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published Friday, Apr 27th

PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale Revealed

If last weeks reveal of a new God of War game wasn’t enough for you then Sony have offered up another exclusive in the form of long-rumored PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. While the title may be somewhat of a mouthful, the premise of the game seems relatively straightforward with PlayStation figurehead characters battling it out on a single plain environment in a combat style highly reminiscent of Nintendo’s Smash Bros. titles.


by
published Sunday, Feb 07th

Tatsunoko Vs Capcom Review

When Capcom announced they were working on a new instalment of their ‘vs’ crossover fighting series, the chances of a western release were somewhere between slim and none. Firstly, the game would be matching Capcom’s popular fighting roster with those of manga powerhouse, Tatsunoko – a company with very little exposure outside Japan. Secondly, the Wii, a format not known or built for traditional beat-em-ups, was chosen as the sole home platform. To cap it off, the amount of effort involved in localising the title, including sorting out the tricky issue of licences, appeared too great for Capcom to bother with.

But Capcom have realised (more than any gaming company this gen) that listening to the whims of your fan base can reap big rewards, and Tatsunoko vs Capcom generated a lot of interest from western gamers when it was first announced. To cut a long story short, Capcom have gone through all the necessary hoops and here we are, with the PAL version sitting in our excited laps.

T vs C uses the same gameplay elements as previous versus titles like Marvel vs Capcom; it’s a 2-D fighter with 2 v 2 tag-team bouts. Characters can be switched on the fly or brought into the battle for a single ‘assist’ attack or a larger combo attack. Attacks are performed using three buttons (high-medium-low) instead of the six used for Street Fighter and similar titles. Despite appearing simplified on the surface, there are still the usual combos, specials, hyper specials and counter moves you’d expect from a fighting game. Capcom have succeeded in creating a control system that is both accessible to newcomers and yet deep enough to satisfy hardcore fighting fans. Button bashers may get a few cheap wins against lower level foes but to really excel against good players it takes quite a bit of time and effort to master the move sets and apply them in the heat of battle.

The list of combatants available is very impressive, despite the unknown roster on the Tatsunoko side, with 26 in all. Capcom themselves have got some iconic characters from franchises like Street Fighter and Mega Man, plus a few unexpected appearances, like Viewtiful Joe, Frank West (Dead Rising) and Soki from Onimusha. The Tatsunoko characters may not be well-known over here, but that doesn’t mean they are weaker fighters. Far from it actually – give them a few minutes and you’ll find them to be just as accessible and fun to play with as any of Capcom’s famous faces. Ryu and Ken the Eagle will soon feel as natural a pairing as peanut butter and jam. Overpowered characters were one of the concerns in the Japanese release but this has been tidied up considerably in the western version – the result is almost on a par with Street Fighter 4 in terms of variety and balance.

The same can be said about the game’s presentation, which replaces the 2D sprite art of previous versus titles with something a little closer to Street Fighter 4’s stylised 3D look. Character models have a soft cel-shaded, almost comic book, look to them which happily accommodates both the realistic characters and Tatsunoko’s manga style. The arenas are also very detailed, impressively capturing the look of the various games they have been plucked from.

We couldn’t end a review without mentioning the online modes. In a nut-shell, the online experience is far and away the most pleasing of any Wii game we’ve tried so far. Battles have been completely lag-free and setting up matches against friends or random challengers are mostly pain-free. Capcom have shown Nintendo how to handle online fights, putting Smash Bros Brawl to shame, and the only let down is the inclusion of friend codes, but then that is more an issue from Nintendo’s side. Capcom have also come up with a novel idea to stop people quitting before ranked matches have ended, a problem rife in SF IV. Persistant quitters will find themselves pitted against other quitters when they try and start another ranked match. This makes us smile inside.

Capcom really can do no wrong at the moment and this is yet another high moment. The game is a series of triumphs; the excellent control system, the near-perfect character balance, the wealth of extras and the solid online modes all make this a true success story. Wii owners who are itching for a decent fighter should look no further, and fans of SF IV or the previous versus games really ought to pick this up as it is hands-down one of the best fighters of this or any generation.

