Capcom. SNK. These two companies have been at the forefront of the fighting game genre for nearly as long as the genre has existed. Each company has a history of producing exceptional fighting games spanning what feels like an eternity. In recent years, the focus of each company seems to have shifted to pitting their respective companies’ flagship characters against each other in various compilation-style releases. The most popular of these to date has been Capcom’s 2003 take on the subject. Capcom vs. SNK 2: EO took the series online with a multitude of gameplay options and a staggering number of playable fighters. Now it’s SNK’s turn to share their vision of the clash of universes. Given the reputation of the series and the company, can the product meet expectations?
Reviewers like to throw around a lot of bold statements. Sometimes, a negative may be exaggerated for dramatic effect in order to produce a more entertaining document. It is at times like this that I regret the overuse of hyperbole, because with the cheapening of derogatory statements in our language, I cannot properly explain how terrible this game looks. Stating that the graphics, blocky, jaggy, and with feature-obscuring pixels, would be considered bad by PS1 standards only begins to express how unacceptable these visuals are in today’s market. By all accounts, 2D games should allow for more detail to be present in digital characterizations. Sammy proves this time and again with their gorgeous Guilty Gear series, and Capcom demonstrated competence in creating something pretty even when held to the same subject matter. The knock on last year’s Capcom vs. SNK was that too many character sprites had been directly lifted from their initial incarnations. It appears that SNK decided to take these same old sprites, sloppy them up a bit, and then release them. Even in the cases where the artists had to come up with new representations of characters with no prior SNK sprites, they look as though they were pulled from a 1992 arcade cabinet. It’s enough to make you think that there are Capcom spies working at SNK with an eye toward critical redemption. It’s awful, and I while I could go on and on I think I’ve made my point.
However, to be fair, the backgrounds are pretty and well-designed. And there are character interaction portraits seen before and after matches that look kind of nice. When all is said and done, though, a fighting game rests on the appearance of its central players. That SNK felt comfortable representing themselves with this release is nearly an insult to the fans that have supported the company for years.On the whole, sound in SVC Chaos is pretty impressive. The music is a placeholder, and also seems taken from an early 90s synthesized soundtrack. To be fair, it manages to convey some tension in what otherwise tends to be a pretty lackluster affair, and it is at least thematically consistent with the horrendously dated visuals. Unfortunately, you know things aren’t great when the nicest thing you can say about the overall audio is that one aspect of it isn’t awful. Even that left-handed compliment is only given as a result of being compared to the other aspects of the game. Additionally there are no voices for characters outside of combat, despite a relatively small amount of interactional dialogue. What voicework is included is dull at best, and more often leans toward grating. Inexplicably, there only seem to be four or five sound effects used to represent different attacks and impacts. All of this might have been easily overlooked if the rest of the game were at all compelling or interesting, but instead it stands as just one more flaw in a game that couldn’t afford any more strikes. Fighting games, especially 2D fighting games, require pinpoint control in order to allow players to fully empathize with their digital avatar. Again, SVC Chaos falls far short of the bar set by other games in the genre. There are customizable light and strong punch buttons, light and strong kick buttons, guards, taunts, throw moves…everything you’ve seen before. This time out, though, the controls just feel sloppy. There’s just a slight lag to the responsiveness that keeps you from ever feeling as though you’re involved in what’s going on. It’s not the worst example of fighting game controls by a longshot, but the action wants desperately to be a fast paced affair and you just aren’t given the tools you need to compete effectively in this style. Often, I felt as though I were a spectator, yelling for Ryu to perform a dragon punch before something horrible happened to him. Sometimes he did, and other times I was ignored. Being a spectator is no fun.
The gameplay is profoundly weakened by the previously discussed unresponsive controls, but assuming that by the law of averages there is a human in the world who will feel comfortable with them, there still is little to recommend SVC: Chaos.
Game modes include: Arcade, a series of randomly generated battles leading to a boss encounter and perfunctory ending; Practice, which lets you face a cooperative computer opponent to get your timing down or just watch computer vs. computer matches; and Survival, which pits you against a neverending stream of computer opponents until you are beaten. There is also a color edit mode for altering the costume hues of your favorite characters, but this feature is as exciting as it sounds.
Compared to the early 1990s games this seems to emulate, that is a good number of game modes, but compared to current releases it just doesn’t hold up. What’s more, no matter what kind of mode you play it boils down to a one on one match with no tag partners, no grooves or fighting styles to experiment with, and no frills. This is to say nothing of the fact that the game is poorly balanced. Some characters have a clear advantage over the others, and in order to make any progress against the computer you’ll have to exploit one or two moves repeatedly. If you lose to the computer, you are given options before a restart, including starting your enemy with lower health or at a lower difficulty. This just seems like a lazy fix for the cheap AI.
Provided you would rather human opposition, the game is Xbox Live capable. As I lack the ability to test this, I can’t report on the stability of matches or similar items. However, a quick look into the title shows that there is no rematch option. This is the sort of omission that suggests a rushed release with little playtesting nor regard for the consumer.
This is a fighting game, so it goes without saying that there will be a time committment associated with mastery of any of the characters in the game. At first glance there are 24 characters in the game, but there are a few hidden characters: two of whom are unlockable in the survival mode, and several of whom that barely count as hidden (hold the left trigger when the cursor is over a fighter on the main menu) and are probably not listed on the main select screen as a way to keep it small and save programming effort.
There are no additional game modes, but there is Xbox Live support for the diehards that should extend the life of this title slightly. Normally that would be enough to make a fighting game a good value, but it’s just that nothing here feels new, and for a full-price release the fact that there isn’t even any background on the characters provided in the instruction book or in-game just creates a feeling of being ripped off. Take the money that you would have spent on this and go buy Capcom’s year old version. It’s likely to be cheaper and was, to this reviewer, a far superior effort.