Straight from the annals of classic 2D beat-em-ups come the Arcade, Versus and Training options. They seem to have made up the core pre-requisite in most 2D fighting game design documents for many a year. There are 10 Combatants, each of whom heralds a few unique special abilities. The ferocity of these abilities is dictated by the increasing rage and animosity toward the opponent, represented by a Power Bar at the foot of the screen. Vibrations from the Dual Shock controller, which is fully supported by the game, further demonstrate this ferocity. While many of the Capcom and SNK titles that dominate this genre offer well-known characters that we can relate to, Guilty Gear's crew aren't too shabby. I felt a lot more endeared to them than I had expected to as I struggled through the Single Player game, and while there is always a sort of standoffishness about playing with any beat-em-up character in Multi Player, I developed my favourites very quickly and learnt how to most effectively make use of their respective arsenals. The actual combat was frenetic - the action is fast, fast, fast, and the combination manoeuvres border on the absurd. The developers have evidently spent a lot of time balancing the game out however, because the actual length of the bouts is not significantly less than most 2D beat-em-ups, presumably thanks to the time and effort put into creating the right balance of executive speed and damage infliction.
Looking the Part
2D beat-em-up graphics have been just about "done" to excess, with the limited collection of different techniques appearing in a multitude of titles across a variety of formats. The classic "cartoon" look suits Guilty Gear perfectly - it's got a lot in common with Street Fighter Alpha's pen-and-ink style. Of course it's been done a hundred times before, but it lends itself well and the presentation is very fluid - even more so than that found in Capcom titles such as SF Alpha! With some games, there is an air of awkwardness to be found with the navigation of menus and such. Guilty Gear feels very sleek. The animations of the characters are very nice, with a suitable amount of frames afforded to each movement and special manoeuvre. While sometimes fairly over-the-top in order to accentuate the viciousness of the attack or combo, the character fighting animations are usually suitable, and don't go anywhere near as far as the unbelievable repertoire exhibited in Marvel Vs. Capcom.
Not Without Flaws
Although as I have said, the gameplay is very finely tuned, the one or two exceptions to the rule upset the balance somewhat. Some of the moves to be carried out simply cause too much damage, and when in the hands of the fiendish computer AI they're devastating. That's my other concern with Guilty Gear; that the AI is unfairly well versed in beating down on you with impunity. I'm sure that I've said before on these pages that it's incredibly hard to get computer AI "just right" in beat-em-ups, 2D or otherwise. Programmers that have been living and breathing the title for many months frequently have its ins and outs locked down so tightly that they mis-program the AI for their own level of experience, as they are not wholly sure of how well the average gamer will take to the title. That's my theory anyway. Of course, if you play enough Multi Player against a similarly talented gamer, you'll gradually become a more veritable opponent for the computer, but otherwise you may find yourself rather frustrated soon after beginning. Thankfully, these two faults aren't enough to dislodge Guilty Gear from its position of sanctity amongst my favourite 2D beat-em-ups.
If 2D beat-em-ups are moving toward extinction, they really are ending on a high note with stuff like this. 3D really just doesn't have that same old-skool feel when it comes to beat-em-ups. Still, if I wanted something to remember the genre by, Guilty Gear's just as good an example as anything, creating a less-than-subtle blend of Street Fighter Alpha, 20 cups of coffee and a class-A drug. The visual effects are astoundingly fluid, the controls wonderfully responsive and the overall experience pleasurable. I shall come again.
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