Traversing the floor of the Play.com Live event, we spot an attractive young woman in cosplay near a number of well-populated TVs. But she's not cosplaying, she's a booth babe dressed up as Cassandra from the Soul Calibur series. The difference? Cosplayers don't get paid, and usually respond when you address them by their characters name...
After dragging our minds away from the hotness, we spotted an empty seat next to a fellow congoer who has just sat down. The young man looked mildly excited, telling us that he's only played the Dreamcast Original. After the brief humilities, it was down to the business of kicking ass.
Unfortunately, there were only 3 characters to choose from, and none of them was Yoda (the 360 version was on show, you see). Little bit odd, considering some acrobatic, Force wielding Yoda action goes down with anyone. Especially Mrs Yoda (Ed - Rob would like to point out he knows that Yoda could not of had a missus, as it is indeed forbidden by Jedi Lore. That is all).
Series regulars Mitsurugi, Taki and Cassandra were our 'only' choices. Our opponent immediately selected Mitsurugi, a glint of victory already shining in his eye. Our character had already been selected by the previous occupant of the game, and due to loading issues that were reminiscent of Soul Calibur II character select, but worse, it only became apparent that the match was Mitsurugi versus Cassandra when the game started. One can only guess that the loading time was due to a slightly buggy early build of the game.
Two stages were on offer, one an outdoor courtyard with Cherry Blossom blowing serenely in the wind, the other an underground lair with an odd tint of green. Both of them were beautifully rendered, if not a little low res. In fact, the build we played seemed fairly low res altogether. Think Guitar Hero 3 on PS2, and you get the general idea. Again, this is something that will likely be tweaked and fixed if the already released game engine cutscenes are anything to go by.
So the game starts and there's already a rough idea on what's going to happen. Mitsurugi has slightly greater reach then Cassandra, so we need to get a little closer. The basic mechanics of the game remain, horizontal and vertical attacks, kicks and guard. We pull off a parry by guarding and pushing in a direction, which, luckily, was the correct direction for the attack type, and our foe is momentarily stunned. Cassandra goes in for a throw and pulls off a spectacular aerial flip with Mitsurugi in tow, and then attacking him with her Shield, Captain America style.
In doing so, the ground shatters beneath our characters feet with fairly realistic physics behind it. Not only are the environments the usual Soul Calibur eye candy, but also the designers now allow you to half destroy them. Yeah it's been done before, but not with areas you may have considered pre-rendered.
The match continues with attack and counter-attack. The animations and flow of the game is impeccable as always, even with slight button bashing. Our opponent, having far greater experience with his character, managed to quickly gain the upper hand after the first attack, comboing together new attacks that seemed to be mapped to some similar button combinations as previous incarnations. Mitsurugis blade sliced through the air majestically, leaving arcs of 'energy' as it sliced Cassandra's body to shreds.
Thoroughly beaten, we agreed to a rematch with different characters. Playing as Mitsurugi ourselves, we notice that our frantic button mashing was not creating some of the combos that Soul Calibur II had allowed. Our opponent offered us wisdom on the matter, stating the game played slightly more like the original Soul Calibur, where button bashing was not in anyway a worthwhile tactic.
The Samurai faces off with Taki, the ninja chick with the catsuit and two daggers. The most noticeable thing with Taki this time around is her boob physics, seemingly ripped straight from Dead or Alive Xtreme 2. Of course, that wasn't the only notable aspect of her character, and indeed not the biggest one. After playing with her in the next match, we came to the conclusion that she was quite difficult to get to grips with. Although rife with innuendo, it's true; the only 'easy' combos were her kicks.
The whole experience with this particular telling of this tale of souls and swords eternally retold left us wanting so much more. The slight lack of button bashing drew us in further then the second instalment, as witnessing our opponent playing as Mitsurugi showed that, although slightly difficult to grasp, the rewards were definitely worthwhile. That, and the prospect of the game running in full HD resolution should be enough to get any gamer worth their salt watering at the mouth.
Soul Calibur is back, and it's ready to take on Street Fighter IV.