At least there's room for improvement...
When it comes to fighting games, game developers can go one of two ways. Either they can:
- Incorporate new 3D technology to create a vivid and lush fighting environment
There simply is no room, desire, or concern for 2D fighting games ala Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat these days. Most designers are going for the Virtua Fighter look (check out MK 4 - no more paper thin Scorpions!) in an effort to capitalize on this ripe market. While 2D games continue to hold strong in the arcades, they simply look too dull on the burly home consoles.
So here's the weird part. Take a powerful graphics processor (N64), a proven game company (Midway), and a strong arcade title, mix 'em together and what do you get? A pretty bad game. Strange, yet true.
War Gods is a 3D fighting game with close ties to Mortal Kombat. Complete with ultra violence, thick blood, and gross fatalities, the two titles have a very common feel. In trying to bring the third dimension to the forefront, however, Midway seems to have missed the target. This game looks bad, plays bad, and simply put should have been designed as a 2D game.
Most fighting games have a retarded plot, and of course War Gods follows suit. A being from another planet was transporting a cargo of life-giving Ore when his ship lost control and he crashed into the Earth and the Ore flew everywhere and then these guys and girls found some of it and they got turned into wacky fighting masters with wacky fighting powers who try to beat each other up for no apparent reason other than to satisfy the wacky testosterone filled fighter in all of us. Wild and wacky.
The character design is actually pretty cool. You can fight as an undead Voodoo priest, a stone statue, a dominatrix/leather goddess (hmmm...), and a Kabuki maniac, to name a few. Each character looks distinct and different from the others, unlike the character similarity found between MK's Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Reptile. Beyond the design, however, there is very little to shout about...
First off, the graphics are pretty bad. The fighters are polygonal with nice textures, but they move with the fluidity of a recently defrosted Neanderthal. It seems as though there are frames missing; jumpy, choppy character animations give the game an unflattering jerkiness reminiscent of poor 2D fighters for the 16 bit machines of yesterday. They look fine when they don't move. This is a powerhouse machine - with 64 bits of beef and the ability to handle a polygonal masterpiece like Turok, you would expect to see amazing graphics. Get used to disappointment...
The control is awkward and unpleasant. Admittedly, I think the standard N64 joystick/analog/pad-'o-trouble is a pain in the hand. Nonetheless, this game does nothing to change my belief. Trying to manipulate the fighters to adequately follow orders is like trying to tie your shoelaces with your feet (albeit less smelly). The Third dimension comes into play when you use the '3D' button. This is basically the equivalent of the 'evade' buttons found in Soul Blade or Virtua Fighter 3, except that you can hold it down and meander around. This would have been cool had it worked better - it's difficult using the 3D button to any sort of advantage.
Are there any bright spots? Um, the fatalities are neat. With a high blood and gore count, War Gods will appeal to your average teenage boy. However, the poor graphics take away from the interesting deaths. There is little definition; things get sort of mish-mashed and blurry. Did I pull out Cy-5's heart or grab a bowl of Strawberry Jell-O?
And the gameplay? Oh boy. This is not a well-balanced game. Some of the moves are ridiculously more powerful than others while being just as easy to pull off. I found the throw move to be amazingly effective. The problem is that all you do is run up to your opponent and press a button. Voila! You have won! (ugh). Furthermore, each fighter has a 10 hit combo, during which the opponent can attempt to break the combo with a really tough move (Warhead's, for instance, is 3D, Back, Back, Forward, High Punch). It just shouldn't be that hard - the breaker system in Killer Instinct worked well. This one stinks.
There is also poor balance in the AI. The difficulty doesn't really advance along stages. You can demolish the first opponent, get pummeled for 30 minutes by the second opponent, and proceed to beat the game 10 minutes later. The reward for winning? Nada. Your fighter just stands there as if to say, "Hey man, thanks! Wanna get somethin' to eat or somethin'?" Ouch.
All in all, War Gods lends further support to the theory that the N64 is a great machine with some not-so great games. In a gaming world capable of producing a beauty like Soul Blade (for the PSX, which has exactly half the firepower), it's a shame that the same care isn't put into games for the N64. Considering the inflated price of the titles, I'd advise waiting for some of the upcoming biggies (Starfox 64, Zelda 64) and saving those pennies. This one is for the bargain bin at the rental store.