Here at GameCritics.com, we don't always get an early crack on new releases. Often, we don't get through a game until commercial sites have had their say and word of mouth has had time to circulate. I was not oblivious, then, to the general panning of Kakuto Chojin, a 3D fighter that debuted a year ago as a tech demo to showcase the Xbox's lighting and effects capabilities. It can be challenging to suspend one's expectations in order to better understand a game. But Kakuto Chojin, though certainly not an abysmal failure, is indeed mediocre at best. Despite a team of developers hailing from respected fighting games that include Tobal No.1 and Soul Calibur, Kakuto Chojin ends as little more than the tech demo as which it began.
Stylistically, Kakuto Chojin is a treat. It features smooth, lifelike animation with beautiful graphics and creatively designed characters. Even the soundtrack—a sort of dark, pulsing techno theme—adds nicely to the ambiance. Visually, the game impresses with excellent lighting and reflections, but overall it is not as impressive as last year's Dead Or Alive 3. The backgrounds look a little flat, and the industrial/urban-themed settings are generally static and lifeless. It is still a good-looking game, however; the decaying, claustrophobic arenas and purposefully unappealing combatants give the game a unique aesthetic appeal.
Unfortunately, that is where the appeal ends. The ultimate barometer of a fighting game's success is its gameplay, and in this respect Kakuto Chojin is decidedly average. It is not for a complete lack of effort—somewhat like the new Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, Kakuto Chojin eschews the conventional "punch, kick, block" scheme and instead implements high, middle, and low attacks that are designated to the face buttons. The system has potential, but Kakuto Chojin leaves the concept underdeveloped. Contrary to what I had read elsewhere, each fighter has a fair number of moves, but nowhere near the number of today's better fighters. While the game can be easily beaten with a handful of hackneyed combos, fighting games have never been about getting to the end but rather mastering the nuances of combat. Kakuto Chojin's depth comes from moves that are linked to create new combinations. One character for example, a Bruce Lee look-alike, has a "pak sao" (parry) that can be performed after a basic offensive attack. If he intercepts a counter attack, he can perform additional moves after the pak sao. Other characters may end an attack in a certain stance that allows for new attacks or a position that, based on their opponent's reaction, allows them to perform follow-ups and counters. Unfortunately, I feel that few players will discover this depth. The practice mode that is offered is inexcusably subpar, and features no way to spar with the computer; thus it becomes impossible to practice all of the available moves since so many of them are based on your opponent's reaction. Depth has little value if it is inaccessible.
But there are problems with Kakuto Chojin that hamper the depth it does have. Aside from the timing elements needed to link new moves, the dynamic between combatants is lacking. In Dead Or Alive 3 for example, I could stun an opponent or knock them off balance with a strike to the legs. I could then capitalize on their momentary loss of balance with a carefully chosen string of unique attacks based how they reacted to the first attack. I could time my attacks to counter their offensive attempts to leave them momentarily vulnerable; or, I could intercept their attack and throw them to the ground. Think of Soul Calibur, the way that a powerful strike would make a blocking opponent heave backward under the force of the attack. Such dynamics do not exist in Kakuto Chojin. Opponents cannot be forced off balance, pressured, or intercepted. Kaktuo Chojin rarely forces players to think, react, or adapt to their opponents. Worse still is the absence of a deep grappling system. Each character has a default throw, but after experiencing the deep counter/throw system in Dead Or Alive 3 last year, Kakuto Chojin again is sorely lacking. Lastly, the arenas are all completely flat, empty and lifeless. Nothing in the environment can be used against opponents—even basic wall combos are absent.
The minimalist approach to fighting is mirrored in the features offered as well. Aside from a modestly enjoyable four-player battle royale, there are no unique features to extend the life of the game. Fitting, since there was little life to begin with, but still disappointing.
The best thing I've gotten from Kakuto Chojin is an appreciation for the finer nuances of today's superior 3D fighters. It is not worthless, but feels outdated. With only Dead Or Alive 3 and Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance to fill out the Xbox's fighting lineup, Kakuto Chojin should have been better. It should have matched its dark, stylistic image with a deep fighting engine and compelling features. Fighting games are deceptively simple, complicated games to develop, and with today's standards there is no room for mediocrity. Kakuto Chojin doesn't have the goods to find a place in any fighting fan's library.