System: Microsoft Xbox
Developer: Capcom (with some assistance from SNK)
ESRB Rating: T for Teen (Suggestive Themes, Violence)
First of all, a little background information: In the year 2000, history was made in the videogame industry. After months of rumors, it was discovered that two Japanese game company giants, Capcom and SNK -- fierce competitors in the business until that time -- teamed up to produce a series of 2D fighting games pitting both companies\' premiere characters against each other. The first couple of games were developed by SNK for their handheld system, the fantastic NEO*GEO Pocket Color. The next two would be produced by Capcom for arcades and home systems. Hence, we have Capcom vs. SNK 2 EO for Microsoft\'s Xbox: A solid, old-school 2D fighter with tons of personality, decent visuals, and spot-on controls. Incidentally, SNK, recently reborn under the moniker Playmore (or SNK Playmore), just developed and distributed their latest arcade sequel, SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos in Japan and select arcades in North America, so the series continues on. This series will always hold a special place in my heart. I am a HUGE fan of 2D fighters (or anything 2D, for that matter), so seeing the two main players in the genre make a series of games (not just one!!) together is like a dream come true for me. Personally, I\'ve always been more of a Capcom fan myself, but that doesn\'t mean that I don\'t like SNK or anything. It\'s just that I didn\'t have much experience playing as their characters before this series came out. However, now I can see why their 2D fighting games are just as popular as Capcom\'s among hardcore fighting game players. I also found out that I like and appreciate their cast of characters as much as Capcom\'s.
A VISION IN TWO DIMENSIONS
Microsoft\'s monster console has proven itself time and time again as a 3D polygon-pushing super-machine, but how does it handle two-dimensional, sprite-based graphics? To put it simply: Very well. Thanks for asking. Of course, this game is two years old, but it originally ran on Sega\'s Dreamcast-based NAOMI arcade board (*sniff* How I miss you so, my beloved DC...*RIP*), which was cutting edge tech at the time. As for the animation, it\'s merely okay on some fighters, and much better on others. For most of their characters (like Guile, Cammy, Rolento, Zangief, Dan, Akuma, etc.), Capcom simply recycled their several-years-old Street Fighter Alpha series sprites -- or, in the case of a character called Morrigan, Capcom re-used an even older, chunkier, just plain uglier Darkstalkers-era sprite. However, some of their other fighters (such as Chun Li, Ken, Ryu, and Kyosuke) are animated fluidly, in a Street Fighter III style. All the SNK characters are animated in that style as well. It\'s a little disappointing -- and kind of sloppy on Capcom\'s part -- to see my favorite character, Guile, get the short end of the animation stick. It\'s not that big a deal, though. Other than that, the game runs well, and the characters look nice enough, even though they\'re all low-resolution sprites (compare this game to any installment of Sammy\'s Guilty Gear series, which uses high-res character sprites, and you\'ll wish Capcom followed suit). There is a bit of pixelation because the sprites are scaled up (stretched so they appear larger); this is especially noticeable when you see Ken\'s \'Shinryuken\' super Dragon Punch combo, or either of Kyo\'s (one of SNK\'s main characters) super moves, which use a lot of flame effects. On the other hand, the backgrounds are gorgeous 3D models which show off what the NAOMI chipset could do back in the day. Of course nowadays, with the graphical prowess of the Xbox, such background are not that special looking. Still, you\'ve got to appreciate it for what it is.
Audio-wise, the game holds its own. The sound effects are mostly typical smacks, thwacks, gacks, screams, and yells. You\'ve heard \'em before, but I can\'t complain. The background music\'s pretty good, too. It\'s mostly full of J-pop/techno tracks. A couple of the songs even have lyrics and singing in them, which is different from many games in the genre. I like most of the tracks in the game; sometimes I get so into the flow of the game that my head starts bobbing up and down to the musical beats as I\'m playing (Yes, I admit, I\'m weird, but aren\'t we all, in some way?). Anyway, the soundtrack is sometimes good enough to enhance it. Still, I must say that I miss some of the tracks from the first CVS game. Oh, well...you can\'t have everything sometimes. Moreover, during the character select screens and between matches, there\'s actually an announcer who narrates the tournament as if it were a real martial arts competition -- if you win, he might say, \'Hey, who allowed them to join this tournament? They\'re much too strong to compete,\' and stuff like that. I thought that was a cool touch that Capcom\'s sound guys added in, even though the voice actor mispronounces Nairobi (he says \'Nigh-robby\') whenever that background stage is used.
