SoulCalibur IV Review
You Got Star Wars in My Asian Fighting Game!
Based on all the hype, I suppose the big deal about SoulCalibur IV should be the Star Wars connection. Tossing Yoda into the 360 version and Darth Vader into the PS3 game would seem to be a good way to get geeks talking around the water cooler. To me, though, actually pronouncing “SoulCalibur” correctly during the opening cinematic should be the banner headline here. Yes, I guess it’s vaguely racist to even point this out to the politically correct mobs out there, but previous versions of the game tended to pronounce the title “SoahCaribur,” which oddly enough made the whole chop-socky stuff more authentic to me. Or at least more authentically Japanese-cheesy (Japaneesy?), which seems to be the point of these games, or at least what the point should be.
This new SoulCalibur, however, is too straight for my liking. While dropping the “Me So Solly!” pronunciation is (probably) a good thing, the attitude of the game is now less about fantastic battles and more about never-smile mortal combat. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with that, of course, but aside from the gimmick provided by the inclusion of two Star Wars icons, this next-gen SoulCalibur seems a whole lot like the last-last-gen classic SoulCalibur that came out for the Sega DreamCast back in 1999. So if you got bored with clichéd beat-em-ups nearly a decade ago, like I did, there won’t be much here to hold your interest for long.
Unless you’re really into solid executions of a familiar formula, that is. SoulCalibur IV is a damn good fighting game when it comes to covering the basics. There are dozens of characters to send into the ring, including lots of old foes from the series’ past and a few new battlers with new moves. Scraps in the game still blend weapons like swords with martial arts, and gameplay isn’t as rigorously focused on pulling off thumb-destroying combos as many other beat-em-ups. As in previous releases in the franchise, timing is king here. It’s more crucial to properly time attacks and blocks than it is to mash buttons in the correct sequence to pull off a ball-cracking flying kick or some other form of assault that would get you three-to-five in the real world. A new game mechanic in the Soul Gauge meter makes you watch the amount of time that you spend blocking, as when it fills up due to too much don’t-hit-me wimpiness you open yourself up to an insta-kill finishing move. But otherwise, this is the same old “beat the other guy till his health bar vanishes” fighting game. Battles flow beautifully, at least, not too fast and not too slow, and you always feel as if you have total control of your character.
It’s just that the modes of play sort of, well, suck. Story mode is ridiculously short. Let’s face it, most players are going to go straight into the Story missions with Yoda on the 360 and Darth Vader on the PS3 (both characters can be selected from the beginning of play). And are then going to be suffer through a crushing letdown when they wrap up the tale in under 30 minutes. I’m not exactly the king of fighting games, largely because I have the arthritic thumbs of Grandpa Simpson due to over three decades of non-stop gaming, yet even I was able to reach the final boss battle in less time than it takes me to grill a streak (and I like it rare). Considering all the rigmarole that undoubtedly went into licensing Yoda and Vader from the George Lucas empire, it’s mind-boggling that the main solo game would be this brief.