Players: 1 to 2 Player Game | Release Date: 03/17/02 | Genre: Fighting
A few years ago Soul Caliber hit the shelves, and set a new standard for fighting games. There were many hopes that this would usher in a new age of fighting games, but nothing appeared that could compare. Finally a new game has hit the market that may just be able to compete, and it's coming from an unlikely source, the historically mediocre Virtua Fighter series.
If you've played the series before, one of the first changes you'll notice is the transition to the ARM (All Range Movement) system. What this means is that you can walk in any direction, up on the controller makes you step to the side, not jump. The system takes a little while to get used to, and at first you'll spend a lot of time crouching instead of side-stepping, but once you get used to it you'll never look at 2-D fighting games again.
Virtua Fighter 4 incorporates a wide variety of martial arts styles, and it does so in a way that allows them to maintain their individual flavor. Each character has a distinctive fighting style, and the button combos and rhythm used to control them vary greatly. This gives the game a lot of depth, but it also means that you will probably spend all your time mastering one or two characters. To keep you interested as you work on learning all your chosen character's tricks; Virtua Fighter incorporates the kumite mode. In the kumite mode you choose a basic character, give them a ring name, and then use them to fight in endless battles. As you win, your rank will increase, and you will unlock more costume pieces. Every action you take will be recorded, and eventually you can get some advice, or be graded by the computer. If you want to raise the stakes of your verses matches you can transport in your characters from kumite mode.
New players will be happy to find that the characters have been ranked by their difficulty to play. The characters designed for beginners don't take much finesse, they are usually really offensive with easy to perform combos. The expert characters on the other hand tend to have really specialized, complicated combos that take careful spacing and timing to perform correctly.
To make hard-core fighting gamers happy, there is a really complex, but also really well made, move counter system. If you can predict what your opponent is going to do next, you have any number of ways to deal with them. As in all fighting games you can block or duck attacks, but Virtua fighter also allows you to deflect, and reverse attacks. Each character has three different reversal moves, one for high attacks, one for mid attacks, and one for low attacks. Some characters can catch and hold attacks they counter, and you'll find this is an amazing way to aggravate your opponents, if you can master it. The counter moves aren't hard to do, but determining which one to use, and getting the timing right, takes a lot of practice.
The moves aren't big and flashy, there are no glowing attacks, or streaking projectiles, Virtua Fighter just offers extremely smooth gameplay. As strange as it sounds, the coolest effect in the game is the character interaction with arena floors. Floors can have a variety of coverings, and they all react to movement differently, snow and sand are brushed aside, water ripples, and tiles break. Another well-made effect is the ability to personalize your character by giving them different costumes. Each characters has a few color scheme choices, and can be outfitted with lots of different costume pieces, giving you countless options to personalize your fighter.
Virtua Fighter has been designed to be accessible for all players, but only hard-core fighting game fans are likely to put in the time necessary to uncover the intricacies of the system. If Virtua Fighter sucks you in, it is a game you find yourself going back to for years, and each time you play you will likely learn something new. In the end Virtua Fighter 4 will ask a lot out of you, but if you are willing to devote the time you will find an extremely gratifying fighting game experience.