Tis the season for 2D fighting game fans! With Christmas coming early for sprite-based brawler buffs- Capcom Fighting Jam , SVC Chaos , Samurai Shodown V , two Guilty Gear games, and Street Fighter Anniversary Collection are slated for this year- it is a great time to be an old-school fighter enthusiast (and may be one of the last times, so drink up!). Perennial favorite Capcom is also making a long-overdue appearance. With the explosion of fighting games on the horizon, it’s hard to believe that it has been three years since Capcom released a proper 2D fighter.
Capcom and SNK- now Playmore- long stood toe-to-toe in the fighting circle, so it was surprising in 2000 when the two rivals combined forces. The resulting Capcom VS. SNK , while finally granting the wishes of hardcore pugilists, felt like a half-baked concept. In typical Capcom fashion, an upgrade came the next year in the form of Capcom VS. SNK 2 . CVS2 possesses the qualities of a fighting-game sequel: an expanded roster of fighters, fleshed-out game play options, depth up the yin-yang, and tweaked characters and moves. But some of the complaints were not addressed. However, aging visuals and creaky aspects of game play carry over from the first game- despite the attention to detail in other areas. Still, the Street Fighter pedigree makes it a worthwhile fighter.
The storyline for CVS2 ? hmmm, storyline? After Dan won the first tournament (wha?!), millionaires Robert Garcia and Ken Masters decide to throw another tourney to determine the biggest and baddest on the planet. Meanwhile, Akuma and Rugal are out to destroy the Earth through the use of their fists. All right, so there’s not much storyline to this- or almost every Street Fighter – game on the surface, but they sure know how to have fun battling it out. It’s easy to overlook the lack of incentive to fight, as there is so much to keep you playing.
The graphics of CVS2 are an odd mix. While the first CVS was strictly 2D (with high-resolution 2D backgrounds), CVS2 shakes things up a bit. New to the follow-up are MVC2 -style three-dimensional backgrounds with sprites thrown in for good measure. These polygon playing fields are gorgeous, with a newfound lifelike detail that pops out of the screen. Windmills circling in Kinderdijk, thundering rally trucks crashing over sand dunes in Nairobi , and paper Sumo wrestlers are a few highlights. It’s too bad that the selection of stages is small, as is the amount of activity in each.
It’s such a shame that the actual character design failed to follow suit. All of the characters are stretched and pixilated- be it compression or resizing. I believe that the mixture of aging sprites and increased resolution (larger than the arcade-perfect Dreamcast port) resulted in this case of the jaggies. But there are other faults. The SNK characters- most returning from CVS – benefit from Capcom’s graphical TLC. Meanwhile, many of the Capcom fighters sport sprites dustier than parachute pants at a garage sale. Some were drawn for the CVS games, which look good. Others were ripped from their prospective games? from years and years ago. It’s shocking to think that the Morrigan sprite- the very same one from the first Darkstalkers – is as old as my 10-year old cousin. Appalling may be a better word.
As crude as they may be, each character does have a decent amount of animation frames. Some- like Yun- are noticeably downgraded from their past games, but they flow as good- if not better- than flashier games like Guilty Gear X2 . The in-game menus and art is bright and bold, which contrasts with many of Capcom’s recent games. And character portraits- done by both Capcom’s and SNK’s artists- are nice touches of personality.
The sound in CVS2 is another jumbled confusion. The driving techno of CVS is expanded upon in the sequel with dance and light-R&B tracks. Ranging from sublime (Kinderdijk) to hip-shaking grooves ( London ), the infusion of the newer styles adds character to a game bursting at the seams with personality. Some may knock the soundtrack for being too varied, but there’s nothing wrong with a little funk in the trunk.
The voices do not fare as well. Many of the Capcom and SNK characters are unrecognizable to fans of past games. Some, like Cammy, seem to change from game to game. Guile sounds like a Russian hitman, and fan-favorites like Ken are distinctly out of character. The SNK characters fare best here, with squeals and yelps that match their personalities. The in-game announcer is corny and entertaining. Capcom’s recent affection for cheesy play-by-play (starting in Street Fighter Alpha 3 ) brings quirkiness to the standard commentary. Bringing the sound down a notch are dull sound effects that lack the impact and pop of intense action.
Control is yet another assortment of problems. The standard Dual Shock controller is simply not up to task for 2D fighters. With four face buttons for weak and strong attacks, he lack of two additional face buttons creates discomfort for those wanting to use fierce attacks. The digital pad is too stiff to pull off many half-circles and diagonal motions. If you even attempt to play this game, invest in a joystick or an ASCII six-button pad. If you can hook up a Saturn controller, mad props are yours.
