The hallmarks of Capcom’s Vs. series have always been simple controls, insanely over-the-top special moves, and recognizable Capcom characters taking on the equally famous residents of another fictional universe. It worked for all of Capcom’s matchups with Marvel, in part because of the worldwide notoriety of characters like Spider-Man, the Hulk, and Wolverine, and it worked to a lesser degree when Capcom took on SNK’s fighting game characters. Capcom’s newest attempt pits its well-known warriors against some of Japan’s most beloved animated characters. While anime fans and Japanophiles may be familiar with characters like Hurricane Polimar, Ippatsuman, and Tekkaman Blade, most westerners have no clue about them, leading most to believe that the game, originally released in Japanese arcades, would never arrive on American shelves. American fans made their opinions known, however, and Capcom saw fit to bring the game to our shores, complete with a few new characters and features. The otaku will be happy with the fan-service, but is the rest of America ready for Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom, and, more importantly, is it a good enough fighting game to bear the much-loved “Vs.” name?
In the tradition of the Vs. series, Tatsunonko Vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars is a 2D fighting game. Instead of the three character teams of Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, or the variable team sizes from Capcom Vs. SNK, this one features 2-on-2 fights with the ability to swap out characters on the fly. For the first time in the series, the 2D fighting action involves 3D characters, similar to the 2.5D style of Street Fighter IV. Despite this, the game maintains a cel-shaded look that, in motion, looks identical to 2D sprites.
While Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom’s characters may be bizarre and obscure, the gameplay is extremely familiar and accessible. With only three attack buttons, light, medium, and heavy, there are a lot fewer commands to memorize than in a Street Fighter or King of Fighters game, which include separate buttons for punches and kicks. Furthermore, almost every special move in the game is accomplished by performing button and stick combinations that we’ve been doing since Street Fighter II. Pulling off Gonjora’s Aizuwakamatsu Punch is exactly the same as performing Ryu’s Hadouken, and Joe the Condor’s Wild Lasso move is no different from Guile’s Sonic Boom. This accessibility carries over to Super Moves, which are mostly two-button variations on characters’ specials. Air combos are a little tougher to pull off, but after a few games, the timing for these becomes apparent, and evenly mildly skilled players will be able to incorporate them into their offenses. Standard controls are supported for arcade sticks, the Classic Controller and Gamecube pads, but those using the Wii-mote/Nunchuk setup have a heavily simplified control scheme. This setup maps special attacks to a single button press along with a direction, making teh game a much simpler affair. Despite this, players who are used to traditional button layouts will likely be turned off by the controls, which somehow manage to be overly simplistic and awkwardly clunky at the same time.
As easily accessible as the game’s controls are, there’s still a lot of depth to the fighting engine. Advanced moves like Baroque Cancels, which allow players to perform longer combos at the cost of some of their health, and Mega Crashes, which forcibly break your opponents out of combos, require precise timing and quick, accurate inputs to pull off, but add an extra layer of strategy to the gameplay. The “Variable Attack” system found in the Marvel Vs. Capcom games is back, and has been expanded upon with Variable Air Raves, which let players switch out their characters in the middle of air combos. Throw in two types of Hyper Combo team-ups, and you’ve got a fighting system that isn’t as deep as that of BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger or a King of Fighters title, but still offers plenty of techniques and styles to explore.
Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom’s 3D character models are somewhat cartoonish, which fits the tone of the game and the source material of the Tatsunoko characters. Despite their slightly blocky appearance, characters look great, especially in motion. The cel-shaded look gives the 3D models a flat appearance, creating the illusion of a sprite-based fighter with nearly unlimited character sprites. Everyone moves and fights the way they should, with excellent character-specific animations and effects. Super moves are particularly impressive, incorporating many of Tatsunoko’s characters’ supporting characters and technologies in fantastically over-the-top finishers. Background levels are drawn from every corner of the Capcom and Tatsunoko world, and feature some fun background animations; most notably the zombie-filled Willamette Mall from Dead Rising. With nary a frame-rate dip, it’s one of the best looking games on the Wii in recent memory, and one of the better looking fighters of the last few years, despite a lack of painstakingly hand-drawn sprites or photorealistic character models.
The original Japanese release of TVC featured fully rendered ending sequences for each character in the game. Sadly, due to localization issues, the American release had them replaced with still scenes by Street Fighter comic art studio, Udon. These endings are a bit on the lean side, with most characters receiving only two or three different pieces of art for their ending, but they’re better than Marvel Vs. Capcom 2’s endings, which were nonexistent. Another hallmark of the Vs. series is its extremely upbeat, somewhat off-kilter music, and Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom doesn’t disappoint. The jazzy, poppy, distinctly Japanese soundtrack fits perfectly with the rest of the series, and does a great job of conveying the game’s hectic pace and overall craziness in musicial form.
With 26 playable characters, Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom offers plenty of diversity in fighting styles, but falls a bit short on game modes. As expected, there’s a standard Arcade mode, which consists of 7 battles against randomly selected opponents and a 3-stage boss battle against Yami, the demonic orb from Okami. There’s also a Time Attack and Survival modes, which task the player with defeating every enemy in the game with either limited health or a timer. Online and offline Vs. Mode round out the fighting modes, and will probably consume most of gamers’ time with the game. Lag and connectivity issues are common in the online modes, though, and despite some cool features, like the ability to choose your online rivals and a system that lets other fighters know what type of fighter you are, it’s something of a chore to fight online because of serious delays between inputting commands and seeing the results on-screen. Luckily, playing with a friend on the couch is a blast, and the quick, frantic battles are perfect for marathon one-on-one sessions. Several mini-games are unlockable, with most of them consisting of simple, silly actions like timing Hadoukens to blast away meteors or quickly solving math problems. These add more to the game’s tone than they do to its playability, though, and most gamers will get their fill of the mini-games in a few minutes.
Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom may not have the name recognition of its predecessors, and its exclusivity on the Wii, a system not known for its fighters, may work against it. Wii-owning fighting fans who are overlooking it simply because they don’t know who Yatterman and Super Gold Lightan are should reconsider, because there happens to be a fantastic 2D fighter behind all those wacky Japanese guys. Besides, it’s not like any of us knew who Chun-Li or Blanka were before Street Fighter II came out, and that seemed to work out okay. Whether you’re a casual button masher who wants to kill a weekend on the couch with a buddy, or a hardcore twitch-warrior looking to spend the next year and a half digging into the guts of a fighter, Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom doesn’t disappoint.