Version tested: Wii
Why do they keep doing it? Why do they think that we want to see our favourite fighting game characters crudely stuffed into third-person action games? It didn't do Namco any favours the last time they blundered down this road, with the laughably inept Tekken spin-off Death By Degrees earning a measly 3/10 back in 2005, and Midway tried to turn Mortal Kombat into an action-adventure three times before they decided that fans would probably rather make Sub Zero punch Batman in the sweetmeats than suffer through another shonky mess like Mortal Kombat: Special Forces.
So now it's Soulcalibur's turn to be disgraced by an ill-advised exercise in genre-hopping. Telling the tale of how the brave knight Siegfried succumbed to the lure of a dark power and became the monstrous villain Nightmare, the debt to the Star Wars prequels couldn't be more obvious if you were constantly followed around by a gay robot and a jive-talking frog creature. Not that the story really matters, since it's told almost entirely through the sort of long-winded static subtitled scenes that'll soon have you instinctively hammering the A button to close each dialogue window as soon as it appears.
Even then, it's an arduous task. One particularly irritating story scene demanded fifty nine button presses to get through and, yes, I counted. The only moment when the impossibly dense plot comes to life is when our merry band of bickering swordsmiths teams up with Leonardo DaVinci. It's almost worth it just for the scene where DaVinci exclaims, "Of course I'm excited, my weapons are going to kill a dragon!" Even then, it doesn't make a whole lot sense - DaVinci's dragon-slaying weapons are just crossbows that shoot flaming arrows. Hardly the sort of thing you'd need a genius intellect to come up with.
So, the game itself. Well, it came out in America a year ago, and is only now reaching Europe, so that probably tells you something about how much of a priority this off-shoot from the fighting series actually was. You control Siegfried, or six other characters unlocked during the single-player adventure, and roam around featureless linear levels mashing up waves of enemies with the evil Soul Edge sword. You'll enter a room, magic blue mist seals you in, and you twat everything to pieces until the game deigns to let you continue. Sometimes there'll be a sort of puzzle bit, where you have to hit statues or switches to open doors, but mostly it's the sort of game that assumes if you enjoyed killing one skeleton with a sword, you'll enjoy killing five hundred of them even more.
Despite what the cynics might expect, the motion control actually works very well. The nunchuk stick controls movement, while left and right motions with the remote translate to radial sweeping attacks. Flicking the remote up and down triggers uppercuts or crushing overhead strikes, and a forward thrust makes Siegfried do, well, a forward thrust. Add the block ability on the nunchuk's Z button, and jumping on the B trigger, and that's the basics of combat. There's more to it than that - characters have over twenty different combinations to use, and you can power-up your weapons by collecting orbs and icons - but thanks to the flatline game design you never really need to use anything beyond the same four entry-level attacks. In fact, most fights - including many boss battles - can be beaten simply by flailing around like a man assailed by wasps.
That's because the game offers no camera control and therefore defaults to a lock-on system that makes it all but impossible to not kill every damn thing in the room just by ensuring your sword never stays still. You have no say on who, or what, you lock onto though. Pressing the A button flicks your lock to another enemy, but it's seemingly chosen at random. The only other option is to switch the lock off, and activate it yourself with the A button. Even then, the game chooses what you lock onto. Just keep flapping your hands and everything should be fine.
Even so, with regular health refills and power-ups around every corner (naturally hidden in dozens of smashable jars and barrels) the game is pathetically easy. I only failed two levels in the whole game, and that was because of the outrageous reliance on cheap traps rather than any combat inefficiency. The game has this delightful habit of springing things on you as you stumble around corners, waiting for the camera to catch up. Volleys of arrows are a popular one, but my favourite is when you turn a corner only to be crushed by a trio of gigantic Indiana Jones-style stone balls. These perils can appear out of nowhere and, like the jets of health-sapping gas that burst out of unmarked walls, give you no warning as to when they'll strike.
The graphics are bland and stiff, the story is an absolute joke (the ending particularly so) and whatever depth the levelling system might offer requires acres of patience to unearth. Most Soulcalibur fans, and indeed any sentient human with a functioning brain, will have run screaming long before they reach that point.
2 / 10