A reader takes a jaundice view of some of his lest favourite story modes from fighters including SoulCalibur and Mortal Kombat.
Before this Halloween season is over, SoulCalibur VI will have been released to the PlayStation 4 and Xbone. It will be one of the three high profile fighting games to have been released this year, joining Dragon Ball FighterZ back at the end of January and to be concluded with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate this Christmas.
As a veteran of the Soul series, I will be hoping for an excellent single-player that can complement the overall package. Something which the genre on the whole is not known for. The best you can hope for is something passable or mediocre, usually. But some are far worse than others. Lets look at what I consider to be the worst offenders. Whilst coming up with this, I thought it would be very easy to identify well over 10 for a Bottom 10n type feature. But, surprisingly, no – I could only think of six examples where fighting games delivered a less than average experience. So, six it is.
6. SoulCalibur III – Chronicles Of The Sword mode
Despite also being responsible for the best single-player youll ever find in a fighting game, SoulCalibur will appear once more on this list. In fairness, you will find a few advocates for this mode here and there. Because the idea of creating your own 10-man squad of characters to fight SoulCalibur duels has a lot of merit. What they probably wont advocate is the dreadful real0time strategy mode thats stuck onto it like a male angler fish. Trust me, Total War this aint. You would find more meaningful strategy in some dime-a-dozen Tower Defense game for your phone.
The mode consists of 20 chapters that present you with a battlefield map full of strongholds for you to either defend or take over. Soldiers can then be deployed to fight one another or attack strongholds. Soldiers can be organised into one of four units: cavalry are the fastest and can attack other units well. They are terrible for assaulting strongholds, however. Infantry units are the all-rounders, but you will find them too slow. Ill tell you why that matters in a bit. Knights will destroy strongholds with frightening ease and destroy other units, too. They are extremely slow, though. Bandits are nearly as fast as cavalry and are almost as good at toppling strongholds as knights.
As you may guess, it really is all about taking strongholds and keeping them – like a dumbed down version of Risk. But to start hurting a stronghold, a unit must first reach a stronghold. Which means that only the bandit type is ever worth using. And if youre letting battles play out in the field automatically then you are making a grave mistake. Not only is that excruciatingly dull but you will definitely lose health that way. But, if you click on your unit as it just enters into combat with another, then you can have a classic, one-on-one fight with them. Which is the only way to have any fun in this mode. And because the fights arent very difficult until the late stages, you can often get perfect results.
Long story short: those old, SoulCalibur battles with your own motley band is great fun but sadly dragged down by a tedious and incompetent strategy component that doesnt seem to know the meaning of the word. Oh, and watch out for the bug that can wipe out all of your progress! Yeah, have fun with that.
Score: 4 out of 10
5. Tekken 5 – Devil Within mode
Are you old enough to remember Tekken Force mode from Tekken 3? Yeah? Namco remembered it too for the mostly glorious fifth instalment in the King of Iron Fist Tournament. Sadly, they forgot all the good bits. Unlike Tekken 3, and then 6, in this mode you can only play as Jin Kazuya as he pummels his way through a whole countrys worth of Jack robots and other, even more generic enemies in a selection of about five extremely bland levels. There is some mindless fun to be had, bashing the endless horde of brainless baddies – but the first Double Dragon is still more entertaining than this. It had better bosses, too.
Score: 3 out of 10
4. Street Fighter V – A Shadow Falls mode
Boy was this worth the wait, eh? How long did it take Capcom to squeeze this out? About six months? Worst case of constipation in history. I could ridicule the dreadfulness of the actual narrative which involves Bison tracking down magical sci-fi chess pieces to activate doomsday lasers – or something – but lets look at where it really falls down next to the efforts of a NetherRealm fighter. Even the less refined Mortal Kombat 9.
The structure has all the pace of a lead sail boat to China that has just lost its sails. And has sunk. But you cant die and have to drag it along the ocean floor. Then the game forces you to spend far too long as characters who I personally hate. Charlie is a zombie now and feels heavy and sluggish – a universe away from his debut in Street Fighter Alpha. And then theres F.A.N.G Even his name is obnoxious. Im sure there are people who like this creep. Maybe they even use him as their main character. And thats their prerogative. They are of course serial killers who make furniture out of human skin, but hey – each to their own. Having to play as this guy for even a second is torturous.
To make matters worse, the difficulty is all over the place, going from why did they even bother turning up easy to controller-smashing arcade killer hard. Your life will be better for having never tried it. At least those magic chess pieces are really funny.
Score: 2 out of 10
3. Dragon Ball FighterZ – Story mode
This one broke my heart. I love the mechanics. I think theyre superior to Street Fighter IV, even. As a party game it will be awesome. Very intuitive controls, beautiful graphics and clearly made with love. If I had any patience for the online scene, I would probably love it. But I dont have that patience. If anybody tries to tell me that this game has good single-player, I want them to submit to a drugs screening because they are talking crazy. Ill be honest, I have very little knowledge or interest in the source material, but the cut scenes did make me chuckle, especially the domestic disputes between Bulma and Vegeta.
So, whats my problem? The cut scenes might be good, but that is literally your only reward. And personally, I cant play any game – never mind a fighting game – just for the cut scenes alone. For while you have the opportunity to play as many characters I dont think it counts for much. Theyre not identical, but they are all very similar to one another. Like Street Fighters love of karate dudes. Which will make for a great party atmosphere in multiplayer but makes for a terrible solo experience.
