The Guilty Gear series is easily the most underrated 2d fighter out there; strange considering it has high resolution graphics, complex gameplay, and interesting characters with large move lists. Guilty Gear Isuka (Isuka means that the Guilty Gear series is flying to new heights) is the most recent release of the Guilty Gear series, and is arguably less serious than the previous entries and has little to do with the existing Guilty Gear storyline. However, saying that is slightly misleading. There is certainly tons of extra content in Isuka, and the gameplay has changed a bit – most notably the addition of having up to four fighters on the screen at the same time.

The first thing you will notice is the wild characters. The characters are designed by Daisuke, a Japanese guy with a creative, if somewhat erratic, imagination. You might wonder where exactly does he get the ideas. Well, some come from obvious sources if you lived in Japan), such as Baiken (Kenshin anime series), and Zappa (The Ring), but a abominable snowman piloted by a giant dog and an alien?that is anyone’s guess.

The gameplay mechanics are as deep as ever: dust moves, roman cancels, perfect guards and such, with the newest edition of an illusion of depth with two different lanes of attack, and a turn button.

The turns initially resulted in a lot of swearing and anger because of their unique and confusing nature. It’s second nature now, but when I went over to a friend’s house to bust another 2d fighting game, he laid me out because of my erratic crossovers and continual use of a punch button while trying to “turn”. Clearly adapting to this change in game play has longer lasting ramifications than I first surmised. At least Isuka isn’t guilty of copying every other fighter’s formula.

The lane changes use the same button as the turn button; only it’s a two button deal, like R1+circle to change. This is necessary in a game where you want to have a 2 on 2 playing environment. It also helps avoid tension attacks, among others. Because it utilizes the turn button, sometimes I’d turn around instead of making lane changes, but the buttons can be mapped differently, if needed.

There are enough new movies and concepts in Isuka to fill an entire article in and of themselves. However I should note here that there aren’t Destroy moves anymore –
a bit of a relief, and a bit of a shame. It’s a relief because Destroys were a bit on the cheap side – because of their match ending potential. True, it’s considered an integral part of the game that players must both work with and around, but that never meant it wasn’t a cheesy way to defeat a superior foe. The shame is that the animations on many of the Destroy moves were stellar, but fortunately their loss has been compensated for by other graphical improvements all around.

The backgrounds are so sharp they are cluttered with eye cocaine, not candy. The detail is simply that addictive on the eyes. You can’t stop to look, though, because the on screen action is intense. Luckily, the characters are also well designed and in high resolution. Simply put, Guilty Gear has the best Sprite graphics in the business. The movements are fluid and the attacks look clean. The blatant truth is Guilty Gear Isuka has the best graphics of any 2d fighter out there.

The music, however, is really a hit or miss type of deal. Either you like 80’s style of guitar rock music, or you don’t. It fits the mood of the game with its over the top action and Miami Vice colors wore than standard modern techno would. The music selection has also gotten larger since the last Guilty Gear, and that’s always a definite plus.

The arcade mode has your character building levels until you reach a rank high enough to challenge the boss. You really don’t have to win any matches; all you have to do is keep playing. Every once in a while, a daredevil match occurs, where it’s two against one. The computer comes down like a sledgehammer. On these matches, so be warned. It takes quite a while to get used to the insanity of a daredevil match, but after a while you can master them. They add just enough challenge to keep you on your toes and ready for more.

There are lots of goodies in Isuka also – like a mode called GG Boost, which is a side scrolling action game, much like the Final Fight series. Oh yes, if you liked Tekken Force, be prepared to fall in love with Boost mode. And it’s two players? Get outta here. You mean to say it’s the best side scroller in the last three years? Wow. It does get repetitive, but hey, it is a side scroller. This environment is where the turn button felt the most natural. The two player option makes this mode not only addictive to play with friends but blows away the archaic Tekken Force.

Other options include a color edit mode. It’s nice to have, but negligible. There is also a factory mode where you build a Robo Ky Mark II. You buy moves taken from all the other characters in the game and give them to the Robo Ky. To gain these points, you have to go to scramble, where you play the boost mode with Robo Ky. It’s also a bit of a throwaway considering Robo Ky is only available for Factory mode. The best thing about this mode is his sometimes hilarious animations for other character’s moves.

Guilty Gear Isuka will be the game Super Smash Brothers players play when they turn sixteen. The four player mode is a blast to play, and once again, the turn button shines like a dream on this mode. The tight screen demands the lane changes, and some nasty beat-downs can occur with some quick lane and turn changes. The turn button is something that will keep you facing your desired enemy at all times, no matter the proximity of another character. For this reason alone, I am have made my peace with the turn button.

Depth is as important as replay for adding value to a title, especially for fighting games. Depth is also measured largely by how well a button masher can do against someone who’s trained at the game. This game oozes depth, with all the control mechanics involved in the game. There is little chance someone who’s skilled will lose to anyone who decides that jamming all buttons will win games. Play it for two weeks, invite your friends over, and wash over them like a tsunami in 3 on 1 matches and understand why depth is so important to fighting games, and realize how much depth Guilty Gear Isuka has.

Character balance is something that also attributes to depth, and Guilty Gear Isuka has done well to try and balance out overwhelming characters with characters that need a bit more work. The characters are not all totally balanced–it would be almost impossible to do so–but they are balanced well enough for most characters to be considered for tournament play. Tournament play tends to weed out characters with less potential than others, but with practice, almost every character is worthy.

Is Isuka perfect? Well, no. The turn button requires a lot of patience, and a tutorial to help with the more intricate portions of the game, such as false roman cancels would have been a god send. Also, could it have killed Sammy to let you finish a current daredevil before interrupting with another one? GG Boost may get boring after a while, but it’s necessary for you to build up points for Robo Ky Mark II. This is probably my biggest gripe about Guilty Gear Isuka. I couldn’t accumulate points any other way, and that was irritating.

Is Guilty Gear Isuka truly an evolution in fighters? Perhaps it’s rather that Guilty Gear Isuka is like a road less taken. What it has evolved is the 4 player fighter games. Guilty Gear Isuka is to 4 player fighters as Half-Life is to first person shooters-a benchmark that every game in the genre should follow. If you haven’t ever delved into this amazing series, this is a great starting point. The more time you put into this game, the more the game gives you. If you have to buy one good fighting game this year, your wait is over. If you are tired of Capcom and SNK games, then Guilty Gear Isuka is where you move on to.

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