Reviewed: May 7, 2005
Released: October 7, 2004
SNK NeoGeo is a long revered company amongst a certain group of gamers. It embodies all that was good about the golden age of 2D arcade gaming. Fans of the series Samurai Showdown or King of Fighters are rabid in their praise and defense of their gaming paragons and you’d be hard pressed to change their minds when it comes to the best fighting games worth your time. But that’s at the arcade mind you.
Arcades have all but disappeared, relegated to the smaller, squalid ends of long-forgotten malls in your average American city. With the second coming of the console revolution thanks to Sony and Microsoft (and yes, you too Nintendo), gamers can sit at home and master hadokens until the cows come home.
In SVC Chaos: SNK vs. Capcom both Capcom and SNK’s vast stable of fighting characters come together from such memorable games as Fatal Fury, King of Fighters, Samurai Showdown and, of course, Street Fighter. Ever wanted to see who’d win in an all out beatdown between Chun-Li and Mai Shiranui? There’d surely be some black eyes at the end of that fight – and not necessarily from punches or kicks (ahem). Well not only can you have your sushi and eat it too, but you can do it online. And that’s where things get interesting.
Now I can hear you guys out there from the two camps most fighting gamers fall into. You’re either a rabid 2D, Street Fighter type fan or a proponent of the 3D fighting school. Either camp makes their case citing their game’s graphics, pacing, combos, juggles or character design as being superior. The thing is, it’s largely subjective. If you’re a 2D fan boy, you’re already in line. But if you’re not, there’s not going to be any great revelation to be had at this stage of the game.
These games never have a story other than all of these characters are hot to kick the asses of every other character so they can make some post battle comment that’s incoherent at best. But in the world of such games, that’s actually part of the fun of it. Those zany Japanese and their gaming naturalization efforts.
I’ll just say that I was never any good at these games. I was always a 3D fighting fan ever since the seminal Virtua Fighter game. Any time I ever tried to play Street Fighter, lured in by its colorful animations, I was soundly beaten by an arcade troglodyte who’d spent the better part of a year perfecting every cheap tactic in the book. Not very encouraging. Thankfully, these home versions of the games make it easy to bone up, eh?
The game’s menus are a lot like what you’d expect. That is to say that there isn’t a lot of pomp and circumstance as you select modes or even characters. See, this is a 2D game, folks. So, while most games have flashy intros and menus reminiscent of Kai Krause’s work, this is more like something from 1986 anime.
It’s easy to compare this game to others like it in as much as the only others like it are made by either Capcom or SNK NeoGeo. Seriously, all of these games look very much alike, such that the characters fit well with each other onscreen. The gameplay differs of course, but only in minor innovations.
Combat is the usual frenetic affair set down over 15 years ago and hasn’t really changed a whole lot. It usually boils down to hopping around on the screen like a ferret after a Starbuck’s bender, avoiding the fireballs and uppercuts almost constantly thrown at them. True, over the years, some innovations have been added to allow counters and breakers, but it doesn’t stop the kids that master the cheap tactics that abound in unbalanced gameplay.
Some interesting features are the so-called Exceed move that allows the player to perform moves much more powerful than the Super Special Moves when the Power gauge is less than half. Being able to use it only once against an opponent limits abuse and keeps matches from lasting forever. More questionable are things like the Groove Power Gauge System which is a convoluted attempt to invigorate the aging gameplay. Totally for fans. At least there are no slow load times that plague so many games on other platforms, but admittedly, that’s little consolation when you’re stuck playing such a game.
Online is a nice addition, but it’s a dicey proposition. Some times you’ll play a match where everything works as though the two of you were in the same room fighting 2 on 2, and other times the lag is so bad you think you’re stuck in The Matrix. It’s understandable that the incredibly fast-paced gameplay of your average fighter, where framerate can be the difference between victory and defeat, is hard to make available on the Internet at this point. It’s partially a bandwidth issue. But if you can’t deliver the online component consistently, then just don’t include it. It’s just too frustrating having to factor in lag when you’re playing against some smart-mouthed 13 year old in Sacramento who’s taking it out on you that he’s grounded for smoking at school.
One of the biggest complaints about games of this ilk are the graphics. Let’s face it, while there is so much rich nostalgia to be had playing old school games, there is little money in it compared to the latest offerings at the local game store. The reason? Why play Commander Keen when you can play Halo 2? You simply can’t discount the graphical evolution of modern games. We’ve come to a level of organic fidelity (You like that? I made it up. It means “looks like it does in real life”) in games that can’t be ignored for its immersive qualities.
My point is why do they keep making 2D games that look this cheesy? One would think that with the graphic processing power of the Xbox, Capcom could make Disney quality sprites with excruciatingly detailed animations. Now that would be cool to see, but looking at sprites from 1990 isn’t so exciting.
Looking at things from the critic’s perspective, there’s the usual expected collision and framerate problems especially when playing online. The choppy animations were kind of cool looking a decade ago, but to see such low-resolution characters in a game on the Xbox in 2005 is prevailing upon gamers a bit for the sake of nostalgia.
Now, I will say that I like the style of animation used by Capcom and SNK alike, I only wish they’d update it. Think about it, there have collectively been dozens (possibly hundreds) of different versions of these four series over the last 15 years or so and little has changed in their presentation. What some would call consistency or loyalty to fans, I can stagnation.
One of the worst crimes of SNK vs Capcom SVC Chaos is the anemic sound effects. While it’s easy to say “but that’s how the characters sound” or “that’s the classic hadoken sound”, it’s hard to keep swallowing these excuses for the sake of nostalgia. The music from this game is like listening to the cutting room floor of the first Terminator movie or one of John Carpenter’s early soundtracks. It’s the usual synthesizer junk that’s just barely above a midi track on your old Commodore 64.
The same sound effects you remember haven’t changed either. It doesn’t matter how big or small a character is, they all make the same noises when they land a hit, block a hit, hit the ground, launch a projectile, block a projectile. You find yourself wondering if the game files on the disc are labeled “block.wav”, “fall.wav”, “hit.wav”, etc.
I guess it’s some sort of skill that avid gamers develop that allows them to ignore the near constant barrage of their characters’ battle cries. Seriously, it starts to drive me crazy hearing Ryu yell “hadoken!” almost constantly. He sounds like a parrot with Tourette syndrome. Ah well.
There’s little reason to keep playing the game other than to master a given character’s moves in preparation for visiting that old arcade and finally handing that one smarmy guy who beats everyone and thrashing him once and for all. While doing just that would give you a feeling not unlike the one you felt when Clark Kent beat up that guy in the burger joint at the end of Superman II, it’s not quite compelling enough.
What I think would add to the online experience of games like this is to try to recreate the experience of the arcade. Why not have a small group room of up to 16 players that can all be heard trash-talking while you’re playing a game. And some sort of icon (like 2 quarters) next to names that shows you’ve “got next”. Now that would go a long way to improving an experience based on arcade nostalgia. All in all, it’s not a bad game if you’re already a fan of the respective series, and the price tag is right at under $20.
The bottom line is that only fans of the SNK NeoGeo or Capcom fighting games should worry about adding this game to their collection. Many feel that the previous version of Capcom vs SNK was superior to this latest iteration. I can’t honestly say, but for what it is, I can see old school gamers having some fun with it, even online as long as the bandwidth goes your way.
Considering the various lackluster 3D attempts over the years at the different series represented here, I can understand why SNK NeoGeo and Capcom both stick with the formula that’s kept them afloat all of this time. Truth be told, consider renting this one before buying it, even at the budget price.