By the DS' very design, it should come as no surprise that its games catalogue is such a hit and miss affair. So while developers with vision and know-how put the second screen, touch control and even microphone to great use to create original and compelling games, others often throw caution to the wind to simply try something new, seemingly without really thinking through whether it will even work or not. Guilty Gear Dust Strikers represents Arc System Works diving headlong in the second category on Sammy's behalf and within mere seconds of starting up the game, it's worryingly apparent that this isn't Guilty Gear as we'd like.
The game's box may carry the Guilty Gear name and the characters may all be present and correct but that's as far as connections to the series really go. The twin stacked screens of the DS really don't lend themselves to 2D fighting, which is presumably why Arc decided to opt for a 2d, vertical, Power Stone-esque affair more akin to Super Smash Bros. than anything Sammy has put its name to in recent years. And what an absolutely dreadful choice that proved to be. By DS standards, the shrunken characters still look pretty nice, albeit nowhere close to the hi-res sprites that the series so famously employs. In being hit with a shrink ray, character were forced to shed quite a few frames of animation as well. It's not that you'll be overly likely to notice on the small screens, but it still somewhat goes against the grain when the series has always had such high production values.
No, a drop in visual quality is to be expected on a handheld and this proves to be the least of the game's worries once you actually try to play it. A confused button layout is made worse still by the fact that most special moves have simply been mapped to the A button and a direction, murdering balance in all kinds of ways. With some characters, you can simply abuse the A button to build up decent combos while other fighters have been less fortunate in the move conversion process and end up almost redundant as a result. Specials are mostly mapped to that oh-so-tricky fireball command, making it almost impossible not to get them out exactly when you want them and bizarrely, even the most technical elements of the classic Guilty Gear games have been ported across to this butchered atrocity. Roman Cancels allow for move interrupts and juggle combos while Dust Strikes now send the recipient up or down one level on the multi-tiered playing field. In such a simple approximation of Guilty Gear, these elements are almost entirely without merit and could easily have been replaced with something more appropriate to the game's new style.
And herein lies Dust Strikers' most crucial error. It really doesn't know what it is supposed to be. On the one hand, character rosters and technical elements are retained from the solid arcade series whilst on the other, an entirely new control scheme and simplified gameplay attempt to take the game in another direction altogether. This fatal clash of indecision makes for one of the most confused and downright unplayable fighters in recent memory and its entirely unclear as to who the target audience could even be. Fans of Guilty Gear will take immediate dislike to the grand simplification while anyone that buys the game cold will just have a look of confusion and horror on their face in that half-hour period before the game is returned to the store from which it was bought in error.
It's a real shame to see such a fundamental mistake get in the way of what would otherwise be an excellent package. Aside from the omission of a practice mode, there's plenty of content here and some great ideas implemented too - the Challenge mode allows for an arcade-style experience where the single-player game can be interrupted by another challenger over Wi-Fi connection, while the seven touch-screen mini-games are mildly diverting if somewhat contrived. It does have its moments and like Isuka before it, four-player gaming is quite entertaining, if only because each player is in the same boat (namely the SS What The Hell Is Going On). But while Arc has obviously attempted a Super Smash Bros-style game within the Guilty Gear universe, the end result is something truly horrendous. It may not be the case that 2d beat-'em-ups cannot work on the DS but unfortunately, Dust Strikers does absolutely nothing to debunk this theory. What a mess.