As soon as you start the game a holographic globe appears before you, the camera zooms into the globe showing off the many fighters within the game making sure you know this is a global fighting game.
When you first press a button and arrive at the games main menu, the most eye-catching thing won't be any menu icon, it’ll be the live broadcast of a currently occurring ranked match which you can watch.
With this, Sega make their ambitions clear with this almost 15 year old fighting game, they want Virtua Fighter to not just be a success in Japanese arcades but a global Esports success.
I’ve never been a big fighting game fan, I’ve always been more of a watcher from the side-lines instead of in the ring, and watching the genre go through a boom in the last decade. I was mostly drawn to the game through my interest in Ryo Ga Gatuko Studios and my interest in Sega Am2 who have made some of the most fun arcade games ever and Shenmue which I love.
Outside of some Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter 2 and Injustice I am a true noob. Despite that when I first played Virtua Fighter 5 and tried it’s training mode I felt anything but a noob.
The simple tutorials involving where best to block, how to dodge and what moves are best in certain scenarios caught me up to the game's deceptively simple fighting system very quickly.
I was ducking, dodging and blocking in no time and felt like I could take on other opponents immediately after I was done.
The game works in only 3 buttons: block, punch and kick. With these three buttons you can also throw your opponent and jump on them.
You can either hit them until their health bar is depleted to win, or knock them outside of the fighting arena in a ring-out to win.
The game's core strengths come in its initial simplicity. The first part of the game that grabs you, is when you connect a small combo with your opponent and land a finishing blow. It’s effortless and immediately understandable.
After a few days of playing I found myself improving- learning standing blocks block more attacks than crouch blocks, learning which throws are best for sending an opponent into a ring-out and which characters suit my style of play best. Each punch and kick carries an immense amount of weight, a bright flash and crunchy sound effect tell you that your opponent won't be standing straight for a week and it feels so good.
Despite its accessible combat and how immediate it feels to control, it's hard to actually get invested into the game. The character designs are weak, looking at the full roster it's hard to pick a favourite, sure each character looks different and you can get an immediate feel for how they might play at a glance but none of them beg you to play as them.
When you see Blanka in Street Fighter or Mileena in Mortal Kombat you immediately want to play as them and discover everything about them. That never happened for me with any of the fighters in Virtua Fighter 5.
With a title like “Ultimate Showdown” you would imagine this is the most complete edition of Virtua Fighter 5 yet, but it lacks the single player focused quest mode found in previous versions of the game. All the game has to offer to those who want to play the game offline by themselves is an arcade mode which takes around 6 minutes to finish and a robust training mode. The game clearly has a focus on online multiplayer but at least including the quest mode from previous releases would have given it some more value to players.
At the time of writing the game has two available online matchmaking modes, ranked and rooms. In ranked you are pitted against other players who are hopefully of equal skill level, with a victory increasing your rank so you can face better players. Room mode involves creating or joining a room where you fight against other players whilst others watch and wait out their turn to fight by throwing emojis at the screen. Both modes are flawed. There is also to be a tournament mode but at the time of writing it is not available yet.
Whilst you are waiting for a match in ranked you can spar against the cpu in a training mode and practice your moves, you will spend most of your time in ranked play waiting. Every Time I’ve played ranked I’ve had to wait around for what feels like at least two minutes and I gotta tell you, fighting the cpu gets boring very fast.
But when you arrive in a game there is a good chance they’ll leave the match if you start doing too well (which throws you back to the main menu) or their connection is unstable so you’ll be standing around waiting for your hit to connect. It works sometimes and when it does it's fun but it doesn't work enough.
I was this young when i entered the lobby
Rooms are better. If you get into a good room with a few spectators it's fun having people watch you fight and then watching others fight. The trouble is getting into a room. Most rooms are locked behind a passcode which is completely understandable because it is the only way to play with friends online, but when you see a list of people to play against and only one on the whole list is a room you can actually join, it's not fun.
I don't know why the game doesn't have a quick match button for finding a quick game against another player as that would reduce the time spent searching and waiting for casual players a lot.
Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown is a good game but the game released to PlayStation Plus subscribers this month is lacking. It seems to be a game designed to only appeal to already existing Virtua Fighter 5 fans and although it has a good training mode and it's very simple to understand it doesn't offer enough to keep people who aren't fighting fans invested.
If this gets constantly updated with new modes and improvements to match finding, in about a year this could be great but as it stands its anything but the ultimate showdown.
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