"The awesome sequel to 'The Fighting Game Of The Year', Capcom vs. SNK," Capcom proudly boasts of this one. Indeed, that would be a good claim, if it weren't for the fact they probably mean the year 1999.
If it weren't for Live, we'd be a bit stuck for what to say about this Xbox port of Capcom Vs. SNK 2 EO. It hasn't changed more than a bit since its outings elsewhere, and if you've owned a major console other than Xbox in the last few years you've already made the decision to either own it or ignore it. The question is, does the online element thrown into the mix here make enough of a difference? Join me, gentle reader, as some of you already literally have, for a journey into the world of online fisticuffs.
And if one particular recent opponent is reading this, I can throw a dragon punch to save my life, and I don't live with in my parents' basement. I don't think we even have basements in England. Your Mother, however, informs me that you do.
So: CVS2. Let's refresh. This is your basic 2D beat 'em up in pretty clothes. Capcom has been making them for years. This one could just as easily live on the PSX, Saturn, or even Super Nintendo really, apart from the scrolling 3D backgrounds. It has over 40 characters, from Street Fighter, Final Fight and Darkstalkers on the Capcom side to Fatal Fury, Samurai Showdown and King of Fighters in the SNK camp. Many of the characters are clones of one another or at least similar enough to be considered the same, though, so don't expect quite such a massive selection of styles and abilities.
But what of "EO"? On the Cube, it was "Easy Operation", but here EO stands for "Extreme Offence", according to Capcom, because it gives players of questionable skill access to special and super modes at the touch of a button. Which is exactly what it did before. The idea is that by selecting an "EO-ism" for your character, you can use the buttons on the right of the pad to perform special moves. The game determines the strength of said manoeuvres depending on how hard you tug the left or right triggers. So instead of wasting hours trying to pull off Chun Li's spinning bird kick, you can just hit a button and watch it happen. Alternatively, players can choose the "AC-ism", which behaves more like you'd expect, with basic soft/medium/hard punches and kicks and lots of quarter-circle motions and button combos required to pull off specials and supers.
Not content with that, Capcom complicates matters further with the "Groove" system. There are six grooves (C, A, P, S, N, K) to choose from (as well as your -ism), and each has a specific structure. 'A' groove, for example, lets your use the combo style from the Street Fighter Zero series, freely mixing and matching moves to create custom combos. 'N' groove, meanwhile, lifted from King of Fighters '98, gives you three levels of 'super' gauge and a sustained boost in strength thanks to 'Power Max'. Each groove has its own strengths and weaknesses, and with more than 40 characters you could spend months experimenting. 'Could' being the operative word. Thanks to the traditional tenets of arcade, versus, survival and training modes, and even a colour edit mode to fiddle with Ryu's pants, there's also plenty to do with each character - all this before you even hook up to the net.
But it won't be long before you tire of playing with yourself. The single-player modes aren't enough to keep you going forever, especially if - like me - you've played them before, so it's very likely that you will hook up to the net just as soon as you get the hang of slinging a fireball with Controller S (which is a lot easier thanks to the six button config!). And with so many fighters and combat styles, surely CVS2 is perfect for online play…
Realistically though, you're going to want to specialise and seek bouts on the net which allow you to cut your own style. Going for the quick match option in the Live menu (which feels awfully bolted on, we must say) will be punished by 'server' players, who set the rules. If you just dive in without trying to find something that fits your game, you're at an immediate disadvantage. The trick is to shop around for a bout or even start your own and wait for a challenger.
And on the whole, CVS2 is mostly what it sets out to be. Bouts are relatively lag-free (admittedly I ran into problems here and there, but I spent much of my time with CVS2 pre-European release, playing against American teenagers, so that's forgivable), players are legion and of a fairly high calibre (enough to pummel me more often than not anyway), you can continue playing against one another for as long as you like, the game is pretty good at handling unforeseen interruptions, and with a few minor flaws aside (like being unable to see your opponent's Gamertag during bouts), it's pretty smoothly done. The ability to screen against people using the EO-ism (which isn't really appropriate for online play) is also a nice inclusion.
In fact, although we spent most of the weekend playing one of Capcom's other, somewhat spookier releases, CVS2 is literally the only disc, which has sat in my Xbox over the last fortnight. The ability to just pick it up and immediately play somebody new has the same sort of allure that Quakeworld did back when Wireplay was fashionable. Playing other people just adds something, and it's a novelty that won't wear off for quite some time. But then again…
An opening appears, perfect for the final blow…
Here at Eurogamer, we're ardent Capcom apologists. And recently, we've felt somewhat vindicated. OK, in the past we've had very little in the way of innovation, with an increasing number of ports, marginal updates and yes, a slew of backward-arsed PAL conversions. Things have changed, though. Some wise overlord in Japan decided that making new games might be an idea. Sure, some of them weren't the best, notably Auto Modellista, but some of them almost were, like Devil May Cry and Resident Evil Zero. With four original franchises due from Capcom's new Shinji Mikami-led sub-drama in the next 18 months, a new, less PSX-based Resident Evil title due out in 2004, and games like Steel Battalion inspiring the hardcore, we're a lot better off than we used to be!
With this newfound variety in mind, Capcom's decision to play safe with its first online Xbox game is almost forgivable - almost, but not quite. Capcom Vs. SNK 2 EO may be a fairly good beat 'em up, but this juxtaposition of old and new isn't the avant-garde fighter that Xbox Live needs right now. Heck, if all developers and publishers are planning to do is inject replay value into old games, then why don't they just chuck multi-player patches onto Xbox Live and be done with it? Have us all sign in to a central lobby server and download bolt-on replay value for our year's worth of Xbox back catalogue. That's what happens in the PC world.
But we're struck with a sneaky one-hit counter
Capcom can sleuth out of that one with an apology for not releasing any new beat 'em ups since the Xbox's inception, but nevertheless CVS2 is very easy to throw abuse at. Anybody who owns a PS2 or GameCube has had access to it (and in the PS2's case several much better beat 'em ups) for ages. Furthermore, anybody with a Dreamcast has had better fighters and a huge catalogue of Capcom beat 'em ups to choose from, including this one, for three years!
But multi-player is something we almost always commend when it comes to beat 'em ups. The only reason it isn't of paramount import in every case is that very few of us are in a position to spend the whole time playing Versus Mode. (I don't think any of our readers are Siamese twins, or possessed, or anything like that, though we do have a few split personalities…) So CVS2 becomes a lot more attractive thanks to Xbox Live, and online play is mostly excellent - and as long as the game sells there should be plenty of local opponents to help you dodge the dreaded lag.
Don't kid yourselves though: the only thing that raises CVS2 up and above the likes of Dead or Alive 3 or even Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance is its online element, and I'll only really recommend it until a beat 'em up developed within the last three years makes its mark on Xbox Live. But given that DOA4 is about the only thing on the radar, that could be a while, and there's a world of random strangers out there to dragon punch and throw finely honed verbal abuse at in the meantime. So if you're 'Live', then go ahead, buy it. You probably should, because online play adds more to CVS2 than we'd ever imagined possible.