I can't write about any version of SoulCalibur without saying how amazing the Dreamcast version of the first installment was, so we'll get that out of the way up front. The original SoulCalibur for the Dreamcast is the game that got me hooked on 3D fighters, and no other game before or since quite compares to the thrill of the first time I spun up the disc in my imported Sega console. Nevertheless, Namco Bandai continues to try, and now the fourth installment (fifth counting Soul Edge) is upon us, marking the series' first appearance on current generation hardware. SoulCalibur IV brings us new fighters, new modes, a robust character creator, and the addition of online play - a franchise first. On top of all that, they've added a healthy dose of midi-chlorians to the mix in the form of cameos from Yoda, Darth Vader, and the Secret Apprentice from The Force Unleashed. Do all of these new additions lift the franchise to new heights, or throw it off balance so it falls right out of the ring?
Love it or hate it, here's your SoulCalibur IV review.
Gameplay: Still the same great SoulCalibur gameplay we all know and love, with a few nifty additions to keep things fresh. Opportunities to pull off the new Critical Finisher moves are few and far between, but they definitely add to the humiliation of your opponents, and that's what fighting games are all about.
So Many Characters: I love a fighting game with tons of variety, and SoulCalibur IV features a very impressive roster indeed, with old favourites (Ivy!) joined by all-new favourites (Kamikirimusi!). The characters also seem a bit more realistic to me, as opposed to the slightly more exaggerated characters of the past two games.
Character Customization: So many characters, and then you create more! Sure, they're all just clones of existing characters, but the ability to make your mark on online play as Kotaku, the pink and yellow Talim kitty girl is priceless.
Skill System: Being able to power up and customise your favourite characters is a definite plus. The mechanic of leveling up fighting styles to allow for bigger and better skills rewards players who pick a character and stick with it.
Online: An amazing first for the series, so far online battles in SoulCalibur IV have been relatively lag-free and painless, at least from a game performance standpoint. Just wish I didn't have to fight so many damn Yodas.
Story Mode: Some people hate story mode for it's brevity, but I appreciate the developers mixing things up a bit. It's relatively fast and ridiculously easy, but still a pleasant change from just fighting a series of battles leading to a drawn cutscene.
Unlockables: Always a staple of the SC series, the game features unlockable characters, unlockable items for character customisation, and unlockable artwork. Just wish there was a bit more of the latter.
Balance: SoulCalibur has never exactly been gameplay balance central, and the addition of the Star Wars characters - particularly the tiny, unthrowable Yoda - sets the game askew even further. Adding in a character that is immune to some of the most powerful attacks in the game is never a good idea.
The Tower Of Souls: The extra modes in the SC series have been on the decline since they traded up the mission mode in SCI for SCII's room-to-room dungeon crawl. SCIII brought us a strategy game, and now we have The Tower of Souls. Going up is Mission Mode with no story and no way to know the special conditions you need to unlock items the first time through. Going down is tag-team survival mode. Bleh.
The Voices: Yes, yes - the cheesy announcer is part of what makes a SoulCalibur game. It doesn't make it any less painful to listen to. The character voices can be grating at times as well, especially Tira. I'd suggest switching to Japanese voices immediately.
I've found that the key to enjoying each new entry in the SoulCalibur series is not to expect a revolution. The first SoulCalibur was the launch of the revolution. Each successive title has added new troops, new tactics, and new battlefields, but for the most part they are just the evolution of the revolution SoulCalibur started.
SoulCalibur IV might not have the impressive impact of the original, but it's still a hit gamers will be feeling for a long time coming.
SoulCalibur IV was developed by Project Soul, published by Namco Bandai. Released on July 29th on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Played Xbox 360 version. Completed story mode for all characters including custom, unlocked all hidden characters and artwork. Played multiple rounds online with both custom and normal characters. Got to floor 11 of the Tower before pausing for breath.
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