Graphically, it's okay. Kind of funny to think we were once stunned by these rather puppet-like 3D figures, but they do their job and they do it well. Given the subsequent decision to race Dead or Alive down to the bottom of the "Ooh Boobies!" gaming barrel of despair it's certainly worth noting that the ladybumps here are surprisingly conservative in dimension, reassuringly rigid and often fully-clothed. The HD makeover is hardly revolutionary, however, and the 4:3 presentation does leave those big old bars down the side of the screen. Personally, I'm happy to play the game in its original aspect ratio, but with no option to expand the game to fill your lovely telly, it's certainly something that could annoy potential purchasers. Real Soulcalibur purists will be pleased to learn that Voldo's horned codpiece is still in the game, though, so at least we're not being palmed off with the censored US version.
There are omissions though, and fairly glaring ones at that. There's no online play, for instance. There are 60 specialised leaderboards, by way of small compensation. I didn't find this too much of a problem, especially given that I've never really liked - or entirely trusted - the idea of online fighting games. I like my opponent next to me, the old-fashioned way. I suspect it'd also be something of a nightmare to implement, but that's a poor excuse for anyone who was looking forward to retro slash-slash-clang internet excitement. So, a small frown for that.
At least online was never a feature of the original game. Mission Battle was, however, and now it's gone, sacrificed to squeeze into Microsoft's old file-size limit. I'm torn as to how much this negatively impacts the game. On the one hand, this series of conditional globe-trotting challenges was an integral way of unlocking new outfits and weapons. Those are now all available from the start, which leaves this version feeling a little like it's had the training wheels left on.
On the other hand, the majority of players will be more interested in normal one-on-one fighting, and may well be thankful that they don't have to slog through a series of quite tricky battles to see all the game offers. I won't pretend to know enough about the ins and outs of Dreamcast code and the Live Arcade process to know what was actually feasible, but I'd gladly have ditched the survival game mode, the museum, the exhibition videos and other nice-but-inessential side dishes in order to have Mission Battle reinstated.
So is this a slimmed down version of a "proper game", suitable for all players and offering instant arcade-perfect enjoyment? Or a crudely chopped-up borked port of an absolute classic, tantamount to cutting the Mona Lisa in half and mounting the tattered remains on a traffic roundabout like one of those rain-smeared "BARBARA IS 40" banners? I'm going to have to go with the first option, simply because Soulcalibur is too much of an awesome game to allow this annoying act of butchery to dull its shine. Could it have been even better, had they waited and used more space to include absolutely everything? Undoubtedly, but a big chunk of Soulcalibur for 800 Microsoft Points is still one hell of a treat.