Over the years, SNK has been responsible for numerous classic 2D fighting games, released on both their MVS arcade machine and their home console version of the MVS, the AES. Some of the best known of these games have been from the King of Fighters series and the Samurai Showdown series. SNK’s latest XBox offering is a direct port of last year’s SVC: SNK vs. Capcom Chaos, but with XBox Live support. When SNK first announced that they would be making their own version of Capcom’s Capcom vs. SNK series, there was much hype and fanfare. One would think that this proposition simply couldn’t fail, especially with SNK being one of the king’s of the 2D fighting genre. However, the resulting effort not only shows the age of the 15-year old NeoGeo hardware, it also falls short of many of the other 2D fighters readily available to gamers today.
The roster of SVC: Chaos includes a total of 36 characters from key franchises, such as King of Fighters and Fatal Fury from SNK’s side, and Street Fighter and Darkstalkers on the Capcom side. There’s even Zero from the Megaman games – indeed a strange yet interesting addition. The line-up of characters is strong and many favorites are back, such as Ken, Ryu, Terry, Akuma, and Iori. Most characters can be immediately chosen from the outset. However, there are also two unlockable characters: Athena and Red Arremer. Those fighters that can’t be seen on the main screen can be chosen by pressing the right trigger over certain characters, which will replace that character’s picture with the hidden one. While it is cool that most of the game’s characters can be chosen from the start, it would’ve been nice to have a little bit more to unlock for the sake of replay value.
The controls are laid out in the typical SNK style of four buttons (strong punch, strong kick, light punch, light kick), instead of Capcom’s six attack buttons. Both the analog and the digital pad can be used to move your chosen character. Double tapping forward or backward will cause your character to hop forward or back – called a Front Grand Step, or Back Step, respectively. Other moves include; Provoking, which is done with the left trigger; Guard Cancel Front Step, which is done with the right trigger; Forward Body Slams and a Fall-breaker; which can both be executed with the white button; and last but not least, Backward Body Slams and Guard Cancel Attacks with the black button.
The battles are fairly typical for a 2D fighter and have a distinctly ?no-frills’ approach. There are no groove selects or parries, nor are there are any support fighters that jump out and perform attacks. The story, or what little there is, unfolds at the beginning of each battle through storyboards featuring the opposing fighters’ faces and a subsequent exchange of cheesily confrontational dialogue. As fighters hit each another, their respective power gauges at the bottom of the screen begin to fill (from level 0 to a maximum level 3). At the maximum level, the gauge remains full for only a few seconds before going back down to level two. When the power gauge reaches one of these levels, a Super Special Move can be performed, which inflicts considerably more damage than a regular attack. There is even an Exceed Attack, which can be carried out if your life gauge falls to half or less. This move practically kills an opponent if executed correctly, but it needs to be used wisely as it can only be called upon once during a battle. There is also a Guard Crusher gauge’ that keeps track of how much longer a fighter can keep up their guard against attacks. One interesting thing to note is that the characters’ lifelines consist of two separate levels each round; a yellow one then one red, until the character is dead. With SVC: Chaos, it’s just mainly basic 2D fighter features that most gamers will be all too familiar with.
All characters have their trademark moves and Fireballs, and Super Special Moves are performed in much the same way as they are in Capcom vs. SNK. However, playing through the game can be difficult. The AI can sometimes be ungodly cheap, with the computer slamming Special Move after Special Move much faster than a human ever could. This is to be expected, but there is also the issue of balance among the playable characters on the roster. Some seem just way too powerful. Just try Shin Akuma or Violent Ken (SNK’s answer to Evil Ryu). And don’t even get me started on Goenitz and his crazy tornado-attack-thing. There is a service option at the end of each lost match, allowing you to continue with the difficulty level reduced, power gauge recovery increased, or the CPU’s energy set at one-third. However, these alterations usually just make the game too easy and completely remove any of its challenge and excitement.
SVC has some features available such as a Survival Mode (used to unlock artwork for the Gallery feature as well as the two hidden characters), Practice mode, a Color Edit mode to modify characters’ colors, and a VS. mode for two-player action. The option that most people will look forward to is the ability to clash one-on-one over the XBox Live network. It works well in Capcom vs. SNK 2 but here it is pretty bare bones and seems like an afterthought in its implementation. There is the option to Quickmatch and Optimatch; and this would be fine, if fights went smoothly once started. However, lag is often experienced during fights and on the character select screen. Occasional lag is okay (for this gamer), but at times the game becomes very hard to play because actions are so often delayed. Anyone who plays these 2D fighters knows the action is frenetically paced and every precious second counts, so lag hinders gameplay tremendously. What’s really annoying is that player rematch is nowhere to be found, meaning that, once you’ve played against someone, you are booted back out and must search for them, or someone else, to play all over again. How could such a simple but intrinsic gameplay detail be overlooked?
The graphics in this game are just plain outdated and somewhat of an eyesore. You would be hard-pressed to convince someone that this was a game only recently released, and one of SNK’s final Neo Geo titles. The graphics are highly pixilated and the animation is just plain choppy. The backgrounds are bland, with little or no animation going on whatsoever. The SNK sprites are just taken from the old games that the characters appeared in. The Capcom fighters have been drawn anew, but they are not anything really special. To make matters worse, the hardware is only partly to blame for the presentation. There are plenty of previous Neo Geo titles that have this one beaten. Just look at Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves for instance. Not to mention that this is a port on Microsoft’s Xbox. It would’ve been a good idea to have an option to view the game with graphic improvements. I think something to that effect was supposed to be in the Graphics options screen under Mode: Arcade (for the pure arcade experience) and Normal (for high resolution graphics). However, I played with both and noticed little change in the visual presentation. All in all, this title has a face that only SNK fan-boys will love, but, even then, it’ll likely take more than a few shots of pure grain alcohol to keep them convinced.
The sound in SVC is another weak issue with this title. The soundtrack sounds way out of place; there are no classic KOF or SF2 music renditions at all. All you are likely to hear is cheap, low budget, poorly orchestrated and generic sounding tunes that will have you thinking you are back playing on your old Sega Genesis. To add insult to injury, the sound effects are also a little lacking. All the hits in this game sound like flat jabs. There are no smacks, slams, or rumbles; nothing really seems aurally powerful at all. Though, that said, the characters’ voices are fair. The sound department of the game strictly fulfills its professional mandate; it does nothing more.
SNK fans may be saving a few bucks by buying this instead of the expensive MVS and AES carts, but everyone else beware. The $50USD asking price is to be scoffed at, especially when King of Fighters 2000 and 2001 both came bundled in the same package for $40USD on PS2, as well as being much better games. And just look at the other games that players have to choose from; the entire King of Fighters series, the Capcom vs. SNK series, the Samurai Showdown series, etc. Then there’s the Street Fighter Anniversary Collection (featuring the superior Street Fighter 3: Third Strike) being released early next year on the Xbox, complete with XBox Live support. And, just a few weeks ago, Guilty Gear X2 Reload was released on Xbox, also with full XBox Live support.
When all is said and done, against other 2D fighters, there is simply no comparison; this title pales in the face of the competition. There is very little to unlock, XBox Live play is merely functional and lacks features, and there are very few extras. Then there is the poor presentation and lack of any innovative gameplay features. What you are left with is a basic 2D fighter with a large character list and a big name slapped on the front of its packaging. SVC: Chaos brings nothing new to the fighting genre and arrives about eight years too late. So, to all gamers looking for a dose of good, wholesome, 2D fighting action – look elsewhere and leave this one to the hard-core SNK fans.