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Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution (PlayStation 2) artwork

Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution (PlayStation 2) review

"If you have even a passing interest in fighting games, chances are youíve played, or at least heard of Segaís Virtua Fighter series. As fantastic this latest installment is, Virtua Fighter 4: Evolutionís depth and steep learning curve severely limits its appeal to a very select group of gamers. Only long-time Virtua Fighter fans, hardcore gamers, or anyone with the perseverance and time that Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution demands will truly enjoy it for all itís worth. "

If you have even a passing interest in fighting games, chances are youíve played, or at least heard of Segaís Virtua Fighter series. As fantastic this latest installment is, Virtua Fighter 4: Evolutionís depth and steep learning curve severely limits its appeal to a very select group of gamers. Only long-time Virtua Fighter fans, hardcore gamers, or anyone with the perseverance and time that Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution demands will truly enjoy it for all itís worth.

It would be more accurate to call Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution an expansion to the previously released Virtua Fighter 4, rather than a completely new iteration in the series. Being released as a Greatest Hits game, Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution retails at only twenty dollars; youíre essentially getting Virtua Fighter 4 with quite a bit of new content.

The most conspicuous new feature is the addition two completely new playable characters: Brad Burns and Goh Hinogami. Iíve seen some people say that these characters seem a bit out of place, but Iíd have to disagree. While Goh certainly looks rather odd, his Judo style fits in quite well. Considering the presence of characters like Jeffrey and Hawk, Brad doesnít seem too out of the ordinary either. Regardless, both of these new characters are completely unique and fun to use; they also donít upset the gameís remarkable balance at all.

And the gameís balance is truly impressive. Every character sports a unique, extensive repertoire of moves, and no character is really better or worse than any other. Character preferences in Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution are based almost entirely on an individualís preferred playing style. Granted, some characters are obviously a bit more difficult to use at first, such as Akira or Goh, when compared to characters like Jacky or Pai, but this means they simply require a bit more practice.

Almost all of everyoneís moves can be pulled off easily, because Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution controls like a dream. Three commands (punch, kick, and guard) and the directional pad may sound limited, but it actually allows for both gameplay that is alarmingly deep and controls that are intuitive and responsive Ė this is truly ingenious game design. Many more moves are available by using various combinations of the three default commands. This may sound a bit tricky at first, but the PlayStation 2 controllerís shoulder buttons handle it remarkably well. Executing anyoneís moves wonít take too much trouble (well, except for a few of Akiraís), so itís in memorizing such a vast array of moves and learning when to use each one that the gameís difficulty stems from.

While thereís an arcade mode for single player, itís actually overshadowed by the far more enjoyable and rewarding Quest mode. In it, youíre put in the role of a Virtua Fighter player, playing in various arcades all across Japan. Each arcade requires you to meet certain conditions, such as getting a certain amount of wins, before allowing you to enter its tournament. Besides keeping a record of your wins and losses, youíll also win extra items and accumulate money (which can be used to buy even more items). These may seem like small rewards, but getting a new item is actually very satisfying. These items include character accessories, clothing colors, and bonus movies. The items that change a characterís appearance are purely for cosmetic purposes, but merely going through all of the fights necessary to get them is enjoyable in and of itself.

There was one thing about Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution that impressed me right from the start. After arbitrarily choosing Lei Fei, a Shaolin monk, I was surprised to see that his fighting style was remarkably similar to one Iíve learned, and I was infinitely impressed by just how accurate a representation of the style it was; I can only hope and assume that the rest of the cast provide similar accurate representations of their respective styles. This is all thanks to Virtua Fighter 4: Evolutionís brilliant character models and super slick animation.

If thereís anything about Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution that isnít absolutely awe-inspiring, it would have to be the gameís sound. The gameís music consists almost entirely of very boring, generic rock, and this is especially true during a match. The sound effects are decent enough, and the cheesy voice acting will either annoy or amuse, but it certainly wonít impress.

Besides the sound, the only other thing that may be holding Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution back a bit is the gameís inaccessibility. However, this is something thatís inherent to the gameís nature, whereas the sound just isnít that good.

Virtua Fighter 4: Evolutionís inaccessibility isnít so much a complaint of mine as much as it is an empirical fact. Obviously, itís not impossible to jump into the game, hit a few buttons, and win some rounds, provided the gameís difficulty is toned down. However, with all its subtleties and nuances, this is a game youíll have to spend a lot of time with to really enjoy. Itíll be a while before you get a good feel for Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution, and you may never be able to call yourself a truly good player. Even some of the most basic maneuvers, such as evading, take a fair amount of skill and practice to pull off, let alone to use effectively.

Now I know anyone who has played Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution would object and say that the gameís tutorials essentially walk players through the game while holding their hand. Yes, Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution does include very thorough and comprehensive training resources, and they are indeed immensely helpful in the long run. Unfortunately, some of the tutorials can be a bit nebulous at times. Theyíll present you with a certain type of situation, and tell you a way of getting out of it, but sometimes they donít really provide enough insight to properly explain how to perform a certain technique. Usually you can figure it out, but you really shouldnít have too Ė thatís not the point of a tutorial.

Many of the training exercises are also timed, and this isnít completely conducive to a training environment. Fortunately, after completing a particular exercise, you can go back and turn the time limit off. However, for some of the more difficult maneuvers, youíll really want it from the start. While all these training exercises are definitely useful Ė perhaps even necessary Ė they also reinforce the fact that a Virtua Fighter game is simply an acquired taste.

Someone else once said that becoming a truly good Virtua Fighter player may be one of the hardest tasks in videogame history, and as far as I can tell, this is true. But so long as you have the requisite time and devotion, then Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution is easily one of the best games on the current market, irrespective of genre or platform.

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Community review by radicaldreamer (January 20, 2005)

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