This could have been mitigated by a story mode that was only a couple of hours long or rewarded you with a steady stream of meaningful unlockables. But you dont get that. You get a slightly better version of Goku and Vegeta if you either beat the story mode or beat the hardest version of arcade mode. Which doesnt sound worth the trouble, if you ask me. Because the story mode… just… keeps… going… on… and on forever and ever and ever! I was bored by the fifth battle and theres like a whole bazillion of them!
To paraphrase Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman: imagine if a bird pecks the top of the tallest mountain in the world just once and flies away. The bird does the same thing on the same day the following year. It does this year after year until at last the mountain has been ground down to nothing. How long do you think that would take? A thousand years? Hundreds of thousands? Millions? And even after all that, you still wont have finished the story mode in Dragon Ball FighterZ!
Score: 1 out of 10
2. Mortal Kombat V: Deadly Alliance – Konquest mode
You might be thinking to yourself why there isnt more Mortal Kombat on this list. If you are, stop that – its bad. I found the other efforts of the sixth generation to be at least average or better. Even Mortal Kart, or whatever it is they called it. I also really loved Chess Kombat. Yeah, thats right! Kome at me, bro! But anyway, the first big Mortal Kombat game of the sixth generation was not very good. Some good ideas, but in typical NetherRealm Studios fashion (even if they werent called as such back then), not so good execution. And in this particular case, pretty awful execution.
The graphics were not exactly competitive, even for the time – but at least this and the following Mortal Kombat: Deception were handsome in an Image Comics sort of way. There was only one fatality per character, no stage fatalities and even what you did get was mostly underwhelming. Several of the newcomers were pretty rubbish too. Like Mavado, the desperate Neo wannabe and Hsu Hao, who looks like he belongs on a North Korean military model calendar. Maybe as January.
Then again, we were treated to the lovely Li Mei and naughty Nitara. The latter of which is a vampire seemingly dressed as a pirate. Or a vampirate, if you will. Li Mei and Nitara for Mortal Kombat 11!
But forward on to Konquest mode, supposedly the main meat of the solo experience. There were aspirations here to emulate Mission Battle from SoulCalibur. Sadly, Ed Boon and all his boys and girls fell far short of that. Because, all the Simon says type tutorial stuff should be over and done with in the first few minutes – and not, you know, take up the vast majority of the game! I think there was one mission where you fought an opponent in the dark, maybe another where you were bleeding to death and had to beat the other guy before your health runs down. I cant really remember. Most of it was just do this move, do this combo, rinse and repeat with every character.
And good luck with the style branching combos. The controls were poorly calibrated, the timing and hit detection was inconsistent and unreliable – even for the DualShocks button triggers, which is where the button to switch between styles was. Because that was the games big idea: each character had two unarmed, martial styles and a style with some kind of melee weapon and you could switch between them on the fly. On the original Xbox, with its spongy triggers, I tend to believe that the more elaborate style branching combos are just not possible.
Nonetheless, this is still really boring. And with 10 missions per character it overstays its welcome before you finish or give up on the first character, never mind the last.
Score: 1 out of 10
1. SoulCalibur V – Story mode
What is it with fighting games and the number 5? Is there some unwritten cosmic law that they must get something really wrong? Though you could argue that this is the sixth entry in the series, but then again it predecessor was not exactly without sin, was it?
While far from being a terrible game, it is most certainly terrible for SoulCalibur. Jumping the narrative forward by two decades, Namco and Project Soul decided to introduce brand new characters. Only theyre not truly new – theyre just cheap knockoffs of superior originals. Taki, Seong Mina, Xianghua, Talim, Yun-Seong, Cassandra, Amy, Setsuka and Zasalamel all got the boot. Kilik and Sophitia were relegated to Edge Master status – characters that took on a random weapon at the start of every round, so they were pretty much gone too. Those first mild symptoms of anime disease that began to appear way back in SoulCalibur II had escalated into a fully blown terminal condition here.
The stars of the story mode were Sophitias rotten kids – Patroklos (I never want to type that name again) and his no better named twin sister, Pyrrha. These two are never as fun to play as either their mum or aunt. Or even Lizardman, for Amaterasus sake! And you play as them for most of the storys run time! For a small handful of battles, youll get to play as someone else – but its nowhere near enough. And if you thought that Yoda and Darth Vader didnt suit this franchise, then the massive anime stereotypes of Z.W.E.I and Viola really dont either.
But I have tiptoed around the elephant in the room and we can no longer ignore the smell of its colossal leavings. While it seems pointless to criticise the narrative direction in a fighting game of all things, I can assure you that it is very pertinent here. When brother and sister meet, things get very creepy. Yes, Im talking strong and reciprocated incest vibes, here. No, its not Game pf Thrones nor is this the product of over-analytical minds – it is most definitely there. The sensible reaction to this? I believe it was Princess Bonnibel Bubblegum who once said: No, no, no, no, no – stop talking. Go to jail.
I dont think it was intended, at least you have to hope not, just staggering incompetence. What can you do after having witnessed such an abysmal and offensive display? Maybe bleach your controller, your television, the inside of your console, your eyes, your hands and even your brain. Then again, maybe dont do that. It might void your warranty. Also, I hear bleach might be bad for you or something.
Score: 0 out of 10
On the bright side, the only direction for SoulCalibur VI from here is up, right? Right?
By reader DMR
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