Meet Darth Tank
This story isnít the least bit interesting, either. Hereís the PS3 saga: Darth Vader feels a disturbance in the Force and finds a portal to another world where Asian stereotypes and hot babes are fighting over a pair of mystical swords. Cue lightsaber thrumming. NamcoBandai, you spent all that money and came up with this crap? I was hoping for at least some self-referential funnies over the whole genre-mashing stupidity of the gameís premise, but instead I got overwrought fighter dialogue that made no sense, goofy fighter intros that were too lame to laugh at, and faux-epic classical tunes that sounded like a Japanese take on Richard Wagner. Games where Darth Vader battles Victorian chicks with parasols just shouldnít be this serious.
Tower of Lost Souls and Arcade modes are much more intriguing for single players, although they donít offer anything new, either. In Tower, you battle your way up and down a, um, tower, taking on increasingly difficult foes on the way up and gangs of goons on the way down. Itís very challenging, with a wide range of enemies with special abilities and equipment, and often requires a trip back to the character customization screen to trick out your fighter with some special gear. At least you have a great selection of goodies here, including all manner of weapons and armor that buff skills and the core attack, defense, and health stat categories. Arcade is a straightforward series of eight battles going two out of three falls, with each getting progressively harder. No surprises there, although the great variety of battle arenas keep it feeling fresh. One moment youíre in a lush Asian garden, then youíre on a raft floating down a medieval canal, then youíre on the deck of what seems to be a Star Destroyer while the Death Star and entire Imperial fleet bombard a planet below. Nifty.
Difficulty flies all over the place, though. The game instantly soars from pitting you against nothing opponents you can smack down without breaking a sweat to impossible warriors you can barely lay a hand on. The Apprentice, for instance, kicked the holy crap out of me over and over again in Arcade on the PS3. Heís the only other Star Wars-related character in the game, apparently some kind of Sith apprentice based on the red lightsaber he whips around, and is both murderously fast and furious with the good old Force lightning. I couldnít get Vader past him in a half-dozen hours of trying so, well, this guy isnít very apprenticey. Itís kind of nifty how the two main Star Wars characters vary in style, with Yoda being all fast and bouncy and Vader being more of a tank, but this can be a real detriment with the Lord of the Sith when he has to take on a quick and nimble enemy such as the Apprentice. This style of fighting just doesnít quite fit a game like this. Either that, or the devs went too far slowing Vader down. Other beefy battlers in the game arenít as limited in the speed department as the former Anakin Skywalker, anyhow.
So multiplayer is probably the best way to experience SoulCalibur IV. Arcade and Special modes of play are available online, and you can also take part in one-off ranked battles and join up to three players in an online lobby for a mini-tournament of sorts. Online battles seem to be just about lag-free on both the PS3 and 360, resulting in really smooth, exciting scraps. But there isnít anything new or particularly innovative here. All of these modes of play have been seen before, and the game has even stripped out 2v2 and other sorts of team battles present in previous games in the series.