THAT OLD-SCHOOL FEELIN\'
Anybody who\'s played a Capcom fighting game before will instantly feel comfortable with the controls: This game uses the standard Street Fighter-style, six-button control scheme: three buttons for punches, three for kicks. The D-pad is used to move your character side-to-side, and to crouch and jump. As for what Xbox controller to use, I think both \'Duke\' (the original, much larger Xbox pad) and the Controller-S are a solid fit for this title. \'Duke\'s\' button layout is a little better for the game, since the black and white buttons are in line with the others, but it\'s D-pad is looser than the smaller Controller-S\'. Personally, I use the Controller-S, but I make sure to map the weaker punch and kick attacks to the shoulder triggers. It\'s a little awkward, but you get used to it after a while. Now, you may be wondering where the \'EO\' suffix in the title comes from. It refers to the \'Easy Operation\' option present in the game. This allows fighting game novices to use the right thumbstick for their special move motions (just nudge it in a certain direction to pull off a fireball). For veterans of 2D fighters, this is not very helpful. Thankfully, before you start playing through the game, you can select the regular control setup (just choose \'AC-ISM\' from the menu; \'AC\' stands for \'arcade/advanced controls\'). This is the only change (albeit optional) in the otherwise standard control scheme. There are also six \'grooves\' for you to choose from in the game. These amount to different play styles and super-move meters. Some, like the \'C-groove,\' are for novices or people who like to block attacks in the air; while others, like the \'K-groove,\' are for advanced players who specialize in SNK\'s more abstract play mechanics (the \'Just-defense\' system, for instance, which is a fancy name for a defensive parry maneuver). With six of these \'grooves\' available, you\'re bound to find one that fits your play style just right. On a quick side note: This game is difficult. It has that typical 2D fighting convention where the final boss is extremely tough to beat. Persistance, practice, and patience are necessary if you want to finish this one off. However, if you want to learn the basics, there is a training mode available, and you can change the default difficulty setting to make the game easier.
Morally speaking, I must caution you about some of the character designs in this game. Now, I greatly respect the artists at Capcom and SNK, and I really like most of the anime-style character designs in this game. At the same time, some of the women in the game, such as Morrigan and Mai, wear very revealing clothing (the artists apparently let their hormones guide them when designing those two), and Chun Li is a constant source of underwear flashing as she kicks her opponents. Rather juvenile stuff here, but none of it really affects the gameplay itself (unless you choose to play as one of the scantily-clad women). I still believe it\'s a concern to parents of younger children or pre-teens. Also, there is one background song where the lyrics say that \'this [fighting] is true love-makin\'...\', and another stage (I believe it\'s New York) has a rap song playing in the background, with lyrics that move by so fast that I couldn\'t be sure if I heard any swearing. Oh, yeah, it\'s also obvious that this game has a lot of hand-to-hand violence in it, and some of the characters appear to use magic in their projectile attacks. Just a few things to be aware of.
GET ROCKIN\', BABY!
Overall, I am pleased with this game; the graphics, sounds, and gameplay are all pushed to perfection by Capcom. I\'ve been playing Street Fighter II and its countless clones throughout the years, and this game offers similar controls and the same magnetic personality that classic did when it first hit arcades in 1991. Also, it\'s got close to fifty (!) playable characters, from two of the industry\'s most respected fighting game developers. The icing on the cake is the Xbox Live online play for those of you who have the proper setup (I hear it\'s awesome). In the end, for an old-school arcade freak like me, it\'s just great to see a 2D fighter on a system that\'s got more first-person shooters developed for it than should be legal in a single hemisphere. So, folks, if you feel it\'s appropriate for you, buy this game, or at least rent it. It\'s a load of fun. *By the way, I just wanted to mention that if you haven\'t been to an arcade yet, go check one out. If you play SVC Chaos, post a comment and let me know how it plays. Keep an eye out, too, for news on Sammy vs. Capcom, a rumored arcade game that pits Capcom\'s characters against another Japanese arcade game producer, Sammy (remember the creators of Guilty Gear? High-res sprites, here we come!). I hope that rumor\'s true. Oh, and bear with me here, because I must say this: Long live SNK!! 2D forever!!