2021 – Video Game of the Year: Virtua Fighter Ultimate Showdown

Why on earth would I pick the GOTY for 2021 to be a remake of a game that came out 10 years ago? Because this game is still the best fighting game there is and we played the shit out of it regular since it came out last summer.

Any time my kid’s friends are over and they feel like playing a fighter, they always select Virtua Fighter, and, until this summer, we had to lug out the XBOX360 in order to play it. What’s more, these kids couldn’t go home and play/practice the game so the only time they could play was at our house. No longer! With the release of VF Ultimate Showdown, modern consoles get this absolute gem ad infinitum.

When it first came out, I was skeptical– especially after the Warcraft 3 debacle by the now collapsed and sold Blizzard Activision, and I was confused why they didn’t just port it direct instead the overhauling of the graphics. As a test, I played the 360 one for a couple hours, then switched to the new one, then switched back and it’s just as responsive and plays exactly the same.

Graphics wise, it’s an update that definitely modernizes the characters and stages, but in some cases not for the better. First off, a lot of the male characters look great with the exception of Akira who does not look quite right at all to me. However, ALL of the female characters look much worse than their 2010 versions in the face region. I do not like the way Vanessa, Eilene or Pai look at all, Sarah is the only one that turned out sort of OK. I think they need to keep working on the faces for all the characters.

Bling wise, there’s a fraction of the character customization in the game compared to 2012’s version– no longer can I bust out Vanessa barefoot in a wedding dress or customize her to look just like Sarah so it’s hard to tell who the other person is actually fighting (haha!). There is a 10$ Yakuza costume pack that adds some new threads, but overall a minor disappointment.

That said, they created/recreated blocky Virtua Fighter 1 style character models for all the characters (including the new characters added from VF2 onward) and that’s fantastic, I can play with the VF2 version of my old main, Lion, but with his full moveset from VF5. Baller!

While the access to this game on modern consoles is the core reason why this was selected as GOTY, the second main reason is really critical– since this game sold so well SEGA is now thinking hard about a Virtua Fighter 6, which should be the end goal of all humans in the coming years.

Online play works great and I’ve had ZERO lag issues, my losses are my own fault and not like I yelled at the TV at the time, ping based. My online play is limited because I have access to local, albeit short and small bean, players.

Recent interest in the game has picked up, and while this new version is definitely not Virtua Fighter 6, I’ve just been super pumped to be able to play this online and locally since it’s release. It looks great, with the exception of some facialisms, and plays, as always, fan-fuckn-tastic. If you have never played a Virtua Fighter game, it is not hyperbole in the slightest when I say it is the best fighting game ever made. It’s three buttons, it’s easy for beginners to pick up and play (together) and have fun and shockingly deep for intermediate and expert players. Below is an example of me fighting against two 11 year old kids that switched off using the controller.

KOF XV is going to be REAL good

Ten days ago was the second Beta/Demo for King of Fighters 15, a now ancient and renowned series of fighting games that used to come out with a new version EVERY SINGLE YEAR from 1994 -2003. It made the switch (for real this time) to 3D with XIV and while that game was good, it didn’t look all that great and had some pretty wonky new characters. What’s more it didn’t FEEL like KOF to me, something was just off…

In contrast, KOF XV looks good and plays exceptionally good. The first demo was fun, but had a few issues (it being a network test beta after all). To give it the college try, I went back and played a few of the older King of Fighters during the same weekend as the demo to see how the feel of the games compared, and while I think KOF 13 (the last sprite-based version) is my favorite gameplay wise, 15 is a close second place.

The toughest thing to do for one of these fighting game companies is to move from 2d to 3d, which only a few series have done successfully (Street Fighter with SFIV, Guilty Gear with Xrd and Strive). A lot of both soul and gameplay can be lost in translation which can be seen in the Street Fighter EX and early attempts at King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown. While most of those are OK games, they really could not hold a candle to their 2d versions when they were released. Nowadays, with the crazy good looking 2d games that Arc System works are putting out, we don’t even think about the struggle it was to get games to look as good as their 2d sprite-based counterparts. SNK has struggled like any other company and I would say nothing looked particularly great in 3D until Samurai Showdown 2019.

Gameplay wise, 3D games that mimicked 2D fighters tended to be slower than their 2D counterparts and rarely felt all that great. Meanwhile full bore 3D fighters worth bothering with (Virtua Fighter, Tekken, Tobal, etc.) were fun straight out of the gate and didn’t have ‘better’ versions to compare them to in the first place. Newer 2d games using polygons instead of sprites have certainly solved this issue and here we are with a good looking and extremely playable KOF!

Here’s some babbling about the game from the demo:

Character wise, I stuck with the old standbys, and I really don’t think most of the new characters are all that great (and there were a ton of lame ones added to KOF 14 that didn’t make it to 15 so far), with the exception of Meitenkun, the sleepy kid who falls asleep during his own supermoves. INSTANT MAIN.

Tobal 2 action!

Looking oh so 1996!

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.