The story of this game’s journey to a western release has been a long and intriguing one. Hopefully Capcom will get the happy ending they deserve and we’ll get the chance to get our hands on a sequel.


by
published Monday, Nov 16th

Tekken 6 Review

For many gamers out there, the Tekken series is probably one of the best-known and well-loved 3D fighting franchises out there. It made its debut back in 1994 in arcades before moving to the first PlayStation console just under a year later. The outstanding characters and addictive combat brought the series success through multiple PlayStation platforms, all the way up to the PSP.


by
published Tuesday, Feb 24th

Street Fighter IV Review

There are few games in history that can claim to be as iconic and important to gaming as Street Fighter 2. Alongside Super Mario Bros, Doom and R-Type, SF 2 served as a flag-bearer for an entire genre and a major influence on just about every title that followed it. Not only did it standardise things like energy bars and character types but it turned beat-em-ups into one of the most popular genres in the world. Arcades, which had slowly been getting less and less popular thanks to a resurgent home console market, were given a massive shot in the arm as school kids around the globe skipped classes to spend their hard earned quarters in SF 2’s sleek arcade cabinets. The early popularity of the SNES can be attributed to the near arcade-perfect (or so Capcom declared at the time) version on Nintendo’s home console, with gamers desperate for the chance to play the title at home.

But like so many other icons, SF 2’s brilliance has left many of its successors in the shade, and even Capcom themselves have struggled to match the refinement and balance of one of their biggest titles. Over the years the beat-em-up has become stagnant next to other genres despite some refinement in things like combos, parries and counters. After squeezing every ounce out of the SF 2 label with super, turbo, championship and HD editions, and the visually arresting Alpha/Zero series Capcom have almost gone back to basics with the latest, Street Fighter 4.

The first thing that hits you is the visual style. Capcom may have already dabbled with 3D graphics in the EX off-shoots, and games like Tekken and Virtua Fighter pulled off convincing 3D fighting systems long ago but SF 4 has an incredibly vivid and unique look to it. In a very obvious nod to its Magnus opus, Capcom have attempted to perfectly replicate the 2D sprites of the old era in glorious 3D. Each fighter has a slightly cell-shaded look to them and appear almost hand-painted when viewed close up. All the animation and moves look and feel like they did 17 years ago, and there are so many little touches in the animations that fans will notice that its just as entertaining watching the game being played as it is taking part yourself. The stages also look the part, with iconic backgrounds such as Chun-Li’s Chinese market and Guile’s US air base looking great in 3D.

So visually Street Fighter 4 very much harkens to days of old but how does it play? Well, unsurprisingly, this remains very faithful to the standard formula but Capcom have done a great job balancing the characters and move sets to make SF 4 feel as close to SF 2 as they could. Old players who haven’t played a beat-em-up since the original will feel right at home here, given a lot of the moves have stayed the same. And the combos, counters and ultra moves plucked from Alpha and given a bit a polish give an added layer of depth that the hardcore will relish practising. One of the joys of SF2 was that any two players could pick up the controller and have a decent stab at a fight – the old adage ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’ was never more appropriate, and its very pleasing to see Capcom adhering to that for this latest title. Button-bashing may get you a few cheap victories against low-level computer players but if you really want to get the best out of the game you’ll need to spend a lot of time perfecting moves and learning how and when to use them in battle, especially if you hope to compete in the online arena.

In a first for the series you can now test your skills against players around the world so you had better get some practise in. While doling out bountiful cans of ‘whupp-ass’ to the chum sitting next to you is still immensely satisfying, getting one over on a cocky Johnny foreigner is just that little bit more special. Online matches are a great addition to the series and will keep SF 4 locked firmly in your disc tray for many months to come. It’s not without problems though, as there are occasional lag issues which given the fast nature of the game can be frustrating. So too are the lobby searching options, which only seem to give you a choice of a couple of opponents at one time, by the time you’ve chosen one to fight the space is already filled up. The only way to get straight into a fight seems to be to set up one of your own, or use the rather excellent fight request feature, which can send a request to a friend if their playing through the arcade mode. Overall, online is still handled well and these few problems could be easily patched if Capcom are feeling charitable.

