Is it possible that a game can be fun, challenging and beautiful but yet still feel incomplete, just because you can’t play it online against your friends?
And that’s exactly the problem with Sega’s "Virtua Fighter 5." It’s a fighting machine, a hand-to-hand combat lover’s dream. Its graphics are sharp, pretty and full of details. Yet Virtua Fighter 5’s (MSRP $59.95, Rated “T”) lack of online capability leaves the gamer wanting more, and that’s a shame – especially since its tournament-style gameplay would be perfectly suited for online play.
"Virtua Fighter 5" provides non-stop action from the very first, allowing the gamer to jump into the fray without enduring a long, boring introduction. To get started, you simply pick a mode and pick a fighter.
You can choose from the 17 available characters, each with their own fighting style. The styles range from Judo to Pro-Wrestling to Drunken Kung Fu, which has the character flop around like he’s had one too many Sapporos. These fighters may range in size, age, ethnicities and genders, but not in skills. In the "Virtua Fighter" world, women fight men, and, oftentimes, the women kick butt.
15 of these characters, like Jeffry McWild and Wolf Hawkfield are carry-overs from previous "Virtua Fighter" titles, and two are new: El Blaze, a Mexican wrestler that uses the Lucha Libre fighting style, and Eileen, who uses a Monkey Kung Fu style called Kou-Ken.
After selecting your fighter, you’ll be thrown into the ring, pitted against competitors whose sole purpose is to beat you down (but not to kill you — these are not deathmatches, they’re regulated bouts). Each match consists of multiple rounds, and you win rounds by inflicting so much damage that your opponent’s health meter is reduced to zero (a K.O.), or by knocking your opponent out of the ring (called a Ring Out).
You can also win by having more health than your opponent when the clock runs out. And if the clock runs down and both fighters have the same amount of health, it’s a draw and both are credited with a win. (But really, where’s the fun in that?) But since a match can’t end with a draw, you'll have to play a Sudden Death round — where the first person to score a hit wins — to determine the victor.
Winning certain matches results in rewards. Some rewards will raise your rank, while others bestow items like cash or clothing that you can use to customize your character. With only 17 characters in the game, you’ll often find yourself fighting your twin — an identical character with the same name, spouting the same catch phrases. The only difference is your outfit. Customizing helps you to distinguish yourself.
But customizing your character also does something else: it points out that glaring lack of online playability. You spend all this time winning awards to deck out your character, but then you don’t get to share it. It’s kind of like fixing up a classic car and then never being allowed to take it for a ride.
So if you don’t have someone to play right beside you, you’ll have to settle for beating up computerized challengers using a vast array of attack maneuvers. While the basic kicks and punches are fairly intuitive, learning all your fighter’s abilities — particularly the advanced moves — will take some time. For example, in order to get Hawkfield to do a side suplex (a wrestling move that throws your foe onto the ground) his opponent will need to be crouching and you’ll need to press the down button and the punch, guard and kick buttons at the same time. Think that sounds confusing? Some moves require you to press a combination of up to 10 buttons, and others require you tap buttons quickly instead of holding them down.
If you’re a casual gamer, these quirks can drive you mad. But if you like classic arcade-style fighting games and you’re willing to take the time to learn all the moves, "Virtua Fighter" will reward you with a solid gaming experience. And if the lack of online play really bothers you, you can always invite your friends over to your place for a video game party.