Sometimes revisiting the past can be detrimental towards one's most endearing and nostalgic memories. Time has a way of distorting the past and make things seem much more positive than they actually were. This is something that I became more painfully aware of while playing Final Fight One. I come from the same generation of gamers—who cut their teeth on quarters and joysticks rather than consoles and gamepads—that Mike hails from. Most of my memories of Final Fight were ecstatic, so when it came time to play the Game Boy Advance (GBA) revival I was more than eager.

Sadly, taking Final Fight One out for another spin proved to be a disaster and I took little joy in reenacting the old. The game is repetitive as Mike mentions, but that isn't what threw me for a loop. Even today, most contemporary games aren't as diverse as most people seem to think and repetition isn't necessarily the antithesis to engaging play. What immediately jolted my happy endorphins was an absolutely brutal difficulty level. Even on the easiest setting, the challenge proved overwhelming and I struggled to crawl out of the earliest stages. Was the difficulty level jacked up or did my gaming skills diminish?

Enemies bounce out of attack reach with inhuman agility and attack with a robotic-like efficiency. Punches from the player seem to only pack featherweight damage while computer opponents, no matter the size or gender, throw down like super heavyweights. To compensate for the imbalance in strength, I looked for weaknesses in the scripted movements of my enemies to exploit and matched mechanical behavior with equally mechanical behavior. This results in the frequent and ridiculous visuals like the one of me rapid-fire punching towards the outside edge of the screen that won't scroll until the enemies have been cleared or an open door way in anticipation of an incoming enemy will hopefully step into my left jab.

The emotion and drama of hand-to-hand combat becomes lost in the overly calculated gameplay that bares little semblance to fighting and appears more like some detached ritualistic dance. If I don't feel like I'm actually fighting, why am I playing a game called Final Fight? Why did I like playing this game in the first place? Rating: 4 out of 10

Chi Kong Lui

Chi Kong Lui

In the 1980s, Chi grew up in small town on the outskirts of New York City called Jackson Heights. Latino actor, John Leguizamo referred to the town as the "melting pot of the world," and while living there, Chi was exposed to many diverse cultures, as well as a bevy of arcade classics such as Pac-Man, Space Ace, Space Harrier and Double Dragon. Chi's love of videogames only seemed to grow as his parents finally caved and bought him an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (after being the only kid in the block without one). In the 1990s, Chi finagled his way into the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts.

Somewhere between all the gaming, Chi some how managed to finish high school and get into the New York Institute of Technology. At the same time, Chi also interned at Virtual Frontiers, an Internet software consultancy where he learned the ways of HTML. Soon after acquiring his BFA, Chi went on to become the lead Web designer of the Anti-Defamation League. During his tenure there, Chi was instrumental in redesigning and relaunching the non-profit organization's Web site.

Today, Chi is the webmaster of the American Red Cross in Greater New York and somehow managed to work through the tragic events of September 11th without losing his sanity. Chi considers GameCritics.com his life's work and continues to be amazed that the web site is still standing after the recent dotcom fallout. It is his dream that GameCritics.com will accomplish two things: 1) Redefine the grammar of videogames much the same way French film critic Andre Bazin did for the art of cinema and 2) bring game criticism to the forefront of mainstream culture much the same way Siskel & Ebert did for film criticism.
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Much like the entrepreneurial dojo owner/martial arts master that claims self-defense and confidence can be achieved through the practice of kata forms (choreographed movements) and breaking wooden boards for $1k a year, Virtua Fighter 4 is a hoax. The Virtua Fighter series has always presented itself with a greater sense of dignity and realism than other fighting games that usually take the anime-fantasy theme route, but the latest sequel of the series exposes the hand-to-hand martial arts simulator label to be more hyperbole than substance.