The only problems stopping this from being given full marks are the above mentioned online issues, the fact that console controllers can’t handle the genre (you really need to invest in an arcade controller) and two major issues of balance. Firstly, the last boss Seth is an extremely frustrating opponent because of his tendency to resort to a constant stream of cheap moves that make any fights above normal difficulty unfairly challenging. Secondly, the inclusion of Akuma’s one-hit KO may please those fans that can pull it off but for everyone else it just makes online fights against such players completely pointless. It’s also a real shame the proposed bonus games from SF 2 (the barrel, brick wall and car smashing ones) didn’t make an appearance, as they would have been the icing on a very tasty cake.

All in all it’s a fantastic conversion of the arcade game and the extra characters and modes make this the definitive version. Street Fighter 4 is not just a glowing tribute to a true classic but a fantastic game in its own right and no fan should be without it.


by
published Friday, Dec 12th

Facebreaker K.O. Party Review

Fans of Punch Out!! and Ready 2 Rumble Boxing have been squirming with fist-happy glee sinceFacebreaker was announced in January. Distinctive characters, cartoon violence, and a worthy challenger to the Punch Out!! throne were all promised. Two of these things have been achieved. Guess which one wasn’t.

Simply put, the controls are a tragedy. If you want to see two people in snazzy clothes slap wildly at each other, you could walk to your local bar at closing time. Facebreaker K.O. Party charges £20 for it. Jab as fast as you can, a’ la Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots, to interrupt your opponent’s blows. You can dodge the hundred-hand-slap, but it requires you to yank the Wiimote towards you, and it’s so finicky and unresponsive that you end up flailing about like an idiot. It’s almost as if they ported the game right across from the Xbox and PS3 versions, where you actually have buttons to bash.

To that you might say, ‘Big deal. So there are no tactics. Plenty of games have simple controls, to attract casual gamers.’ Wrong. The computer AI is so difficult, even at the easiest setting, that playing the single player mode is akin to fighting off a wolf with a feather duster. They may as well rename the game “AAGH! LET ME DODGE!” and be done with it. And to that you might say, ‘It’s called K.O Party. It’s multiplayer. So what if the solo mode is a pain?’ Well you’d be wrong; half of the characters and most of the stages need to be unlocked, and guess how you do it? Six championship belts, each more difficult than the last, totaling 18 matches, and if you decide to switch characters mid-way you have to start all over again.

So now let’s focus on the good. There are a few attractive aspects to this game. To start, we have the stylised and original characters. Each has a personality, a distinctive look and manner, and unique stats that alter the gameplay (though this comes down to either ‘punch slow’ or ‘punch fast’). Then we have the between-round break, where the characters show off their warped, bruised faces. Finding their jaw where their ear should be is, admittedly, entertaining – if only for the satisfaction of knowing your character has suffered like you have.

The game’s main attribute is the soundtrack. 24 tracks of licensed music, including material from the likes of The Hives, Gogol Bordello, the Dropkick Murphys and The Go! Team, as well as many electro and hip-hop songs, play as menu music and character theme songs. The inclusion of such high-calibre music really makes you want to like Facebreaker K.O. Party. But if anything, it causes this awful depthless game to stand juxtaposed against the soundtrack, like an old man doing the Charleston at a rave.

So, we’re back to the criticism.

Here are some features of boxing: wearing down your opponent, provocation, stances and footwork. And here are some features of not-boxing: kicks to the balls, glowing fists and charging up your Facebreaker-bar to instantly win the match with a special move.

So, as opposed to being a boxing game, it seems Facebreaker is an impaired beat-’em-up, with two kinds of block (one of which being too finicky to be valid), punching, and damageless throws. Each character has a different move-set, plus one special move. That’s five moves. Pitiful though it may be, this is some incentive to unlock more players. The game isn’t entirely unplayable, just entirely frustrating. Occasionally you’ll win a match, but then you’ll return to the character-select screen to find some nasal American singing emo-pop and tainting the only good aspect to the game.

