360 version debuted amid numerous other high-profile releases. Despite positive reviews, the original VF5 didn't make many waves.
Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown takes a different approach. Rather than being a full-priced disc release, it's a $15 downloadable title available through the PlayStation Network. Instead of emphasizing the single-player quest modes of the original release, the game is geared toward competitive play, with a robust online matchmaking engine and in-depth training and tutorial modes. You don't earn items to customize your characters in-game; you buy downloadable customization packs that contain hundreds upon hundreds of items, costumes, and colors for each fighter. To top it all off, the game engine has received a significant overhaul, making the game more accessible to new players while adding depth and gameplay tweaks that longtime VF fans will find refreshing. The result is a package that, while somewhat lacking in certain respects, represents a tremendous value.
At first glance, Virtua Fighter is deceptively simple: there are only three buttons (guard, punch, and kick), no super meters or other gauges, and rings of varied size and shape to fight on. Once you begin playing, however, the game's depth gradually opens up. The three buttons, used in tandem with certain joystick movements, open up hundreds of different commands for each character, with each individual skill having numerous unique properties and potential uses. Every character has a wealth of different strikes, holds, throws, and counters of varying heights, speeds, and damage properties. The skills are based (sometimes rather loosely) on true-to-life martial arts, so don't expect the flashiness of massive fireballs, energy swords, or divekicks from across the length of the screen.
The more-grounded basis of Virtua Fighter doesn't make the game any less exciting, however: matches are fast-paced, tense, and involve more up-close-and-personal beatdowns. The smoothness and detail of the individual character animations accentuate the thrill of combat; the sheer satisfaction of landing a particularly complex and damaging combo or a rarely seen, off-the-wall throw is immense. Characters also come with unique properties that affect the way they play: tiny luchador El Blaze can dash speedily around the ring, drunken master Shun Di gains improved moves when he's plastered (yes, really), and gargantuan sumo Taka-Arashi's massive size renders him harder to knock down and hit with combo strings, to give a few examples.