Ironically Virtua Fighter 4 is responsible for its own downfall by including the new competitor, Vanessa Lewis, who is a practitioner of the fighting style Vale Tudo (which means anything-goes in Portuguese). Never mind that Vale Tudo isn't a fighting system. Its actually the term used in South America to describe what is more commonly referred to as No-Holds-Barred or Mixed Martial Arts in the United States. Mixed Martial Arts is a sport where hybrid striking and grappling techniques derived from various fighting arts like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai and American/European Boxing are employed to either knockout an opponent or force him or her into submission. The ever-evolving sport rose to international notoriety and popularity through the U.S.-based Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) tournaments and Japanese-based Pride FC promotions.

(Critic's Note:For more information on the history of UFC, read the GameCritics.com review of the UFC Dreamcast game.)

Not surprisingly, the rise in popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (especially in Japan) inspired game developers to include professional fighters of the same caliber into their casts of playable combatants. Vanessa Lewis, with her Janet Jackson-esque rock hard abs and richly dark exotic looks, is the first representative of Vale Tudo/Mixed Martial Arts sport to enter the Virtua Fighter series. The irony about the techniques employed by Vanessa is that they do indeed mirror the sport, but like all mirror reflections, the image is distorted. The limitations of the classic Street Fighter tried-and-true formula that Virtua Fighter still utilizes for its framework makes justly representing Vale Tudo unattainable and the results are often a ridiculous sight.

For example, there is a combination leg grappling move that allows Vanessa to take her opponent to the floor, full mount that opponent (imagine sitting on someones abdomen), and then lay a good punch into the kisser. In Mixed Martial Arts this is known as the ground 'n pound tactic and the full mount is one of the most dominant positions one can attain. Rather than maintain the superior position, after the punch is executed, Vanessa unbelievably dismounts her opponent and allows him or her to rise to their feet. This would be the Poker equivalent of folding with four aces in hand.

Another instant that demonstrates lack of creditability in illustrating Vale Tudo is when Vanessa executes a submission arm-bar. The move involves locking a persons arm followed by placing both legs across the persons face and chest for leverage and then hyper extending the opponents arm. Like most joint locks, great pain is inflicted on the person being arm-barred and that person must cry "uncle" to end the conflict. However, once Vanessa slaps on the arm bar and a subsequent bone cracking noise is heard, she once again gives up her position and allows her opponent to stand up. This action is the very anti-thesis of grappling and submission fighting and has virtually zero rationale.

Not only does Virtua Fighter 4 represent Vale Tudo poorly, but it also ignores the shocking lessons that Mixed Martial Arts taught the world when the UFC made its debut nearly 10 years ago and shook the very foundation of how the fighting arts were perceived. The UFC tournament exposed traditional systems of martial arts as being ineffective and incomplete in dealing with everyday street brawling and ground fighting type situations. Since most real-life or free-form fights typically end up on the ground, Kung-fu, Tae Kwon Do, Karate, and Kick-boxing men all fell prey to the superior grappling and submission techniques of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (which emphasizes groundwork) put on display by the unassuming Royce Gracie.

Out of the cast of 13 playable fighters in Virtua Fighter 4, a majority of them are practitioners of styles that are more likely to be seen in Chop-Sockie Drive-in movies like The 36 Chambers of Shaolin or The Five Deadly Venoms than in actual fights. The inclusion of fanciful and legendary styles like the Praying Mantis, Drunken Fist, and Ninjitsu as well as the overemphasis on stand-up fighting perpetuates the myth and cliches of ancient and deadly mystical martial arts secrets that the UFC quickly dispelled.

(Critic's Note: Ironically, the official Virtua Fighter 4 Web site openly acknowledges the connection between Vale Tudo and the UFC despite making no attempt to alter the gameplay to match Mixed Martial Arts.)

The most surprising and egregious fault of Virtua Fighter 4 is that the more skill and experience a player attains, the more ridiculous and unrealistic the fights become. Rather than focusing on strategy and positioning, the highest levels of competition in the game forces a player to be adept a videogame-isms like juggling combos, finger gymnastic motions of the joystick, and attacks that statistically register the most amount of damage (despite little rhyme or reason as to why many similar looking strikes do disproportionate amounts of damage). Highly skilled and competitive matches in the game bare little semblance to an actual fight.

