Version tested: PSP
It's pretty safe to say that the fighting genre has fallen into something of a rut of late. With nobody really willing to challenge existing and popular franchises such as Tekken, Dead Or Alive and Soul Calibur, let alone the all-conquering Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution, and a veritable dearth of new ideas (well, ideas that actually work as functional fighters, as Guilty Gear Isuka proves beyond reasonable doubt), the genre has slowly stagnated. On home consoles, at least. With little notable competition in the handheld market, portable fighters have decidedly more room for artistic license as the success of Jump Superstars in Japan clearly shows. Now it's Sony's turn to add a twist to one of the most traditional genres of them all and for all its flaws, The Con is if nothing else a breath of fresh air.
The Ready Money Round
The Con's 'thing' is that it ends up being as much a game about gambling as it is about fighting. At its heart is a pretty simple fighting engine but with its emphases spread across several different elements, this doesn't harm the game that much, if at all. While a Tekken-esque four-button layout governs basic punches and kicks, there's an obvious emphasis on combos rather than specials and a decent parry system in place for the more technically minded player. With several fighting disciplines, basic attacks and throws vary massively in power as well as each having unique moves and special attacks. Combat is decidedly static but then following in the wake of portable travesties like Rise Of The Imperfects, this in itself feels original, solid and nowhere near as limiting as it probably should. Imagine a 3D version of Super Punch-Out!! and you're pretty much there. Tight as this is, it combines wonderfully with the game's gambling aspect to make for a unique fighting experience and you'll need a good head for stats and playing the odds if you want to strike it rich.
But here's where the clever part comes in. You don't have to go all in at the beginning of the fight - timed bets allow you to send a runner with your wager at whatever point in the match you choose. To what purpose, you ask? Let's say you set your bet to go in thirty seconds into the bout. Using the left shoulder button to pull punches and lean into incoming blows, you can give the impression of being the underdog for the first part of the match before coming out swinging the second your bet goes on at the newly inflated odds. It's a risky technique and one that'll see you having mountains to climb if used in the wrong situations. You can instead bet on your opponent if you so choose and since each battle is a best of three with your created character and two fellow gang members fighting one round each, a tough battle can be thrown, provided the crowd don't get too suspicious of your loss. Make it look convincing or make for the exit before you get trounced by an angry mob...
Share And Share Alike
Despite its interesting and original approach to the genre, The Con falls down in some remarkably basic areas. For a start, you can't help but feel the training sessions between fights could have been used to add much-needed variety to the proceedings. Slightly more importantly, characters all come from the same creation tool, meaning that variety is hardly the game's strongest point. This is true of both appearance and move sets - when you break it down, it's pretty much only the individual fighting styles that determine how a character will play. This makes for a massive shortfall in long-term appeal and without and kind of complex or personal system in place for combos and juggles, throwing out the same couple of guaranteed combos time after time gets dull unfortunately quickly.
But in that respect, The Con is perfectly suited to a handheld platform. A few quick brawls on the bus or train to work each day will keep you satisfied for a good few weeks and its here that the game's simplicity really works in its favour. There's absolutely loads to get through as your created freak and their motley crew of fighting friends battle for domination of the streets - cash earned from successful bets can be spent on a plethora of custom clothing and such and there's even a fair bit to be unlocked by beating rival gangs under certain strict criteria.
The Con is about as far from revolutionary as you can get and in no way suited to extended play, but to give Sony its due, it's easily one of the stronger and more accurately pitched portable fighters out there.
6 / 10