This "soul" ain't burning - Review By Fragmaster
Soul Fighter is a fantasy-themed, third-person beat 'em up starring a spy, a warrior, and a wizard. No, the concept isn't anything new… Gauntlet, anyone?
But regardless of what type of game Soul Fighter is, it'll sell quite a bit a bit of copies no matter how good it is, just because of the "confused parent factor." Since it's Christmas time, many completely clueless parents are piling into your local videogame dealers to buy the latest cool stuff for their kiddies. After scratching their heads for a few moments and asking the guy behind the counter if they have "decks of Pikachu," they may engage in a conversation that goes something like this:
Parent: "Hello, do you carry the Sony Dreammatch?" (may also be referred to as the Spellcast, Dreamland, or Sega It's Thinking Machine)
Clerk: "Sega Dreamcast? Yes we do."
Parent: "OK, I'll take one of those. I also need a Verrmooo."
Clerk: "A what?"
Parent: (exasperated sigh) "A Verrmooo!" (pulls list from pocket and checks it) "Yes, that's right. A Verrmoo. It's spelled V-M-U."
Clerk: "Oh, sorry, we're all out of those. Shortages and all. But we've got plenty of green Astropads…"
Parent: "Oh, OK, I'll take one of those instead. I also need the soul fighting game and the Y2K football game.
Clerk: (grabs NFL 2K from the shelf) "Hmmm… we have two games with 'Soul' in the title: Soul Fighter, which is on sale this week for $34.99, and Soul Calibur. Do you know which one you want?"
Parent: "On sale, huh? Ummm…" (looks at list) "Well, it's a fighting game… I think it is Soul Fighter. Is that a good game?"
Clerk: (snatching Soul Fighter off the shelf) "Yes, they're all good games!" (snickers under breath) "I'm sure he'll love it."
Parent: "This is for my daughter, you chauvinist. Will this Dreamcad play the Yellow Pikachu Snapshot game?"
The in-game interface is very well designed. In the top left-hand corner are your status bars: remaining health, combo power, weapon power, and time remaining are displayed for easy reference. On the right hand of the screen are the weapons you've collected and a map of the surrounding area at the bottom. This map shows nearby monsters and treasure chests, and also helps to keep you from getting lost as easily.
The sound is adequate, nothing special, but the "victory" voice that screams between levels is funny as hell for some reason. The music is better than average and attempts to be interactive by playing different music when you enter battle. The effect isn't really that great, but it's better than hearing the same loop over and over again.
OK, when "The Good" section consists of only two paragraphs and one of them deals with the interface, something is horribly wrong.
No, there's nothing wrong with your gamepad, Soul Fighter's control is just craptastic.
As a big fan of beat 'em up games, I was really looking forward to Soul Fighter. Needless to say, I was very disappointed. As much as I tried to like the game, Soul Fighter's many problems suck away all the fun.
Dynamite Cop is the only comparable brawler game on the Dreamcast, and despite the low four out of ten score I gave it, I'd still recommend that game over Soul Fighter. The big difference is that Dynamite Cop is fun to play (it's just way too short) and the controls are pretty tight. And the two player modes make the game kinda fun to play with friends. Soul Fighter, on the other hand, has awful controls and is single player only.
Soul Fighter's loose controls are made worse by the sloppy, slow, and seemingly crack-addled camera. The camera seems to take awhile to catch up to what you're currently doing. If you're running along right in the center of a path, the camera's fine, but when you're fighting a bunch of enemies and moving around, it's a piece of junk. As a result you'll often find yourself frantically unleashing punches and kick combos in the wrong direction, since the camera's movement caused you to get your orientation screwed up. Even after playing the game for hours, I still found myself swearing at it. I tested the game out on a newbie player, who pushed aside the controller in disgust after only a few minutes and asked me if I had any good games to play.
The list of gameplay problems is about a mile long, but I'll try to touch on the high points. First of all, the two gameplay modes are completely absurd: you've got arcade mode, and you've got adventure mode. In arcade mode, levels are timed and you get five continues. You can switch between one of the three characters (which really aren't that different anyway, despite what the box copy says) between levels, and once you run out of continues you're dead. No saving allowed. In adventure mode, you can save and the levels have no time limits (time limits aren't really a factor anyway, since you get plenty of time), but you must play the same hero throughout the game and only have one life. You can save your game after each level. This is it. There's no way to adjust the difficulty or any other game options, for that matter. So what's the problem? First of all, the game's difficulty prevented me from passing the first level without dying, which made adventure mode pretty useless since as soon as I died the game was over. So I played the game in arcade mode, which wasn't very fun since it'll take you a good 2-4 hours to get through the game. Plus, there's nothing more frustrating than getting to the last level - there's only five but they're pretty big - and dying, wasting all of your "accomplishments," which is exactly what I did.
