|Okay, so this evil overlord,
once thought to be dead, returns to conquer the planet and the mightiest warriors are
summoned to fight in a contest that will determine the fate of life as we know it. Oh,
right, youve heard that one before. Seems that is the plot of just about every
fighting game on the market. What makes Plasma Sword unique is that the fighters include a
variety of clever aliens and the battles have moved beyond the merely physical into mental
warfare. This could have been material for a gaming classic. Could have been.
Plasma Sword is a Capcom fighter, which is more or less recognized as a genre within the fighting genre. Being a Capcom fighter, the moves and big-hit combos are instantly recognizable, and competent. It will be possible for the majority of gamers to jump in and use the basics proficiently without ever having to pick up the manual.
Beyond that, however, this game is being toted as a 3D fighter with an impressive list of 22 characters. But let me clarify. First of all, this is old-school 3Dprimarily your characters perform in two dimensions, but step (or roll if recently knocked down) to the left at the press of a button. So, if your opponent were to stand still long enough, you could conceivably cut a complete circle around him or her. But this is nothing like the freedom of movement or depth of environment felt in many contemporary fighters, especially those already available for the Dreamcast.
As for the 22 characters, you might as well call it 11. Most fighting games extend their panel by using "twin" characterscharacters with like attributes and styles, who are just different enough to make things interesting. Plasma Sword uses clonesexact same style, same weaponsno differences other than name and, in most cases, looks. The alternate characters are even billed on the same page in the booklet: Geralt/Claire, Vector/Omega, Bilstein/Ghost Bilstein.
Dont get me wrong, the characters have a lot of personality otherwise. They are some of the most eclectic and original creations out there. From Zelkin the proud birdman; to Saturn the war-clown, with his conical head and lethal yo-yos; and Gore the mad magician with an exposed brainthese guys and gals are fun. They look good and flow at a convincing 60 frames per second. As for moves, well, they slice and kick and run with the best of them. Some fly, some grow, some pull their opponents to the ground and spank them. Two peculiar staff-wielders even perform what I have dubbed as "the proctology exam," where they take their weapon of choice and put it well, you get the picture.
The look of the game, on the other hand, is completely inconsistent. The characters are rendered in fully 3D polygons, while the background appears to be a 2D backdropseparate from the foreground action. On top of that, the cinematics are done in flat, 2D line-animation. This destroys any chance for effective atmosphere or congruity. It seems like three different game remnants pasted together, and none realize the full potential of the Dreamcast. While other fighting games are redefining the genre, this one cant even decide what it wants to be.
The sound effects are capable, the music is catchy, but dont expect your bones to jar when your character gets hit. This is just run-of-the-mill stuff.
As far as extras are concerned, I think most of us have come to enjoy the various incarnations of the Mission Mode, whether it be the side-scrolling adventure of Tekken 3, or the increasingly challenging series of handicaps you have to endure in Soul Caliber. But you wont find that here. There is Arcade Mode, Versus Mode, Group Battle, and Training.
Now, about that movement from the physical to mental warfare I mentioned earlier. Besides the mind-generated weapons and a few psychic moves, there are the plasma combos. During gameplay, the characters have a plasma power gage which increases with each attack. With the gage at the appropriate level, the character can perform the plasma revenge, plasma reflect, plasma strike, or plasma field. The first three are just cool looking extensions of your characters weapona nice touch, really. But the plasma field is a ridiculously unbalanced attack. It draws your opponent into a force field and renders him or her almost useless while you beat him or her silly with contrived special moves, all while the screen turns into an uninspired cross between a tie-dyed shirt and a kaleidoscope. And as the power guage fills very quickly, you and your opponent can pretty much use this move indiscriminately, taking turns using the other as a blow-up punching bag. This is button pounding taken to absurdity.
Thankfully, Capcom has been introducing all of its most popular fighting franchises to the Dreamcastthe Street Fighter series, Marvel vs. Capcom, etc., with others and their sequels on the way. Plasma Sword is a sequel itself, to the moderately successful PlayStation cart, Star Gladiators. But lets face it, with the possible exception of Power Stone, most of these are the same game at the core. The real choice lies on the surface. Have you stuck with Street Fighter all these years? Would you rather play as Mega Man or Captain America? (Personally, I cant wait to play as Doctor Doom in Marvel vs. Capcom 2.) Sure Plasma Sword is a weapons fighter, but in the end that is only aesthetic; it doesnt change the way your characters fight. They dont bleed. And, proportionately, a powerful attack with a sword in this game doesnt do any more damage to your opponent than a powerful punch does in the other games. When you add to that the other phenomenal fighters available on the Dreamcast like Soul Caliber and Dead or Alive 2, and others forthcoming, it is really hard to justify spending more than a rental fee on this one.
To add insult to injury, I beat this game on the default settings the first time I played it. The computer only knocked me out in one roundby luring me into their plasma field, freezing me solid, and whooping my ass with a 21-hit combo. Not the definition of mental warfare I was hoping for.