In conclusion, Facebreaker is superficial, weak, and an apology of a game. If EA Freestyle put half the time and money into the gameplay as they did the soundtrack, it might have worked. But yet again, the studio formerly known as EA Sports Big – the once-great brand that gave us SSX Tricky – has shamed itself with another game of the lowest calibre.


by
published Monday, Sep 29th

Facebreaker Review (PS3)

Facebreaker is not the usual game you’d expect EA to release. Their back catalogue is lined with great sport simulators encompassing the sporting worlds of golf, ice hockey, American football and boxing as well as many others. Serious and realistic games designed to satisfy fans of the sports. So what does Facebreaker have to offer? Is it a step in a new direction for EA or simply filling a gap until their next proper boxing sim?


by
published Monday, Sep 22nd

Facebreaker Review (Xbox 360)

EA have taken quite a bit of stick over the years for churning out endless updates of their sports titles, but despite most feeling like carbon copies there have been some series that have really shaken up the rest of the competition and introduced some neat control ideas. Tiger Woods was one of those; the analogue control gave golf games a big kick in the clubs and was a major departure from the traditional 3-click control system. Another series was Fight Night. Again EA took full advantage of analogue control, this time making each analogue stick directly control the boxer’s gloves and giving an unprecedented level of control over each punch and jab. This alongside the impressive graphics made it one of the better boxing games available.

With the series seemingly given an indefinite break, EA have brought out something a little different to fill the boxing glove shaped gap in their release schedule. And despite coming from the same team, Facebreaker couldn’t be more different.

The analogue control has been thrown out of the window in favour of a return to buttons only, meaning fights are less about finesse and more about who can hit the buttons quicker. The parry/dodge moves lend a bit of credibility to what is a weak control system but it’s just not solid enough to make enough of a difference. It’s a far-cry from the epic, crunching bouts of Fight Night. Facebreaker feels too shallow; it’s all glorified razzmatazz without the substance to back it up. Think less Nigel Benn and more Frank Bruno.

Graphically, EA Canada have gone for a style about as far removed from the realism present in Fight Night as you can get without using wizards and scaly creatures of unimaginable horror. Gone are the real life boxers, instead they are replaced by a bunch of cartoony brawlers that look like the forgotten rejects of Punch-Out or Ready 2 Rumble. Unfortunately none of Facebreaker’s cast are as memorable as King Hippo or Afto Thunder were; instead you get to choose from 12 pretty stereotypical fighters to hit the ring with. To be fair they do play quite differently, aside form the usual balancing act of strengths and weaknesses each fighter has a distinct weak spot you’ll need to exploit in order to win. Finding the Achilles heel for each opponent can be quite gratifying if you spend enough time with the game.

Unfortunately EA haven’t managed to balance this very well. Fights against AI opposition quickly become repetitive as each fighter sticks rigidly to his or her AI routine. Until you work out your opponents weakness fights can be pretty frustrating affairs; once you find it you can guarantee a win every time. It isn’t helped by the eponymous facebreaker punch – land enough combos and you can eventually unleash a devastating punch that leaves your opponent ‘s face looking a bit like Sly Stallone’s mum. The result is impressive enough (using an exaggerated version of Fight Night’s realistic damage feature) but it means fight’s can be decided more by luck rather than pure skill.

Facebreaker’s longevity is seriously hampered by a lack of options in single player; you can fight, or you can fight to win characters and arenas. But the AI battles can quickly become tiresome and the unlockables don’t feel worth unlocking. There aren’t any variations on the one-on-one fights, so no career modes or arcade-style tournament progression here. Only the create-a-boxer options give you a reason to come back after you’ve unlocked everything and these don’t feel as fleshed out as some of EA’s other titles.

In multiplayer, however, Facebreaker can actually be pretty good fun. The flipside of simplified controls and cartoony graphics means that you can have an evenly matched brawl with any of your friends and the cutscenes showing off each fighter’s mangled features are funnier (and slightly less annoying) when there’s a crowd. And fighting with your own tailor-made characters (or ‘guest star’ Peter Moore) can make these fights more interesting.

Facebreaker showed some early promise but it fails to deliver anything more than an average brawler. It might appeal to the casual crowd but there’s precious little here that will keep the hardcore interested. If Michael Bay ever decided to make a boxing game, he’d probably come up with something similar to this. But with more explosions. And Bruce Willis.