There are three or four of us that played Tobal 2 back in the day and though we all live on other parts of the planet, every once in awhile we are near enough to pick up a controller and get in some beatings. Saturday was a time of such beatings with my brother, who, while schooled when he played any other character, beat my ass with EPON (the little dirty dishclout). Needless to say, Tobal 2 stands the test of time, even though the graphics we were once in awe of look old as the hills now, the fact that the game runs at 60 frames per second really keeps it playable. That said, I’d say now days, Tobal is all but forgotten, and with the exception of the Japan only Tobal M, nothing has moved on any type of sequel (nor will it). Tobal is a game series by ex Namco and Sega employees at a company called Dreamfactory who did something very different compared to their contemporaries–moving away from the 2-d plane in a 3d fighting game. It took Tekken and Virtua Fighter until their fourth incarnations to implement this and Tobal No. 1 had it in 1996! To be sure, MOST of what you get gameplay wise from Tobal can be found in Virtua Fighter 4/5 and if you are slumming it, the more recent Tekkens. I won’t hesitate to say that VF5 is a better game than Tobal 2 overall because VF5 is the has the overall best fighting game engine there is, but all ten of the remaining Tobal fans lament the one piece that modern 3d fighters should have mercilessly ripped from the mechanics– the grappling system.
Every time I pick up Tobal again, I’m simply amazed at how the grappling system works and how fun it is. In VF5, a character does a grapple and at the moment of the grab has imputed his or her ‘move’ to do on the opponent. The opponent must input a counter to the move extremely fast, almost to the point of anticipating the grab happening. This leads to what’s called ‘fuzzy’ grapple counters where you actually mash buttons and hope to get in the right inputs to do a counter, not precision pressing like the rest of the game. The move either lands or it doesn’t and then you get into what the frame advantage is for the grappler/grapplee, etc.
In Tobal, grapples happen and start with the grappler in control of the clinch who can either do low kicks, high punches, push or pull or throw one of two per-character grapple moves. As the grappled player, you can block high to low (and change up your blocks when needed) and if you time it right and guess the correct direction of pull, reverse the control of the grapple. In addition, whenever a grapple finisher happens, the opponent can counter that either leads to them controlling the grapple or getting out of it completely (again leading to who has frame advantage between the two players).
So what happened to Dreamfactory? After Ehrghiez God bless the Ring, which was actually in arcades, and the PS2 launch title Bouncer (a lackluster fighter and a graphically solid but mechanically poor beatemup IMO) as well as the dungeon crawl fighter Crimson Tears (also not all that great–and it’s one big sewer level —no joke), no Tobal 3 rose from the ashes, yet Dreamfactory has been putting out fighting games– the last one was in 2007 called Tough: Dark Fight (Japan only thank god) and man it looks like TOTAL SHIT. Rumors of a Toshinden rebirth by Dreamfactory are floating around, but that’s about it, like we needed any more toshinden ever.
The dude at fightersgeneration.com updated the Tobal character roster a year or so ago from a mess of files I had been collecting over the years, so if you want a walk down memory lane, check here. Note you can’t deep link in here because this is the last website in existence that still uses fucking FRAMES.