If you’re anything like me, you’re probably an easy mark when it comes to the PlayStation Network (or XBLA). Just about any beloved game from my past ends up in my download list when it shows up in an HD, online-enabled form. This time, two classic SEGA versus fighters jumped straight into my shopping cart before I even realised what I saw.
Virtua Fighter 2 is the sequel to the original 3D fighter, and it improved the fledgling 3D fighting genre by leaps and bounds. Back in the day, I never actually got to play it until a few years after its original release, when I finally acquired a SEGA Saturn, but I was constantly told by rabid, slavering fans that it has “like, so many moves, man, it’s impossible to master it all!” So when I finally got it, I prepared to have my head done in by the sheer volume and variety of moves each character would have… and was taken aback by how untrue that was. In fact, the characters don’t actually have that many moves at all – hell, Tekken 2 characters had more moves per-character. Anyway, that’s not to say it was bad. I totally enjoyed it.
Fighting Vipers, on the other hand, was so underplayed in Western arcades and on the Saturn that it practically counts as an underground title. In terms of gameplay, it’s not all that different to Virtua Fighter, except for the fact that it adds an armour gameplay mechanic. Each character starts off with upper and lower body armour, and if you manage to wear it down and break it off, subsequent attacks to the unarmoured area will do much more damage. It also featured caged arenas to fight in as opposed to the old ring-out mechanic. You could still get ring-outs, but you’d have to break down the wall first – usually with your opponent’s face.
These two classic fighters are pretty much unaltered from their original forms, except for upscaled HD graphics with slightly sharpened textures and online play capabilities. That is both a good thing and a bad thing. Good because you can play them again (or for the first time, if you’re curious) and they look nice on an HDTV while still retaining their original look – and I’m sure the online play is great for anyone who can actually find a match online. I can’t, for some reason.
The bad part is that the games haven’t aged well at all in some areas, particularly the enemy AI. So if you’ve got no one to play against, like me, you’ll have no choice but to fight against the computer, and the AI is… it’s bad. Seriously. The computer starts out rock stupid for the first two or three fights, and then quickly ramps up to almost effing clairvoyant in subsequent matches. Winning the later matches has absolutely nothing to do with skill and everything to do with luck – unless you can find a tactic the computer is inexplicably helpless against.
For instance, Jeffrey in VF2 will always run into the third hit of a P, P, P combo – without fail, every time – making what could be one of the hardest fights in the game (he can drain 60% of your health with a single throw) something you can win blindfolded. But then there are characters like Lion. There are no tricks, he has no patterns to exploit, and he throws out high-priority moves completely at random. Good luck. Old AI, eh? Gotta love it.
The last thing I thought deserved a mention is something I’ve noticed with a lot of retro games lately, but VF2 has it in spades. The music is absolutely, rockingly good. I don’t know what it is about the music in old games, and in VF2, but it’s just so memorable. I mean, it’s been probably close on a decade since I last played it, but I found myself whistling along to the theme of each stage, and rocking along to every drumbeat and guitar riff. I could remember them like I’d heard them yesterday. It’s really good stuff. What happened to recent fighting games? How did they lose this quality? It almost made me want to dig out my of VF2 Saturn CD and rip the audio tracks off there. In fact, I just might, if I can remember where I put it.
But I have to remember, not everyone is as enamoured with these old games as I am – hell, some older gamers weren’t even that taken with them the first time round. But hey, if you like fighting games, and if you’ve got someone to play against – ’cause the AI stinks to high holy hell and back – then you might be interested in these two little nostalgic gems, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else.