A Guilty Pleasure.
Many gamers earnestly remember the early '90s as the dawn of fighting games, beginning with the breakthrough hit of Street Fighter 2. A new genre was born from a dragon punch. Since then, some of us have stayed true to these roots, conquering and mastering the intricacies and subtleties of each new 2D fighter.
Most, though, have grown weary. I mean there are only so many Super Hyper Mega Alpha Eternal subtitles that one can stand. Right, Brian?
But no matter which school you hail from, the world of 2D fighting is long overdue for some shaking up, and the one to deliver the thunder kick to the groin of the genre is Guilty Gear X2. This new one from Sammy Studios has an SNK fighter feel, from the violent Samurai Showdown style weapons and blood loss to the creative character designs and principal four button attacks (plus a new fifth button for sweep attacks).
Nobody can accuse these characters of being boring. From the demon rock musician, I-no, to the back broken zombie, Zappa, there is something unmistakably Japanese in the extreme garishness of it all. The full list of 20 even includes one girl that is actually a guy. So think twice before you stare.
A small qualm about the character select is that when you select your character, you have no idea what color scheme you've chosen until you've actually entered the fight. This ain't a Barbie Dream House.
My favorite character, the doctor Faust, really personifies the quirkiness of Guilty Gear X2. Not only is he as tall as the full height of the screen, but Faust wears a paper bag over his head, because he might be bald, much to the chagrin of May, the pirate girl who vehemently hates baldies. Strange doesn't begin to describe this guy. Faust can disappear in a flash, then from out of nowhere, slam open a door right into his opponent's face. And after he's mopped up everything, he flies off on an umbrella, Mary Poppins style. Let's give it up for the coolest victory animation ever.
Thankfully, there's solid substance to back up the weird style. The strategy behind the fighting feels concrete and sound, with a good variety of specials and the proper system of checks and balances between the different blocks and attacks. If you spend too much time blocking, your defense steadily become less effective, as denoted by the 'guard level' gauge. There's even a scoring penalty for spending too much time cowering in the corner.
One notable detail is that some fighters can shoot out a temporary projectile that uses a two-part attack, a clever play on the stale fireball. For example, Bridget can shoot out a black ball, and then call it back as an explosive, virulent Teddy Bear.
There are plenty of gameplay modes here, such as Arcade and single player Story modes, Survival mode and a Mission challenge. There is also a Medal of Millionaires mode, which combines the Survival mode with medals to earn for your skills. And we can't forget the requisite two-player Versus mode.
The stories branch and change depending on fight performance, but most of these stories are all over the place. There's a plot behind it all, but its quickly lost in the quirkiness.
The Training mode is rather bare bones, especially with the way in which you learn moves. Ideally, the most important selection from a Training mode's pause screen is a move list. But in Guilty Gear X2, the move list is all the way at the bottom, so every time you want to learn another move, you must pause, scroll, select the move list, and only then find a move. Every time you go through this process, the list of moves resets back to the beginning. This all adds up to plenty of time wasted scrolling.
From the overblown details of billowing dust clouds, explosive flames and flashy lights to the picturesque watercolor environments, the game is a powerhouse of 2D art. The coloring and animation have the glow of an anime and, if you have a higher end video connection like S-video or Component cables, the crispness of the line work is stunning. The character animations are beautifully drawn and key-framed, but sometimes a few more frames of animation for some of the characters could have made it look even silkier.
The Guilty Gear series revels in its metal influences with goofy, big rock sounds and blaring guitar that actually complement the fights quite well. Most people have different opinions on English versus Japanese vocals, but in this case, the vocals have thankfully been left alone. The zany edge would have been completely butchered in the translation.
Guilty Gear X2 doesn't reinvent 2D fighting, but I haven't had this much fun with a classic fighter in a long time. Most hardcore fight aficionados will likely already know where they stand with the series, but for everyone else, Guilty Gear X2 has a good balance of sharp visuals, strategy and quirkiness that will bring you back to the warm heart of 2D fighting.