Someone else finally steps up to the mascot-fighter plate.
DreamMix TV World Fighters is the product of a slightly bizarre three-way Konami/Hudson/Takara team-up. It's a fighting game which appears to borrow plenty from Super Smash Bros., but also has its own unique merits. It's probably not going to be released outside of Japan, so it could be quite a worthwhile import.
Honestly, Optimus Prime, Bomberman, Solid Snake, and Simon Belmont would be a hot character selection, even if it ended right there. There's a few more familiar characters for the U.S. crew, like Yugo the Wolf, for the five or so Bloody Roar fans out there. Master Higgins is included, in all his axe-throwing glory. Many of the characters have their own awesome and memorable theme songs. A couple of the final characters unlocked are familiar friends (foes, more like) that some readers might not appreciate having spoiled, but the official site has a complete character list for those that have no qualms. The characters look pretty hot, too. Optimus Prime has his slick old-school look, Snake appears in the various outfits from his games (like 'Plisskin' Snake), and female versions of TwinBee and Bomberman are selectable as alternate costumes, too.
There's an interesting selection of battle arenas as well. While each character doesn't necessarily have a home stage, most of them do. For example, Big Shell is one of the cooler stages, featuring multiple catwalks and a Harrier jet that flies by and fires its machine-guns at the players. The Adventure Island stage features a couple of the enemies from the classic game, like the cobras and spiders (they're hardly a threat, though).
About half of the character list is made up of very unfamiliar Japanese characters from video games and Takara's toy lines. Those that can read the Japanese profiles in Library mode or even just search the Internet a little can check out the character origins, which can be fairly fascinating. Did you know that Licca is a popular doll that debuted in the 1960s? Asuka is a newer toy/action figure from 'Cy-girls' - Konami is making a PS2 game based on that, too. Fans of wacky shooting games and Bemani may recognize TwinBee.
There's a huge and disappointing list of characters that could have been included. Where's Goemon? Lance and/or Bill? The Bemani characters? (TwinBee doesn't really count.) Oh well, maybe there'll be a sequel... and seventeen characters makes a nice roster, anyway.
Outside of having four-player matchups and using simple move commands, DMTV is somewhat different from SSBM in the gameplay department. First of all, there are no ring-outs whatsoever; characters must be attacked until they lose their large heart to another player. The number of special moves from character to character will vary; for example, Snake only has one, but it's easily a very dominating move that can be performed, even during a jump, while hanging, or while carrying another character. That's right, each character can pick up, carry, and throw other characters, perhaps into a corner or where they might end up tangling with another character. Hey, why do the dirty work yourself? Tricky players can even grab characters in the middle of a jump - it's a good way to catch people by surprise. Items are also used in the same way - just picked up and thrown. There are very few items in the game, but a few are worth noting; TwinBee can generate his own items (bells that have different effects), as can Bomberman (bombs). In Licca's stage, cute things like teddy bears and pink buckets (?) are regenerated constantly and are good for a quick throw.
Since the game is based on a last-man-standing formula, using "run away" tactics can be fairly effective. It's balanced somewhat by the need to grab other characters' heart-coin doodads and take their energy, though. When a player gets hit, they actually 'drop' energy in the form of coins with hearts on them, which disappear after a second. Other players can take them to add to their own energy. In any case, controlling the space to take advantage of both stealing energy and playing keep-away is key, which is one of the more interesting gameplay features. For example, Snake or Bomberman might want a good location for throwing their respective explosives without fighting directly; other characters will have to work out strategies to deal with that. Optimus Prime can tear across the whole screen in truck form while being invulnerable to most attacks; however, he is vulnerable to a few attacks, like Snake's C4s, and is also vulnerable as he transforms at the beginning and end of his routes. Thinking ahead is very key in this game, especially since some moves are slow to come out or set up for certain vulnerabilities.
Playing against other humans is pretty much the only worthwhile way to play. 'Caravan' mode is a series of character-based challenges, like grabbing enough heart-coins in a certain time limit. They're not that exciting, and don't seem to serve any purpose in terms of unlocks or rewards. Character unlocks are done by playing through the single-player game with different characters. It's not that great, either - the AI doesn't seem too sharp, and there are no 'special' challenges other than fighting more than one guy at once and the very pattern-oriented boss at the end. It's best to stick to the multiplayer matches after all of the characters have been unlocked.
DMTV is different enough from SSBM and good enough on its own merits to justify a purchase (as long as you have friends). There aren't any known plans to release it outside Japan, so roll on over to a choice importer and snag one.