As in its predecessor, the game play of CVS2 draws the most attention and criticism. While Capcom attempted to cater to fans of various skills, the neon bandages still mask game play dating back to the SF2 days. For those holding tight to tradition, the familiarity is a warm blankie to clutch onto. For those weaned on the spastic fighters of new, the leisurely action may cause a few scoffs. There is no denying that there is a lot to experiment with here, with depth that will keep you playing until you master your fighter(s).
Listening to the fans, Capcom expanded the roster of combatants in CVS2 to a whopping 44 fighters. Regulars like Ryu, Chun-Li, Terry Bogard and Mai make their standard appearances. New to this versus game are: recent creations Yun ( SFIII ), Rock Howard ( Mark of the Wolves ), and Hibiki ( Last Blade series); long-lost fighters Eagle ( SF1 ) and Maki ( Final Fight 3 ), and oddities Chang/Choi. Most are fun to play, but a few (Maki, Sakura, Chang) are either neutered or mere clones of other characters/past incarnations. Thankfully they all have some use, unlike the abundant throwaway joke characters in MVC2 .
New to the series is a Groove system that gathers the play mechanics of the best Capcom and SNK fighters. The six grooves ? spelling out CAP and SNK (coincidence, I think not!) range from beginner-friendly ( Street Fighter Alpha -influenced C-Groove, King of Fighters’s N-Groove) to hardcore ( SFIII’s P-Groove, KOF’s S-Groove). This alone will allow for endless means of experimentation. With six deviations of each fighter combined with the 44 fighters, there are well over 250 variations of characters to choose from. Mastering one character takes on a new form of commitment.
Changed from CVS is the oft-ridiculed Ratio system. Determining the strength of each character, the precursor’s fixed system allowed for little flexibility to play with fighters and their powers. The sequel ditches this for an improved customizable system determined by the player. Now you can divvy up the four ratio points between one and three characters, creating juiced-up warriors or average-strength tacticians.
There are several modes of play to ignite the fighting spirit. The Arcade and Versus mode offers three options: Ratio Match, 3-on-3 Match, and Single Match. Like mentioned above, the Ratio Match involves choosing up to three fighters to challenge your adversaries. The 3-on-3 match pits three characters of equal ranking against a similarly-staffed team. Single Match is a 1-on-1 playing field not unlike a typical fighting game. Survival Mode- in two flavors: All (every character in the game) or Infinite (like the name says) – puts you against a wide array of fighters. Replay Mode is a good way to learn from past matches or show off great combos.
While Capcom took the right steps to create a more technical fighter, not everything is polished. Like the first game, the fighting combo system is a little stiff. The moves- while technically sound- don’t flow together as well as games like SF3 or Darkstalkers . Blame it on the SNK genes, but it might put off those looking for an immediately accessible fighter. Conversely, the hardcore might still find a better challenge in Third Strike or Mark of the Wolves . CVS2 now leans towards the hardcore side, but still seems to be feeling things out.
Also, the dreaded scoring system is back and in full effect. While not as punishing as the first game, its use still seems unnecessary. In addition, the game uses the scores to determine your overall ranking. It provides incentive to improve your skills, but making it the main representation of your status is too rigid. The classic style of scoring- racking up to the millions- wouldn’t hurt.
No one can doubt the sheer depth CVS has to offer. With the difficulty levels, plentiful Grooves and Ratio selections, and various fighters to choose from, the challenge level is high. Mastering your fighter or team combinations will take solid weeks of play. In addition, beating the game unlocks several modes and options. A Boss Battle mode pits you against all of the game’s boss characters- from Geese Howard to Shin Akuma. The Groove Edit mode lets you create your own custom Groove from select game play systems. Unlockable characters include final bosses Shin Akuma, Orochi Iori and God Rugal.
Capcom VS. SNK 2 is a continuation of SNK and Capcom’s time-tested upgrade formula. An increased stable of fighters, added depth and tweaked game play enhance what once seemed like an untapped concept. But withering character graphics and a basic combo system knock the shine off an otherwise refined effort. A long lusted-after third game in the series may not happen, but the deep game play will erase desires for a sequel for a long time. It is a good primer for those 2D fighters coming down the pike in the next year. What better way than to play one of the better Street Fighter clones in recent memory? Drink and be merry!