Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars

When I heard that Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Cross Generation of Heroes was to be a Wii exclusive, I seriously considered importing a Japanese Wii just to play the one game (because obviously I'm not into any of that gray area "modding" stuff). The expense would have been a bit much for an impulse purchase, however, and that allowed me some time for sense to kick in. By the time Capcom announced the North American release of Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars, I was not really all that jazzed about it. Don't get me wrong, I was very happy to see it coming stateside, and it would still be a day-one purchase for me. But, during that long wait, I had picked up many other fighting games and come to realize that, for me, this would be just another.

There's no denying that I collect a lot of fighting games. But ultimately the only ones I spend a lot of time actually playing are the Street Fighter titles. (Note: I regard the Capcom vs. SNK games as essentially Street Fighter.) This is not because they are necessarily better than other fighting games. It comes down to the characters, and, again, it is not that Street Fighter has better characters than other games. The problem is that, even though I still love the genre, I no longer have near the time or mental energy to be learning new characters, and, in fact, probably the only time my discipline matched my enthusiasm was back during the Street Fighter II days. Or perhaps I never had a great capacity for knowledge and had already nearly filled it by the time Super Street Fighter II came out. Thus I don't even really like to use "The New Challengers" in Capcom games that include them. So if a new fighting game comes out with few or no SFII characters in it, then I am pretty much mashing, and that's not what I call a fulfilling experience.

Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was kind of an exception, which was why I was initially so excited about Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. But viewing match videos of Tatsunoko highlighted just how much of an anomaly MvC2 really was. MvC2's three-on-three format and liberal assist system produced an experience drastically different from Capcom's earlier Marvel fighting games. You could select a character for your team based strictly on their value as an assist, and the especially potent anti-air assists opened up completely new strategies. What was once a very offense-oriented game of rapid button presses became much more deliberate. With anti-air assists discouraging frontal assaults, long-range characters and defensive play could actually thrive. MvC2 Cable (backed by Captain Commando's assist) was probably the only character in a non-Street Fighter fighting game that I felt comfortable using, because playing him was less a matter of practiced combos than of strategic placement of his beams to keep out and lock down opponents. Of course, there were still extremely effective hyperactive characters such as Magneto and Storm. On the whole, the game boasted the most distinctly varied play styles of any Capcom fighter.

Tatsunoko is much more a return to the earlier Marvel games. Starting over with a much smaller cast, it's back to two-on-two. Assists cannot be summoned anywhere near as frequently as in MvC2, not that any of the assists are particularly useful anyway. Without the protection of anti-air assists, it's much harder to maintain range for a defensive game, so it comes down again mostly to furious exchanges of combos. The Tatsunoko characters may look exotic, and they are all fairly well-designed and fun to play with, but they are more conventional overall than the best MvC2 characters. There is nobody so committed to one extreme strategy as Cable, and the flow of every Tatsunoko match feels largely the same, despite the characters' differences. The only really exceptional designs are the two giants, Lost Planet's PTX-40A and the awesome G. Lightan.

There is some strange notion out there that these games are more accessible than more traditional tournament fighters, such as Street Fighter IV. Personally, I've never found this to be the case. The whole dynamic of the game stresses big combos, which require manual dexterity and practice. If you don't have the technical skill to wage an offensive game, then you will get completely crushed by a more aggressive player, because the game doesn't really equip you with any other means to back them off. Granted, the combos are much easier to pull off than in SFIV, and button-mashing sometimes can look like the real thing. But because the game expects you to deal damage in combos, individual hits do less damage overall than in other fighting games. That low damage translates to longer rounds, which means there is greater leeway for error, which means luck is less often a deciding factor, which means a player of lesser skill will have a much harder time prevailing. An older, now more "hardcore" game like SFII may feel more difficult to play for new players, but they probably would still have a better chance of winning just by luck in that game, since a simple throw in SFII does about as much damage as a super move in Tatsunoko. I honestly think that, for the casual player, competitive proficiency is no more attainable here than in SFIV, but the amped-up audiovisual feedback makes for a more exhilarating experience, regardless of the outcome. So Tatsunoko makes casual players feel like they are accomplishing more, even if they are in fact losing by the same margin as in SFIV.

Oh, I probably should mention the "easy mode" control schemes that Tatsunoko offers. The Wii Remote is not ideally set up for a six-button Capcom fighter, and even the traditional Classic Controller controls are somewhat simplified in this game. But there are even more casual modes that provide one-button combos and shortcuts for special and super moves, so even an inexperienced player can tap into some of the deeper mechanics. If you go that route, then the game really is more accessible. I've said it before, but every fighting game should have a mode like this.

Back to the characters, which are the heart of any fighting game, there are only two SFII characters, so I'm in trouble there already. Of course I've never heard of most of the Tatsunoko characters (aside from the Gatchaman characters and Tekkaman Blade, AKA Teknoman), but I wouldn't move a single delicate piece of that lineup, considering that the licensing complications were such a hurdle in getting this game out of Japan. I mean, even if they had put Speed Racer in there, what would the likelihood have been that he would have made it into the domestic version?

I'm more curious why the Capcom half of the cast is so wack. Only five of them are actually fighting game characters and, while I understand that this is an all-star roster encompassing Capcom's entire catalog, the final list is not even close to the Smash Bros. of Capcom. Viewtiful Joe--that makes sense. But where is Dante? Where is Phoenix Wright? Where is anything from Resident Evil? Radd Spencer and Super Joe? Arthur and Firebrand? Where is Mike Haggar?! The Mega Man in this game isn't even the real Mega Man!

Instead, we get Soki from Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams, the fourth and least successful of the Onimusha games. Sure, Onimusha is a top-ten Capcom franchise and, fair enough, there may be complications with using Samanosuke and Jubei again due to their having been modeled after real-life actors. Even so, most people don't even know that there was a fourth Onimusha. Nobody knows this guy. It's nice to see Rival Schools crossing into another fighting game, but Batsu was probably the least exciting representative possible. As for the new bloods, how well do you think that some Lost Planet mech with an unpronounceable name and Frank West, the hero of Dead Rising (but not Dead Rising 2) will be remembered within the Capcom canon years from now? I guess Saki from Quiz Nanairo Dreams (I don't know either) is the requisite obscure character, but is there really room for such nonsense when they don't even have the real Mega Man in there? Finally, did anybody really need Roll back? She was cute as a joke hidden character in the MvC games, but she should not again be taking up a valuable spot that could have gone to a more legitimate fighter.

Now, were the selections of Strider and Captain Commando in Marvel vs. Capcom really any better? Well, actually, yeah, I would take Strider over most of these fools. His series may have been retired after only two mediocre installments, but he's cool, and both he and Captain Commando kind of fit as Capcom heroes to stand toe-to-toe with the Marvel characters. They would have fit even better here as counterparts to Tatsunoko's anime characters.

Maybe I would have preferred something a little more familiar, but the game is fun. It is technically well-designed, probably more so than SFIV, which, for all its refinement, was still afflicted with that backward "Revenge" system. It is very much the successor to Capcom's earlier Marvel fighting games, so if you liked those, then you should enjoy this. Really, if you enjoy 2-D fighting games at all, then you should enjoy this.

No comments: