Since the jump to 3D characters in the days of Virtura Fighter and Soul Blade, 2D fighting games have slowly fallen off the radar.  Even the King of Fighters series made the move to the 3D arena this year.  However, Sammy Studio’s Guilty Gear series has continued in its 2D roots with Guilty Gear Isuka.  While GGI might have stayed in its 2D roots, it doesn’t mean that it is just Guilty Gear X2 with more characters.  Those expecting that will be pleasantly surprised.

Those who have never played the Guilty Gear series but have played other 2D fighters such as Street Fighter will instantly be impressed by the high resolution graphics of Isuka.  The characters look like something from a highly stylized anime production instead of a video game.  The jaggies which are commonplace in 2D fighters are almost completely absent here.

The character animations are fluid with several frames of animation for each move.  The spins and slashes are larger than life, which is appropriate with this style of game.  Also, several color schemes are available for each character.  They range the gamut of the color spectrum.

Guilty Gear has been known for the creative characters in the game, and Isuka is no exception.  Some of them look fairly normal, while others could be called gender challenged or just plain completely deranged.  Personality oozes through each character.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  That could definitely be said of the formula used in Isuka.  Anyone who has played Guilty Gear X2 will find the sounds almost exactly the same in Isuka.  However, each character has its own distinct voice.  They speak their dialogue in Japanese but it sounds natural and never distracts from the game.

The music used in Isuka is the heavy metal soundtrack that was used in Guilty Gear X2, or at least it sounds very similar to the soundtrack in GGX2.  The beat really gets your heart rate going and sets an excellent mood for the fighting in the game.

Unfortunately, there isn’t anything much new from the last game.  This doesn’t mean that the music and sound are bad, but there isn’t anything much different from GGX2.

While the controls are similar to GGX2, some differences have been made.  Movement is made using the D-pad.  The Square punches, the X kicks, the triangle slashes, and the circle hard slashes.  Hitting certain button combinations will do special moves for each of the characters, but the trigger buttons are very important in the game.  The L1 is a Psych-burst, which blows the enemy back.  The L2 performs a cancel move.  The R2 performs a Dust move.  Finally, the R1 button is the turn button.  The R1 becomes one of the most important buttons in the game.  We’ll get to that later.

Unfortunately, the D-pad on the Dualshock 2 controller isn’t that great for performing quarter circle movements.  Also, turning is an integral part of the game.  Sometimes trying to turn is difficult during the game because it requires only the R1 button to be pressed.  Because of the fast nature of the combat, it’s almost impossible to do this while being attacked.

Isuka has several modes of play.  Arcade has you fighting through enemies.  As you fight enemies you hit survival levels.  When you reach a certain survival level that battle ends and you are set up to fight against two enemies at the same time.  This continues until you lose all of your health and souls.  22 characters are available to play right away.  The VS Mode lets up to four human or CPU players play with or against each other.  These battles can be 1-on-1, 2-on-1, 2-on-2, 3-on-1, or just about any other combination you can think of.  With 22 characters to use, the possibilities for this mode are almost endless.  The Training Mode allows you to practice moves.  With so many characters and moves to perform, you’ll need it.

These modes are the main modes where the fighting commences.  Isuka’s fighting engine has several enhancements from GGX2.  While most fighters are one-on-one, Isuka can have up to four players on the screen at one time.  The screen will zoom in and out as necessary, but it’s never very disorienting.

Because of the amount of action on the screen, sometimes you will want to be facing an opponent on your left, and other times you’ll want to be facing the one on your right.  An arrow above your character displays the direction your character is facing.  To switch directions, you tap of the R1 key.  While this sounds easy, it’s not.  Sometimes the enemy will attack while trying to switch directions, and if you are pressing any other buttons while hitting the R1 key, you might not switch directions.

The action also takes place on two horizontal planes instead of the one plane like most fighters.  This allows you to switch to the other plane to avoid an attack.  In four player battles, two start on one plane, and the other two start on the other.  While this may prevent you from getting hit, it doesn’t mean that attacks can’t transfer from one plane to the other.

While all this action is taking place, no slowdown occurs, which is impressive since the action is fast and furious, although it’s not quite as fast as GGX2.  There is no mistaking the speed of the Guilty Gear series.  Those who are used to Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat will have to change their playstyle.

The health bar for each player only takes a quarter of the screen.  However, the health bar depletes more slowly because of this.  Also, souls are available which will fill up your health bar when it has been completely depleted.  However, once you lose the souls and the health bar, the game is over.

The guard gauge and tension gauge are back.  As you take damage the guard gauge decreases.  As you block hits, the guard gauge increases.  The emptier the guard gauge is, the less damage you take.  This helps the game to continue to be fast paced.  The tension gauge fills up from moving towards the enemy, inflicting damage, or taking damage.  The fuller it is, the more powerful special attacks you can make.

Those familiar to the Guilty Gear series will be disappointed that two moves in particular have been removed.  One of those is the taunt move that could be used.  The other is the one-hit instant-kill moves.

Two other modes remain, and they are both fairly similar.  GG Boost is reminiscent of Final Fight or Double Dragon.  You select one of the 22 selectable characters similar to the Arcade mode.  Then you move to a selected area and fight a large crowd of enemies using your special moves.  They come up about eight at a time.  While this sounds like it might be difficult, the characters at the beginning are near pushovers at the beginning.  It is a fun mode and a nice diversion from the main game.  RKII Factory gives you a robot character will low skills.  You go through levels to help gain points that can be used to upgrade moves on the character.  These can be long range or short range attacks.  While these moves help you to configure the fighter the way you’d like, it’s not as deep as you’d initially think.

The difficulty does ramp up nicely, and there are selectable difficulty levels.  However, there does seem to be a point where you hit a brick wall and it is difficult to get past the enemy.  However, they aren’t completely unbeatable.  All of the characters seem to be fairly balanced.  The stronger ones are slower while the faster ones are weaker, but the special moves allowed for each of them give each a fighting chance.

While Isuka isn’t a true sequel to GGX2, it certainly has a lot of new additions.  Fans of the series will find much to like about it.

With 22 characters to play as, it will take a while to master every single one of them.  No two characters are alike either.  With the four-player capabilities, it’s great for having a group of guys to come over and play at once instead of having two people wait.  With the ability to set up teams, it can also help give the matches a balance of which players are fighting against one another.  While there are a great number of modes available, the RKII Factory does feel underwhelming, but the other modes have enough variety that you’ll be playing this game for a long time.