For gamers well versed in the grammar and conventions of 3D two-player fighting games, Virtua Fighter 4 is without many surprises, but still undoubtedly a masterful exercise in the genre. The visuals are stunning, the controls are smooth and the Kumite mode is simple, yet dangerously addictive (why more fighting games don't follow suit is beyond me). However, Virtua Fighter 4 doesn't promote itself to be a typical fighting game. It holds itself to a higher standard as if it were thumbing its nose to its competitors like some bolstering old master who claims the martial art hes been practicing his entire lifetime is superior to all others.

The reason why I gave Virtua Fighter 4 a rather average rating is because its claims of being realistic is only a marketing bluff. Conceptually, the game doesn't commit to being a simulator. Despite outward appearances, there is very little difference between it and other comic book style fighting games. Just like anyone who practices kata forms and can convincingly mimic the movements of an animal shouldn't think they are capable of defending themselves in a street fight, no one should think Virtua Fighter 4 is a martial arts simulator. Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Chi Kong Lui

Chi Kong Lui

In the 1980s, Chi grew up in small town on the outskirts of New York City called Jackson Heights. Latino actor, John Leguizamo referred to the town as the "melting pot of the world," and while living there, Chi was exposed to many diverse cultures, as well as a bevy of arcade classics such as Pac-Man, Space Ace, Space Harrier and Double Dragon. Chi's love of videogames only seemed to grow as his parents finally caved and bought him an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (after being the only kid in the block without one). In the 1990s, Chi finagled his way into the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts.

Somewhere between all the gaming, Chi some how managed to finish high school and get into the New York Institute of Technology. At the same time, Chi also interned at Virtual Frontiers, an Internet software consultancy where he learned the ways of HTML. Soon after acquiring his BFA, Chi went on to become the lead Web designer of the Anti-Defamation League. During his tenure there, Chi was instrumental in redesigning and relaunching the non-profit organization's Web site.

Today, Chi is the webmaster of the American Red Cross in Greater New York and somehow managed to work through the tragic events of September 11th without losing his sanity. Chi considers GameCritics.com his life's work and continues to be amazed that the web site is still standing after the recent dotcom fallout. It is his dream that GameCritics.com will accomplish two things: 1) Redefine the grammar of videogames much the same way French film critic Andre Bazin did for the art of cinema and 2) bring game criticism to the forefront of mainstream culture much the same way Siskel & Ebert did for film criticism.
Chi Kong Lui

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I know this is never going to be read but Dude! Lighten up! You’re rating the game based on its promotional tactics? Instead of y’now, like gameplay? There isn’t any game that is a complete out and out simulation without any gameplay trappings whatever (just look at sports games for example, many features can be exploited if you stop playing “realistically”) so bitching about Virtua Fighter “ripping” you off is to put it simply, stupid. If you ever thought the earlier iterations of VF were “simulations” of some sort, I’m sorry thats not the case.

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In an industry that can't seem to distinguish the fine line between mature and immature, the sexist T & A ad campaign for Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix was very troublesome to me. By alienating women and targeting the more sexually depraved and adolescent minded part of the male population, Fear Effect 2 signals a dangerous trend that may eventually condemn videogames to the same narrow ghetto culture that plagues comic books.

In his review of Fear Effect 2, Brad appropriately cites Quentin Tarentino because this is a director who often deals with the same kind shocking and adolescent-appealing style of sex and violence. The only difference is that he does so with such knowledgeable craft and artistry that even high-minded critics couldnt ignore his contributions to the art of filmmaking. Story-driven and so-called "mature" videogames desperately need a groundbreaking work of such caliber to reach out to broader audiences and to achieve higher art.

