|There is still an
entire genre of video game that is just waiting to be faithfully realized in todays
3D gaming environment: the classic arcade beat em up. And what gamer isnt
dying for this to happen? I am. But it hasnt yet, and Soul Fighter is no exception.
The Kingdom of Gomar is in peril. King Valmeks eldest son died and the Queen has gone mad with grief. In desperation she and the younger son turned to evil to bring him back. Failing, they vowed revenge on the Kingdom, unleashing a mist that turns men into monsters and a dragon bent on destruction. Three warriors must battle this evil, rescue the souls of the innocent subjects, and save the Kingdome.
Okay, I think well all buy thatnothing new, but a good send up all the same. The three warriors follow the formula we have come to expect. There is the slight, fast warrior who lacks the endurance of the others (in this case a spy, and the token female); the slower, stronger warrior who is tough as hell (a mage whose strength lies in his magic staff which fires projectiles); and the dynamic warrior who winds up somewhere in the middle (a swordsman). All move and fight more like the kung fu street thugs of Double Dragon than medieval knights, mages, and spies, but oh well.
The rules of engagement in Soul Fighter are fairly straight forward: your character must traverse the Kingdom, divided into six levels, and destroy every monster on that level, thereby rescuing the human soul within from the clutches of evil. Thats right, you have to kill them to save them, and you have to kill every enemy on each level before you can progress (this makes for some tedious backtracking, but it is manageable).
One of the great things about Soul Fighter is the multitude of different enemies that you encounter. Pig-men, swamp-men, and bird-men carry swords and fire catapults and attack you from all sides. There are monsters on the ground, monsters in the air, monsters in the waterthey are everywhere.
All of this looks great. Though not the best that the Dreamcast has to offer, the graphics are good. There is no slow-down, even when there are six guys in front of you and flaming rocks falling from the sky. That is impressive. The game even makes a smooth transition to a first person perspective for targeting enemies with throwing weapons like knives and axes. This is a great addition to the gameplay. And everything is rendered with a vibrant palletthe colors are nearly jumping of the screen.
The camera movement is aggravating at times as it sometimes gets in so close you cant see some opponents, or chooses an absurd angle, but this is remedied as you get accustomed to resetting the camera with the left trigger.
The sound effects will do. They cover all the ground necessary in a game like this (stomp, splash, wham, bam, crunch aaaaargh!), but they dont push it any further than that. The music is interesting at first, but there are really only two soundtracksthe passive exploring track and the tense fighting track, and they start to get irritating after a while.
Along with the repetitive music track you have to deal with an annoying narrator (as King Valmek) doing his best Sean Connery impersonation. The opening cinematics consist solely of the King sitting on his throne telling his story (a long-winded version of this reviews second paragraph) while the camera pans around him ad nausiem. I understand the concept is meant to be faithful to the ancient tradition of oral story telling, but it makes for a very boring introduction.
Now, the action is fairly linearyou kill whatever is on the screen, collect all the treasure and power-ups you can find, and move on. Yet this game forces three different game guides on you. There is a map at the bottom of the screen, a gauntlet pointing out the right direction at the top of the screen, and the above-mentioned narrator yelling "Go! Go! Go!" whenever you so much as stop to catch your breath. The map is actually helpful, but the gauntlet is insulting and I immediately distrust a game that prompts you to keep moving every time you take your thumb of the joystick. To me, that is a sure indicator that the programmers dont want you to stop and chew the scenery, probably because there is nothing there that stands up to closer inspection. In this case, that assumption is right. The background is one of those back drop walls that gives you the impression of three dimensional depth, but stops you flat in your tracks. In art this is called tromp loeilfool the eye. In the video game industry this is just called unimaginative programming, and the gamer is made the fool.
We have now struck the all-encompassing fault of Soul Fighter: there are no opportunities for interactive gameplay. You are supposed to fight, kill, and move on, period. Dont bother trying to come up with your own fighting stylethere are two or three different combinations of moves, and that is it. Dont bother stopping to look at that waterfall, after all, you cant fight it. The game's one salvation could have been a multi-player option, which would allow you to interact with another human being, but this isnt there either, and that is too bad. This game had a lot of potential.
Soul Fighter has been described as Golden Axe for the Dreamcast. Well, a similar premise does not a similar game make. Golden Axe was an adventure with a more authentic feel, monsters to ride, and magic spells to cast. Streets of Rage had a kick-ass soundtrack and a fully interactive background. Remember how you could pick enemies up and slap them against a wall in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Hell, they even managed to make a humorous, action-packed fighter out of The Simpsons! And all of them were multiplayer. All of them. Soul Fighter, for all it is, does none of that.
So, if you can tolerate the more irritating aspects of this game, and you are looking for a brawler with some interesting facets that will take you longer to beat than the half-hour long Dynamite Cop, then you may want to check this one out. However, take my advice and rent it first to make sure.