I have always been a big fan of the 2-dimensional fighting game, from as far back as the original "Street Fighter" and "Mortal Kombat" days. Even on the old 8-bit home computer systems, titles like "Way of the Exploding Fist" and "International Karate" were top of my favourites list. Of course the big heavyweights in recent arcade times have been Capcom and SNK, with their own sets of ardent fans constantly comparing and dismissing the other in a strange battle of 2D fighting wits!
Capcom have consistently upheld their standards with a long line of "Street Fighter" games (apart perhaps, from the Street Fighter Movie game, with its hilarious "real-life" Kylie and Van Damme digitizations -Ed), in so doing making the likes of Ryu and Guile household names. On the flipside of the coin you have SNK who are famed for their "Fatal Fury" and "King of the Fighters" games, with popular characters including the likes of Geese, King and Iori. In all there are over twenty-five characters from both sides of the fence, giving incredible variety and a good shelf-life for the game.
Put 'Em Up!
The first thing to strike you in Capcom vs. SNK is the completely over-the-top menu system, with lots of psychadelic colours and snazzy scrolling going on. You have the choice to either leap into the arcade mode if you don't happen to have a fellow control pad wielder around, or the 'vs. mode' which is by far more enjoyable pitting you against another human opponent. In time honoured tradition you can step in at any time during arcade mode for some two-player slugathons.
Your first choice in all fights is whether to use the Capcom or the SNK groove, which offer differing styles of gameplay. The Capcom groove works via a 'Super Combo Gauge' which gradually increases as you attack your opponents, and there are three levels to attain each providing you with the ability to perform special moves that were otherwise unavailable to you. The SNK groove differs slightly where you hold the 'B' and 'Y' buttons to charge up you 'Extra Gauge'; with the gauge full the attacking power of your character is increased and you can also perform 'Super Special Moves'. It is actually quite tricky finding a spare moment to do all this, and I found it to be the more challenging of the grooves.
There is a nice variety of character combinations that you can enter the fighting arenas with, which are based on a clever ratio system. Certain characters have a ratio of three, others two or one, and your team can only ever have a maximum overall ratio of four. With this in mind you can select one of the tougher characters like M.Bison or Sagat, and pair him with a one ratio character like Cammy or Vice, or you can choose to take on the CPU opponents as a quartet of one ratio rated fighters. You will find the latter gets rather tough when meeting the likes of Geese in the final battle, who chews and spits out most of those that oppose him!
Gameplay is simple - choose your characters and fight through the various challengers put before you that increase in difficulty as you progress, finally taking down the big bad ass at the end that may well open up one of the many secrets that can be unlocked in the game. Such is the volume of secrets that I can safely say you will be playing this game for weeks on end to unlock them all. It is in no way an easy task - even to unlock your first secret - and the game forces you to work darned hard to get your rewards, but there are some excellent rewards to be had. This is where I feel the game will appeal far more to ardent fans than a casual shopper picking their first fighting game expecting it to be an easy ride.
Controlling of all the characters is straight forward and reasonably trouble free, but there are occasions where you want to pull a specific move out of the hat, only to find your character jumping like a moving target across the screen. I thought that maybe it was my controller that was at fault, but I don't have any of these problems in similar styled games, Capcom vs. SNK is just finicky at times I guess.
Luckily the occurance of the above is seldom and for the most part you can go on about your dishing of pain business. Performance of special moves (once you have achieved the necessary groove pre-requisites) is extremely easy, and when combined with lightning fast punching and kicking can have you quite literally whooping out loud in a delirious state of bloodlust! Unfortunately, you will find with some characters it is all too easy to corner your opponent on the left or right of the screen and repeat a move to win, with little or no resistance.
The action is fast and furious, perhaps a little too fast sometimes, particularly when your opponent is performing a special move that has him moving at triple speed and battering you all the while. You are left wondering whereabouts you are on the screen, and what time of the day it is! Thankfully you can choose to play in either 'Turbo' mode for the more active brained of you, or 'Normal' for the likes of me who prefer their gaming a little more sedate .. and no I'm not getting old!
Graphics and Sound
If you are expecting supreme 3D graphics similar to the likes of Soul Calibur, then you will not get on with this game, with the whole point being to retain the original look and feel of the 2D arcade fighter. Characters are all nicely detailed and cartoon styled, and have just enough frames of animation to stop them from being too jerky. Some of the little animations when your character wins are excellently done too, a particular favourite is when Iori bursts into maniacle laughter which would be more at home in an old black and white movie!
The focus is definitely on extravagence as far as the special effects are concerned, with some of the character special moves filling the screen with violent explosions, and others hurling balls of orange or white fire. Environment graphics are excellent, ranging from a builder's yard to the outside of an amusement arcade. All of these are introduced to you in some weird and wonderful way, like the dragon's eye blinking and then revealing the bar scene with a waitress waddling to-and-fro in the background.
Sound is also well catered for providing typically Bruce Lee style chopping sounds and squawks, with a mix of Oriental and English banter before and after the fights between the characters. Also worthy of a mention is the choice of soundtrack, which provides a superb audio backdrop to do battle on. Definitely a game to turn the volume up on, particularly if like me you have neighbours who are having a kitchen fitted which is taking an age to complete!
The only disappointing thing about Capcom vs. SNK is that due to it's diehard nature it perhaps won't appeal to the more spoilt modern gamers amongst us. It will be a great shame though to miss out on this experience, as what you have here is hours and hours worth of kick ass gameplay just waiting to be released.
It can be a little difficult to keep track of what's going on, and the temptation to win all rounds by exploiting the edge of screen character entrapment detracts a little from the challenge of the game, but this is very nearly as perfect a 2D fighter as you are ever going to get.