I know the relatively high level of difficulty is there to keep the game from being another Dynamite Cop, a game you can run through in a half hour, but after hacking through the same poorly designed levels a couple times I certainly wasn't looking forward to playing it all over yet again. Like Dynamite Cop, Soul Fighter gets repetitive, especially when you have to play through the same level again.
I guess you technically could call Soul Fighter a videogame, but there's one small problem: it's no fun!
The gameplay is kinda like Natural Fawn Killers, except instead of trying to fill your vat up with critter giblets, you try to fill up your little jar thingie with souls. Woo.
There's a first person mode for throwing or shooting weapon powerups you pick up like knifes, arrows, axes, and oil bombs, but this is made pretty useless by the fact that there aren't many long-range encounters with enemies. Running away to gain some distance on enemies usually doesn't work. Each character has a special weapon they can pull out and use for a limited time, but the only one I found useful was the Wizard's blast spell-type attack, which I used against bosses. Most of the time, you're just using your fists and feet, punching, kicking, blocking, and jumping. Actually, you can get still get through the game by only using punch and kick, but whatever.
The level design is confusing and unimaginative. This is kinda surprising since the levels are pretty linear and devoid of any terrain changes whatsoever, aside from the occasional ramp. Even with the map, you're sure to get lost and confused at certain points. The first and fifth levels look pretty good, but the rest of the levels are pretty shoddy looking. The maps are almost totally static, the only interactive element I can think of is the lame-o windmill in the first level. Part of the reason for the poor level design is the fact that you need to kill all enemies to solve a level or advance through a certain point. But not all the enemies are there when you start a level. As a result, you may find yourself going back to areas you already thought were clear in order to find a monster to kill so you can advance. Sometimes you'll walk right by an area and not realize that enemies are there, and it's frustrating to go back and do cleanup. The first level is a good example, because no matter what path you take at the fork in the road you'll end up having to walk all the way back and kill whatever enemies you missed by taking the other path. That's just poor design, especially if you don't notice the other fork (like I did the first time).
Other gameplay issues include the inexplicably easy third level, which doesn't even have a boss character to fight, and the totally mindless monster AI. While there are supposedly like over 40 different enemies in the game, they're all so non-distinct (except for maybe those flying things and the werewolf in the orange jumpsuit) that you probably won't even notice. Sometimes you'll run into enemies that have dozed off and are asleep on the ground, they're probably just as bored as you are.
The graphics look pretty OK when you're looking at the screenshots and there are some nice textures, but overall they just don't cut the mustard. The art and character design aren't very inspired, but the main problem is the graphics engine. There's a good amount of fogging or "pop-in," something you'd expect to see in a Playstation game, but not a Dreamcast one. There are many, many areas that look accessible to the player, but are clipped off by invisible walls for no apparent reason. The second level is almost totally dark, to hide the inability of the engine to render a convincing town, no doubt.
The introductory cinematic, in which the King attempts to explain the story behind the game in a monologue, is one of the most pathetic things I've ever witnessed. It is seemingly ten minutes long (in other words, about nine and a half minutes too long), features some god-awful voice acting (think of Pauly Shore trying to impersonate Sean Connery and that'll give you an idea of how bad it is), and shows off camera work even a third grade Drama class would be ashamed of. And since the cinematic is done using the in-game engine, it looks like crap. The King's speech is embellished by poorly animated gestures and an animated mouth that makes no attempt at lip-synching. Did I mention that the King's speech is so horribly written and confusing that you probably won't understand any of it in the first place? There are also short cutscenes within the game that feature the three main characters busting down doors or discovering a new area, and all of these are as equally stupidfying. At least there's no voice acting involved in those, though.
Watching the introductory cinematic could land you in the hospital.
Since, like I said, I died before the very end of the game and didn't have the heart to go back and try again, I can't tell you how the ending is. But I'll go out on a limb here it say that it sucks too.
The Final Word
There's a reason Soul Fighter is already selling for a discounted price, but hey, you get what you pay for. Unless you think Dynamite Cop was the best thing since fried chicken, don't even bother to rent Soul Fighter. Stick with that other soul fighting game instead.
Publisher: Red Orb
Highs: "Victory!" voice is funny, the game didn't crash.
Lows: It was released.
Other: 1 player, VMU Compatible.
(out of a possible 10)
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