IF THE FIRST seven months are any indication, 2009 will go down as the year of the fighting games. So many are out right now, and more scheduled, that you'd think the genre were going out of style.
Capcom launched arguably the best game of the year so far with "Street Fighter IV," and NamcoBandai is following up with "Tekken 6" and "SoulCalibur: Broken Destiny." Between these bookend titles, a wealth of lesser-known fighting games have bowed in recent weeks.
The best of the bunch comes courtesy of Arc Systems Works, the team behind the cult franchise "Guilty Gear." Its latest project, "BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger," takes a more serious tone than its heavy metal-inspired predecessor. At first glance, it seems as if the title takes its story and stylistic cues from the anime "Neon Genesis Evangelion."
With a more accessible world, players will find a system that's amazingly deep. "BlazBlue" features several blocks and counters. There are a number of modes that include online play and a text-heavy story option. But what makes a fighting game successful is its characters. Players not only have to love their back story, but they have to enjoy playing as them as well.
"BlazBlue" succeeds at both, creating memorable fighters such as Noel Vermillion, a plucky lieutenant, and Ragna the Bloodedge, the renegade who spurs the game's plot. All characters play differently and have abilities based around the drive button. For example, Ragna's D-button attacks leach life from an opponent, while his brother Jin Kisaragi has attacks focused on freezing opponents.
What's amazing is that Arc Systems created enough distinct styles for its roster of 12 characters. Combine this with a solid online mode that tracks players experiences and replays, and you have an excellent fighting game that stands out.
Not to be outdone, Backbone Entertainment follows up last year's "Super Street Fighter II HD Remix" with a port of the fabled "Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes." With 56 fighters, the game features one of the largest rosters in the genre.
Players pick three characters from the mix of Capcom legends and Marvel heroes and villains. The game's enormous depth partly comes from the numerous team combinations. Competitors have to find the right balance among fighters and their assist moves.
Sadly, Backbone couldn't redo the title's sprites or update the gameplay as it did with "HD Remix." Instead, the team kept everything the same but the developers rendered it in high-definition with different filters.
Despite the lack of a visual overhaul, "Marvel vs. Capcom 2" plays beautifully, and since its arcade release in 2000, players have been exploring and mapping its ridiculously deep fighting system. The game has so many options and techniques that it can be as intimidating as Calculus, but those with the patience to learn the system will enjoy a fighter that rewards players with satisfying combos and experiences that translate to other titles.
Lastly, SNK Playmore offers the least impressive fighting title with "The King of Fighters XII." It's the first installment in the franchise in nearly four years, but unfortunately, the game wasn't worth the wait.
The latest title is bare-bones with a cast of 12 fighters. Players choose a team of three and battle another trio. Players can't switch out among characters; instead, they'll have brawl in an order they choose. A victory in one round earns the winner more health but also a matchup against the next fighter in the list. Players keep going until a team is defeated.
The sprite-based fighters shows off gorgeous hand-drawn graphics that scale as fighters run in close or move farther apart. The fighting system itself isn't nearly as impressive as its peers. I appreciate the pared-down list of moves, but in terms of depth, there isn't much aside from a critical counter and guard attack.
With the single-player arcade mode, there isn't even much of a story. It's more of a time attack, where players try to beat a series of teams in the shortest mark possible. As for the online play, the addition of clan support is interesting, but it doesn't make up for a lackluster system or middling cast.
Reach Gieson Cacho at 510-735-7076 or gcacho@bayareanews group.com.