Virtua Fighter; the venerable franchise that dragged fighting games into 3D space for the very first time. I still remember spotting the goliath cabinet for the original at my local bowling alley in 1994, and being utterly ‘bowled over’ by the fluid animations and (chunky) 3D polygons. The cabinet was so big in comparison to my six year old stature that I almost expected a booming voice to beckon me: ‘CAN YOU FATHOM THE POWER OF 3D, CHILD?’ Such was the allure of Sega’s flagship fighter for me, that hearing of the subsequent games in hushed tones and slight nods in knowing agreement by only a dedicated few is disheartening.
Virtua Fighter’s popularity may have massively diminished in the west over the years, but Sega are nevertheless willing to give us another chance. Final Showdown is the final update for Virtua Fighter 5 released in the Japanese arcades – offering re-balanced gameplay, new characters (Sumo chubster Taka-Arashi and broody karate-man Jean Kujo) a wealth of new animations, arenas and costumes – this is an extensively tweaked game; an eminently polished version of Virtua Fighter 5, and it only costs a tenner to download or is completely free if you’re a Playstation Plus subscriber. In a world of exploitative DLC that charges an arm and a leg for a digital top hat, this is astonishing value for money.
One word of caution: this game is unabashedly multiplayer focused – single player options are limited and essentially serve only to ready you for a human opponent. The arcade mode can be blitzed in a matter of minutes by any player halfway-competent, and the customised character mode – available only for those who have purchased all of the character DLC – presents you a series of outrageously garbed AI opponents to fight with often humorous quirks, serving little more than a distraction. The most effective way to spend your time alone is to train. The tutorial breaks down the fighting mechanics considerately, and instructs not only how to do things, but why you would perform them and in what situation.
The hand-to-hand combat in Virtua Fighter 5 FS is arguably the most in-depth and demanding of any 3D fighting game to date. While there are only 3 buttons – punch, kick and block – the number of options afforded to you are beguiling and daunting, to a point where it could feel like a barrage of information for a newcomer. Take it easy and let the moves settle into your repertoire and the game becomes more forthcoming. Beginning with 1-2-3 combos, a few grabs and figuring out when to block, and progressing to defensive manoeuvres; powerful juggles; parrying and reading your opponent, until matches resemble snippets from a beautifully choreographed kung-fu flick. There is dizzying scope for ability and the results of hard practice are obvious.
The faintly realistic bouts are attributed in no small part by the sublime animations. AM2 are clearly perfectionists in this field and no other 3D fighting game moves more realistically and with as much nuance. Even idle animations, like Jean casually flicking his leg out and and tensing back into his stance displays a remarkable amount of care in bringing these characters to life.
The generous amount of moves each character possesses all have a role to play in outwitting your opponents. Softening them up with jabs to maintain pressure, cracking them with roundhouse kicks when they leave an opening, evading a swing and delivering a swift palm strike to the ribs gives the action a graceful, improvised flow where no two matches look the same. Virtua Fighter is pretty to look at, but it’s often mesmerising to watch.
The character roster is vibrant too. MMA style brawling; Muay Thai; Monkey Kung Fu; Wrestling; a sadistic form of Judo; Drunken Kung Fu. Eccentric and more orthodox martial arts alike mix to fascinating effect. Every character is unique, and combating each opponent demands adaptation and working to the strengths of your techniques. Wrestlers are scary; get caught in their arms and a devastating piledriver can halve your health metre; a Jeet Kune Do expert will bully you with flurries of kicks that alternate highs with lows; the Drunken Kung Fu master will rip you to shreds after a few swigs from his flask.
For a great deal of players, the competition will only be available online, and the netcode doesn’t let the side down. Again with the Jeremy Clarkson-isms, but the online play here is simply the smoothest I’ve experienced in a fighting game…. in the world. Online nigh-on achieves parity with offline. Pitting against Americans and, incredibly, the Japanese has been a painless experience on my wireless connection.
Graphics: 4/5 – The environments can show a deficit in fine detail, that exposes an engine originally showcased in 2007, but there are still some beautiful sights to see. Effortlessly outshining everything else are the fighters; obsessively intricate movements and convincing skin shaders attribute to the earthy and solid sensation of the combat.
Sound: 3/5 – Entirely subjective in your tolerance for Sega rock and the cheesiest lines in existence. “What a knucklehead!” I love it.
Gameplay: 5/5 – Deep and beautifully dynamic. Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown is not as flashy as many other 3D fighters, but the reward for skill, creativity and quick-wits is unparalleled.
Longevity: 4/5 – Online and offline competition could keep you plugging away until the end of time; people solely interested in single-player will find very little to do of substance.
Overall: 4 out of 5
As an overall package this is not all things to all people – but the core fighting experience is almost untouchable in its fluidity and polish. Delicately balanced, complex and wholly worthwhile to sink yourself into.
- Jason Borlase