SEGA has been on a roll in recent years, having been voted video game publisher of the year in 2020, and have amassed a cracking stable of IPs that rivals even their beloved back catalogue. This focus on newer titles has left longtime fans of their older IP holding their collective breaths for even the slight mention of their favorite games and, oddly, it has taken the pandemic, which has restricted resources the world round, to stimulate not just SEGA, but most publishers to dip into their existing franchises to fill up their release schedules.
Clench your fists and whip out the arcade stick cause Virtua Fighter is back! The legendary Yu Suzuki-created series and the first fighter to grace us with 3D graphics is back with Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown – a remaster of the PS3 and Xbox 360 title with revamped graphics and a focus on online play and developing an e-sports phenomenon.
The 14-year-old fighter has been refurbished using the dragon engine (used in the Yakuza series) updating the graphics, menus and soundtrack. But are the aesthetic upgrades enough to justify giving the remaster a shot? In short – yes, if you are playing online or local co-op.
Terrified that I was plunging into the deep end of one of the most notoriously technical fighters in the genre I avoided Akira and his all-important timing-based attacks and went with Mexican wrestler El Blaze thinking that I could button mash my way to victory. I mean – how hard could it be? Let’s just say I was wrong on both counts.
The beauty of this series is that the effort to learning your character pays you back in spades, with a deep set of moves that can allow you to acquire the necessary timing and skill to change your approach for each opponent and completely dominate them. This isn’t Marvel vs Capcom 2 where the most impressive moves are initiated with the press of two buttons, this also isn’t Dead or Alive or Mortal Kombat where other visual gimmicks are the biggest selling points. The Virtua Fighter series has the allure of a pure fighting game, where the combat styles and strung (but manageable) combos are the attraction. The impact of each maneuver is felt by the player as impactful sound effects and heavy damage give weight and meaning to your attacks. It also means that dramatic comebacks are not commonplace, but when they do occur they are memorable and feel earned. It’s a very rewarding experience, a depth that gives the title replay value, addictive longevity, and it’s that very thing that makes Virtua Fighter a perfect e-sports title.
Unfortunately, this keen focus on the esports scene is rather narrow, resulting in an underwhelming lack of modes and features, with no story mode to speak of and only a short jaunt of an arcade mode providing any competition non-multiplayer related. There is of course a training mode and DLC provides music from previous games and beautiful blocky polygon VF character models, but a bit more of an offline element would not have gone amiss.
Another misstep is the lack of rollback netcode meaning that slower internet connections prevent a more interlinked global audience and high latency affects the quality of matches unnecessarily. Other fighting games, even other re-releases (a previous review of mine King Of Fighters 2002 Ultimate Match as an example) have integrated this feature as standard, making it quite the glaring omission based on its overall goal. I didn’t experience too many connectivity issues or have much of a problem finding matches but I don’t know if that can be said for those with poorer internet speeds. Ranked matches and searching for/ creating a room for fighters are the two online modes available and both function well.
Although it’s billed as secondary to the online aspect, It’s hard to trump traditional multiplayer – local co-op – in my mind and it’s really where the game shines for me. Exploring the depth of the fighting system and characters on offer through extended playthroughs with friends, learning each character’s nuances and strengths is a great deal of fun, and makes me want to consider my recent stance of preferring single-player experiences. I can see this being a mainstay on game nights with friends in the not-so-distant pandemic-less future. Online is certainly not a bad option for the time being though.
Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown may not be the complete package, and might be letting down its e-sports aspirations by omitting rollback netcode, but the core gameplay is a diamond in the crown of a series that deserves to remain relevant and will no doubt provide endless fun for those looking for a great multiplayer experience with replay value.