It's Ryu vs Ken, just not as we know it, in this spirited revival of the character cross-over arcade fighter series.
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Cross Generation of Heroes renews the publisher's tradition of putting its all-stars up against another stable of characters in a two vs. two tag team fighting competition. This occasion sees the likes of Ryu and Morrigan butting heads with the creations of the storied anime studio Tatsunoko Production. While many of the characters will not resonate very strongly with Western gamers, they still prove to be an excellent fit for the gloriously over-the-top style of the Vs. games. More importantly, developer Eighting has succeeded in tweaking the Vs. fighting formula to make it more accessible while maintaining a suitable degree of strategic depth, resulting in an outstanding traditional fighting experience on Wii.
Before beginning the review in earnest, it should be noted that I am a somewhat lapsed gamer with respect to the fighting genre. It all gets rather fuzzy from the late nineties onwards, and thus I am not directly familiar with the conventions and intricacies of Tatsunoko vs. Capcom's more recent forebears.
As a vehicle for the return of the Vs. series—most famous for pitting Capcom's finest against the likes of Spider-Man and Wolverine in the Marvel vs. Capcom games—the use of Tatsunoko Production is inevitably a curious choice to Western gamers. Headlined by Ken the Eagle from the 1970s Gatchaman anime series (brought to the West as Battle of the Planets and G-Force), the Tatsunoko roster is unlikely to rouse many fond memories from people reading this review, and at a glance can seem a little homogeneous thanks to a preponderance of guys wearing white headgear and visors.
However, there are some appealing, unique Tatsunoko designs that blend in rather nicely with Capcom's line-up, which itself seems somewhat deliberately obscure. The game includes the gun-toting Saki Omokane, who hails from a quiz game, yet Resident Evil is not represented at all. What's more, the Tatsunoko characters' anime roots are very well-exploited in their Super and Hyper combo attacks, employing plenty of giant robots and sudden explosions of energy to dazzling and often hilarious effect, and so in time they come to feel like quite a natural fit for the series.
In contrast, neither side's properties are used well in the stage backgrounds, which sometimes seem generic and not directly inspired by anything in particular. There are a few exceptions, such as the Mega Man Legends airship overrun by Servbots, or the glowing, villainous hideout from Gatchaman, but then there's utterly plain locales such as an urban Japanese landscape and a rural Japanese landscape.
Every character brings his or her own musical theme and voice work, and you'll be hearing quite a lot of them if you have a favourite character as their fanfare is used whenever they enter the fray . The quality of the instrumentation used for the music is generally a little weak, and the repetition makes it easy for some of the voices and/or music to become grating. However, there's good audio work in here too (the arrangement of Chun-Li's Street Fighter II stage theme, for instance), and the constant cries, shifts in musical theme, and excellent sound effects come together to help heighten the sense of frenetic action taking place.
Obscure anime characters aside, veterans of Capcom's previous Vs. fighters should find Tatsunoko vs. Capcom comfortably familiar, but some changes have been made to the template. Once again, teams of two characters duke it out against each other along a 2D plane, only now the fighters and environments are polygonal models as opposed to hand-drawn sprites. This allows for very fluid animation and some effective, dynamic camera work, while the attractive cel-shaded aesthetic helps keep things consistent with the visual styles of the characters' source materials. Some rough edges are visible when viewing the action on a big screen TV, but the visuals still benefit greatly from a widescreen presentation thanks to the vibrant colours and many luminous special effects on show.
Any concerns over the polygonal graphics affecting gameplay are quickly dismissed, as the action is fast (though not the fastest in the Vs. series), the controls highly responsive, and the hit detection impeccable. Where Tatsunoko vs. Capcom departs from its predecessors is in its control scheme, which has been significantly streamlined. Separate punch and kick attack buttons have been collapsed down into three general attack inputs (weak-medium-strong), and when added to the partner button, this makes the scheme a perfect fit for the Wii Classic Controller's four face buttons. Fighters retain a broad range of standard attacks, so the decision to make the control scheme more inviting for players unaccustomed to (or out of practice with) the seven button layout is certainly a worthy one, and there's something to be said of the less convoluted control scheme, irrespective of a player's experience level.
The D-pad/control stick inputs required to perform special moves and even the Super combos are largely uncomplicated, consisting mostly of quarter-circle motions or variants thereof. This relative uniformity makes each character quite easy to use straight off the bat without having to consult the command list (which conveniently is always accessible from the pause menu), though this similarity makes individual move sets somewhat forgettable. More importantly, it is all too easy to inadvertently execute one special attack while intending to perform another when using the small D-pad of the GameCube controller. However, with a little practice or the greater precision of the Classic Controller (or for true fighting aficionados, an arcade stick), this shouldn't be a significant issue.
