LOS ANGELES - It takes a lot to divert a dedicated PC gamer to a console gaming system, but every once in a while, a company makes a game that is just so fun and challenging to play, it's almost too easy.
For me, consoles have almost always been something you play every now and again when you're visiting a friend and there's nothing good on TV. The last console system I bought was a Super Nintendo. I still have it, stashed in a box in my computer room.
The reason I bought it can be semmed up in just a few words - Street Fighter II Turbo from Capcom. I've always been a sucker for good fighting games, and I had so much fun playing Street Fighter II in the arcade that I just had to have it at home.
Soul Calibur II is another game that just might make me finally break down and get a new console.
The original Soul Calibur was released on Sega's Dreamcast, a system I'm not really familiar with, and from what I understand, was pretty popular. If the new version is any indication, it was most likely very popular.
Soul Calibur II, scheduled for release on August 26 on the Nintendo GameCube, Sony PlayStation 2 and Microsoft Xbox, continues the story of Soul Edge, an evil weapon that housed enough power to send the world into darkness, and Soul Calibur, the weapon that defeated that evil.
The story so far:
"Four years have passed since the spirit sword, Soul Calibur, defeated the evil Soul Edge. At the end of that fateful battle, the shards of the shattered Soul Edge were scattered across the world, and Soul Calibur was lost to the world. Now the evil that still resides in the scattered shards of Soul Edge threatens again to engulf the world in darkness.
This is the tale of the warriors who are drawn into battle as they seek the the legendary sword, whether to use its power for themselves or to destroy it once and for all."
Namco Hometek, the U.S. division of Namco, went all out to feature Soul Calibur II at last week's Electronic Entertainment Expo at the Los Angeles Cenvention Center, and managed to draw quite a crowd. Players waited five deep at some consoles just to get a chance to try the game, following standard (at least in my days of arcade crawling) arcade rules - winner stays, loser passes.
During the final round of the two-day tournament, I got a chance to try my hand after the crowd cleared a bit, steppign back to watch the tournament battles on the big screen. Actual game play is very smooth, featuring the same sort of 360 degree that became popular with the Tekken series, the controls are pretty easy to figure out, even jumping between all three versions, and the graphics are excellent.
"It's easy to pick up, easy to play but difficult to master," said Brian Schorr, quality assurance and customer support manager for Namco Hometek, the U.S. division of Namco. "Little kids like to mash on buttons and this will let them do that, while the more serious players can have a little bit more of a challenge."
That random mashing proved quite successful until I finally started figuring out some of the special moves (usually after getting smoked by another player who knew what he was doing).
On a nuts-and-bolts level, Soul Calibur II offers:
[li]8 levels of difficulty
[li]22 warriors, both familiar and new
[li]Over 2,400 moves
[li]Over 10 game modes, including Arcade Mode, Time Attack Mode, Survival Mode, VS. Mode and Team Battle Mode
[li]Collection and use of over 200 weapons and items in the all-new Weapon Master Mode
[li]Unlockable features including characters, costumes and arenas
Namco has also included special guest warriors unique to each console version. On the GameCube, players may choose to enter the battle with Link from the Legend of Zelda series, while PS2 players are treated to Heihachi from the Tekken series. The Xbox version icludes the title character of Todd McFarlane's popular comic Spawn.
Featured on all three consoles is Necrid, a new character designed by McFarlane exclusively for Soul Calibur II.
"Todd's a really creative guy," Schorr said. ""It's a real coup for us to have somebody like Todd come and design a character for our game. He came up with this monstrous guy with a power plant built into his chest and kind of described his powers to us and then we went from there."
McFarlane says his role in the development of Soul Calibur II came as almost an accident.
"We sold the Spawn rights for the video game, and in the discussion, it just came up," McFarlane said. "We started asking 'What if,' and it just went from there."
McFarlane's involvement Namco goes even deeper. Along with allowing Spawn to be included in the game and designing Necrid, McFarlane Toys will produce the full line of Soul Calibur II action figures, and Namco is also developing a new game based on McFarlane's Spawn, a third-person shooter that pits the undead hero against a new evil that is rising in a near-future, much darker New York City.
At first glance, Soul Calibur II could be dismissed as just another fighting game with weapons. After sitting down and spending just a few moments actually playing the game, it's easy to realize there's much more content than other games of this type.
"There's a lot of competition out there," Schorr said, "but they're all about hype. Our games are deep, an experience you can continue to enjoy for a long time.
"It's not a rental. This is a game you can enjoy week after week and month after month. What's really great for us is when people come up to us and say 'I've been playing for five years and I love this game.' We really like that, and that's what we aim for."
Me, I'm aiming for the nearest electronics store to start pricing consoles.
Soul Calibur II
Release Date: August 26
Platform: Nintendo GameCube, Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation 2
Web Site: http://www.soulcaliburII.com
ESRB Rating: Pending
Sabrehawk's Rating: 9/10