Reviewed: May 17, 2006
Released: April 25, 2006
Hardcore gamers in the know will testify that the Guilty Gear series has consistently been on of the most innovative and intriguing fighting franchises in gaming as of late. Where the other 3D fighting franchises are happy simply adding new layers of bump mapping and hair texturing to their scantily clad pin-ups, the Guilty Gear series keeps pushing the envelope by adding entire new dimensions and gameplay layers to their whacked-out crew of carnival freaks.
Not all of the ideas have worked out as well as they sound on paper (as you will read later), but you have to give the developers credit for sticking their necks out on the line. And in the case of the Guilty Gear series, generally doing it all for a bargain price. Guilty Gear console titles generally release at the $20 mark – including the critically acclaimed Guilty Gear X#Reload (yes, that is the actual name…) on the Xbox, which was almost unanimously voted fighting game of the year after its release in 2004.
In 2006, we finally see out first Guilty Gear release for the Nintendo DS; Guilty Gear Dust Strikers. With the 2D sprite-based visuals, and furious button combos, the game should have been a shoe-in for the handheld platform. Sadly, the game ends up stumbling over its own innovations, and as a result it merely merits an average score. Still, all in all it’s a pretty darn cool idea.
The Guilty Gear series has always played the whole demonic heavy metal shtick to a tee. From the heavy metal soundtrack to the rock ‘n roll serial killer asylum-escapee character designs – the game has always held an aura of creepy weirdness. This goth-gore is what keeps bringing fans back to the series, and is the one thing that hasn’t been compromised with this DS release. Sadly, just about everything else that makes the franchise so popular has slipped on the handheld.
Guilty Gear’s designers – ARC System Works – are always willing to take a gamble with their franchise, and they do just that with Guilty Gear Dust Strikers. Past releases have seen the 2D Guilty Gear games taking on tag-team play and utilizing multilayered flat levels going back into the screen – but with Guilty Gear Dust Strikers, they decided to go up.
In an attempt to use the dual screens of the unique handheld, the crew designed a series of multi-tiered environments in which players can jump up and down the tiers with a quick press up or down on the D-pad. This lends to an entirely different gameplay mechanic from what is expected in a Guilty Gear title – aiming more for a Super Smash Bros style of party game than the deep fighter we generally find.
As a result, the developers pared back the usually complex controls to a very primitive set of simple one and two-button + direction combos. This suddenly renders the usually-remarkable fighting engine into more of a button mashing hack and whack. And don’t even think of using the up and down directions in your combos (even if the game tells you to), lest the characters begin bouncing between tiers unexpectedly.
Battles can range from 1 on 1 to as many as 4 players duking it out onscreen. By the time the screen has four opponents squaring off, the screen gets a bit muddled up and characters often get lost in the mess – especially when jumping from screen to screen. I don’t know how many times I lost my character in the mess – regardless of whatever floating icons the game puts in to help. And when is a floating icon bigger than the character anyway?
The game features the standard Arcade, Story and Versus modes in which to battle the 21-plus pugilists of weirdness. Characters with names like Sol Badguy, I-No and Axl Low beat it out on a handful of the beautifully rendered (at least by handheld standards) multi-tiered levels.
He game also features a few unique modes like the Robo Ky, which lets the gamer design his own robot utilizing unlocked items, or the seven cool mini-games which use the DS’s stylus to help little girls stack kittens or slash falling bundles of straw.
The game features wireless play for up to four players, but true WiFi is missing. Not that it would have meant too much in this game, but if the crew at ARC ever decides to make a more traditional Guilty Gear version for the DS, it is something we definitely would like to see.
All in all, the game looks like it should be impressive – but it really isn’t. Which is a real shame, since the folks at ARC System Works really seem to care about progressing the genre. Sometimes they nail it…sometimes they miss.
As you can guess, the graphics tie into the same aforementioned control problems, with the small characters often becoming lost in the pile of players, or unexpectedly jumping up or down tiers during battle.
Still, the Guilty Gear series has made its mark with over-the-top character design and Guilty Gear Dust Strikers is no exception. When the action cools down and you can actually examine your character closely, you will notice that there is quite a bit detail to the 2D sprites – albeit nothing like the consoles see. And although the animations may look choppy to some – just remember that it is the nature of the two-dimensional beast.
The menus are quite easy to navigate, and the minigame visuals are really top-notch.
Actually, the sound is surprisingly good on the handheld, with quality compression pumping out the signature cheesy metal riffs, and glam-anthems we have come to expect from the Guilty Gear series.
The fighting features all of the expected grunts, groans, giggles, and guffaws you need in a fighting game. With the mass of players onscreen, the sounds can overlap a bit muddily, but for a handheld game – hey, all is good.
When I think of the amazing Guilty Gear titles I have picked up in the past for $20, the $30 are asking for Guilty Gear Dust Strikers seems a bit much. Still, when you count up all of the cool extra features – especially the goofy mini-games – Guilty Gear Dust Strikers is a solid investment.
And again, while I wasn’t overly impressed by Guilty Gear Dust Strikers as a whole, I do have to give kudos to the developers for trying something new in a 2D fighting series.
As I alluded to in the opening segment – Guilty Gear Dust Strikers is a extremely cool game that is full of some really amazing innovations, but ultimately ends up a victim of its own creativity. The dual-screen multi-tiered fighting is a really neat idea, but when you have trouble spotting your own character – much less controlling him or her in battle – it is really a bummer. This is especially true for those of us who have played any of the other Guilty Gear masterpieces.
As it stands, Guilty Gear Dust Strikers is probably the best fighter on the DS – then again, there really isn’t a whole lot of competition out there right now. I suggest that everyone at least take a look at the game – if not for the innovative features and minigames, at least to get a look at the kooky cast of fighters that Guilty Gear brings to the plate.
Guilty Gear Dust Strikers isn’t a total loss, but it could have been a whole lot better.