Eighting has also included Wii Remote control schemes (with or without a Nunchuk) that simplify things further by primarily using only two buttons: one each for standard and special attacks, and both together for Super combos, with no control stick/D-pad motions necessary. This level of simplification does begin to compromise the depth of the game, but it is a surprisingly functional setup that serves well as an entry-level scheme for newcomers to have fun learning the basics with a friend on a more level playing field.
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom benefits from the Vs. series tag team concept, which brings welcome dynamism to the contests as well as strategic possibilities. As damage is inflicted, a portion of the fighter's life bar is drained altogether, while some is turned red. By tagging that character out, the red section of the life bar can be regained over time, but whatever red remains when the character tags back in is lost. This creates some interesting scenarios with one player stalling to let a preferred character heal, while the other tries to press the advantage by forcing a quick change.
This health management aspect is enhanced by the new Baroque mechanic, which offers the possibility for devastating combos at the price of sacrificing the red portion of a character's life bar. Activated by pressing the partner button and an attack button simultaneously, this technique allows fighters to extend their combos while also boosting the damage inflicted (proportionally to the amount of red life expended), but the effect only lasts as long as the combo is sustained. This risk-reward design creates some real high-stakes scenarios, and leaves open the possibility for dramatic comebacks by sufficiently skilled players.
Even more so than usual for the Vs. series, the Super meter is an absolutely integral part of Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. Building up as fighters both take and inflict damage (though more quickly in the latter case), this meter firstly powers Super combos. Each Super combo costs one notch from the Super meter. These are performed much in the same way as special moves, except two attack buttons are used rather than one, and the results are of course very much more damaging and spectacular.
Hyper combos require three Super levels to activate (the maximum that can be accumulated is five), and are far from guaranteed to connect with the target, but can totally annihilate foes in amusingly outrageous fashion when they do. Expect to see tidal waves, mushroom clouds, and of course plenty of giant robots getting involved, as Tatsunoko vs. Capcom uses these occasions to revel in epic absurdity, providing satisfaction whether as a potentially game-changing move or simply a laugh-out-loud funny sequence.
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom adds a new feature to the Vs. formula that brings the Super meter into defensive play as well, making its overall management a more strategic affair. The Mega Crash, performed by pressing all four buttons at once, creates a field around fighters that pushes opponents back, allowing them to escape from a combo at the price of two Super levels. Against advanced opponents this is an extremely important resource to have, and cavalier offensive use of the Super meter can be severely punished by a Baroque-powered string of attacks without the opportunity to Mega Crash out of it. In this way, the Mega Crash effectively dissuades Super-spamming.
Not everything is successfully balanced by the game's design though; given the many attacks with a wide damage radius flying around, the larger characters (such as Alex from Street Fighter III) are inevitably at a disadvantage. This issue is somewhat mitigated by the sheer power of the heavyweights' attacks, and a number of them can perform Snap Backs (which force a character swap) that can help make quick work of opponents. In many cases they're simply a lot of fun to play as, too, and like much of the line-up, they all bring something unique to the table. Still, some may be put off by their slow speed and innate vulnerability to a lot of the Supers and Hypers in the game.
With so much good work having gone into the visuals and fighting mechanics for the game, it is regrettable that Tatsunoko vs. Capcom comes up short in providing avenues to explore its depths. Firstly, there is no online multiplayer support, which significantly limits opportunities for players to test their skills against human opponents. This leaves single players with only an insubstantial standard arcade mode (consisting of a few fights before reaching a very cool final boss) as well as survival and time attack challenges to keep them occupied. A vast range of unlockables is available to discover, most notably four Wii-exclusive characters (one of which is Viewtiful Joe). There are also extra character colours, artwork, music, and Wii Remote-controlled mini-games. However, the main way to acquire these rewards is to simply keep playing those same three single player modes over and over again to earn in-game currency.
The Wii Remote-based mini-games are mostly inconsequential Track and Field-type button-mashing/Remote-flailing affairs, but there are a few notable ones, including a top-down shooter recreation of Lost Planet, complete with power-ups and boss fights. Up to four players can participate, but the mini-games are likely to remain no more than a mildly amusing diversion between bouts of the main game. Trying out these games is rewarded with more in-game currency, and this approach really should have been extended to versus fights to encourage continued play of the multiplayer mode with friends to slowly amass the many unlockables available.
It is a shame that the accessibility of Tatsunoko vs. Capcom's gameplay is somewhat negated by the unlikelihood that it will see a release outside of Japan, but those willing to brave the obscurity (and expense) of the import scene can rest assured that the language barrier is not a particular problem. Indeed, despite its relative obscurity, this game feels almost tailor-made for anyone eager to reconnect with the kind of fighting experience that's been in short supply on Nintendo consoles since the end of the 16-bit era. The outrageously fun but equally well-conceived fighting won't disappoint, and if you have friends you've just been longing to beat up with a giant transforming golden cigarette lighter robot, then Tatsunoko vs. Capcom carries the highest of recommendations.