The surprising thing about Fear Effect 2 is that the actual game isn't the cultural apocalyptic horseman that the ad campaign makes it out to be. As much as I wanted to punish this title right from the on set for the print ads and overused "dark" cliches in the introduction movie (spare me anymore scenes with femme fatales killing their targets after sex, suicidal loose cannons playing Russian roulette, and hookers with money thrown at them), I couldn't do so after prolonged play. Fear Effect 2 is, without a doubt, a title of intense style and quality substance. I don't think Fear Effect 2 is the title that will breakdown the walls of perception and revolutionize the way games are viewed upon by the mainstream public, but I'll be damned if it doesn't come oh so close.

With quite possibly the greatest voice-acting to ever grace a videogame, a surprisingly well conceived narrative, stunning art direction, witty script, and bits of risqué content, Fear Effect 2 is game that pushes all the right buttons and hardly takes a misstep. I was really taken aback by the visuals in particular. Its refreshing to see something that just doesn't aspire to be Blade Runner, but actually surpasses it. The combination of cel-shaded models with strong anime influences and lively scenery from the CG-rendered full-motion video backgrounds just blew me away and had me believing and admiring this whole other world that was put forth before me. I was never bothered by the graininess in the picture, either. In fact, the graininess to me added more character to the presentation and made the game seem all that much more unique. Frankly, I'm surprised other titles have not tried to incorporate such an effective technology.

In terms of gameplay, Fear Effect 2 does seem to take a few steps back from the innovative content and visuals. Dealing with the same kinds of problems that the similar survival-horror genre has brandished for years, Fear Effect 2 at times manages to transcend some those limitations, while at other times it seems just as backward. For example, the controls I felt were much more interesting than that of the Resident Evil titles. I appreciated the "fear effect" meter, seamless item/weapon selection and the crouching /rolling evasive maneuvers. For puzzle and mission design, there's an undercover mission involving Hana and Rain collaborating to infiltrate a formal party that was simply brilliant, while another mission requiring Rain to confusingly backtrack to the exact same location where she was just forced to leave was just tired. And just as Brad mentioned, some puzzles just seemed totally over my head and left me scratching my head in frustration for hours on end.

As I alluded to earlier, Fear Effect 2 isn't exactly the Pulp-Fiction of videogames. It needs to delve deeper into the topics of violence, sex, and homosexuality in order for it to be so. At the same time, it still comes very close, and it is certainly so much more than what the lowbrow ad campaign makes it out to be (which ironically does the game a huge disservice be alienating female gamers that could have found the strong, fleshed-out characters of Hana and Rain appealing). Despite my earlier desire to expose this title for another adolescent-minded piece of exploitation trash, it still ended up winning me over in spades. Fear Effect 2 is more than just a step in the right direction. It's exciting game-making that deserves recognition for creativity and courage. It's titillation as art. Rating: 9 out of 10

Chi Kong Lui

Chi Kong Lui

In the 1980s, Chi grew up in small town on the outskirts of New York City called Jackson Heights. Latino actor, John Leguizamo referred to the town as the "melting pot of the world," and while living there, Chi was exposed to many diverse cultures, as well as a bevy of arcade classics such as Pac-Man, Space Ace, Space Harrier and Double Dragon. Chi's love of videogames only seemed to grow as his parents finally caved and bought him an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (after being the only kid in the block without one). In the 1990s, Chi finagled his way into the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts.

Somewhere between all the gaming, Chi some how managed to finish high school and get into the New York Institute of Technology. At the same time, Chi also interned at Virtual Frontiers, an Internet software consultancy where he learned the ways of HTML. Soon after acquiring his BFA, Chi went on to become the lead Web designer of the Anti-Defamation League. During his tenure there, Chi was instrumental in redesigning and relaunching the non-profit organization's Web site.

Today, Chi is the webmaster of the American Red Cross in Greater New York and somehow managed to work through the tragic events of September 11th without losing his sanity. Chi considers GameCritics.com his life's work and continues to be amazed that the web site is still standing after the recent dotcom fallout. It is his dream that GameCritics.com will accomplish two things: 1) Redefine the grammar of videogames much the same way French film critic Andre Bazin did for the art of cinema and 2) bring game criticism to the forefront of mainstream culture much the same way Siskel & Ebert did for film criticism.
Chi Kong Lui

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