Over the last few years, 2D fighters have dramatically fallen in popularity outside of Japan. This could is down to a number of reasons, the most obvious being that many mainstream gamers have been put off with the difficulty and depth that 2D fighters tend to offer, as well as the emergence of great looking 3D fighters with more accessible gameplay. Another cause is companies, such as Capcom, not producing any more Street Fighter sequels or any other companies producing new 2D fighting series as they feel that 3D games are the only way forward. Since the series' debut on the PSOne some 6+ years ago now, the 2D Guilty Gear games have gained quite a reputation in its homeland in Japan, and now it's finally earning the same respect worldwide as well. Guilty Gear X2 #Reload, then, is the latest addition to Sammy's 2D fighting game franchise.
The easiest way to describe Guilty Gear is it's like a 2D Soul Calibur in the way that it is very attack-based and it's quite easy to get flashy results via button mashing. It features over 20 very different, and some highly bizarre, characters. From the start, itâ€™s pretty clear that Guilty Gear X2 is a bizarre game on the whole. The cast of fighters includes your typical stock fighter characters such as the vengeful martial artist and huge 'slow but powerful' wrestler, but it also includes oddities like a lanky giant with a paper bag over his head, a guy who resembles the Grim Reaper and even someone who believes a Snooker cue makes for a good weapon. There's even a yo-yo wielding school girl which actually turns out to be a boy who was raised as a girl! Four main buttons for control of your fighter. Punch and Kick provide you with short, quick blows, while the Slash and Heavy Slash are your stronger, usually weapon based, attack. GGX2#R is very easy to just pick up and enjoy. If you've played a Street Fighter game, or any one of the many Street Fighter clones over the years, you'll instantly get to grips with what you are doing. The special combos are incredible and range from fairly simple to very advanced. The payoff is always rewarding both in damage and in insane visuals. The game is fast paced with characters that teleport, dash quickly from one side of the screen to the other, and pull off multiple hit mid air combos with hardly the time to breathe. If you've played the past Guilty Gear games then you need to be aware of some big new additions to the gameplay. 'Air Dashing' can now be performed with a double direction tap whilst jumping. This will send you dashing through the air at speed. Due to the deliberate slow walking of the characters, this plays a big part in movement and strategy. The new 'Dust Attack' is effectively an air-launcher. Connect with this and it'll send your opponent high up into the air, totally exposed for huge air combo opportunities The final major addition is the 'Burst Attacks'. If you find yourself trapped in a corner you can perform one of these 'Burst Attacks' which cause a bubble bursting effect around your fighter that will send your opponent to the other side of the screen. This need to be charged using a power bar that fills, but it fills very slowly so it usually can only be done one per match so use it wisely.
The game system centers around the 'tension gauge', which increases when you play aggressively by attacking, dashing and moving forward. This signifies the very nature of the game, it is all about playing aggressively. If you keep moving backwards or use defensive maneuvers often, you get penalized, hence reducing the power in the tension gauge. This game is all about explosive fights and Arc Systems have emphasized this by implementing this important feature. The tension gauge is very important, as like the Street Fighter 2 games, you have super moves that can be performed once your 'tension gauge' is full enough. Another thing unique to the Guilty Gear series is the Instant Kill moves. Charge the bar, and the press all 4 buttons to go into Super Mode. From here you can activate your Instant Kill move, that if connects, kills your opponent instantly. These can only be used once per fight and are hard to actually get so planning and timing is the key. However, the more hardcore gamers among us will use it for more than this. Two of the main techniques that player's will utilize the tension gauge for are for cancels and dead angle attacks. Cancels are what provide the depth in GGX2#R and are essential for linking together a huge combo. This is achieved by pressing 3 attack buttons together during a move so that the character returns to its normal standing pose. This gives the player the chance to chain together a normally unchainable combo starter onto another move. This provides access to a vast array of possible combos that can be put together manually. The dead angle attack is also very important. Whenever the player is being pounded by a combo and is guarding against it, the player can push two attack buttons simultaneously, along with the direction button corresponding to the direction the player is facing, after successfully guarding an attack, allowing the player to counter attack, hence breaking the combo of the opposing player.
The amount of modes in the game is staggering. Practice, Arcade, M.O.M., VS 2P, VS CPU, Survival, Mission and Story. Practice mode and arcade modes are self-explanatory, M.O.M. mode is quite interesting, in that medals fall from your opponent based on what type of attack you used on them. The more advanced the attack, the bigger the medal, the higher the points you collect. 2 player and VS CPU modes are both solid. Survival mode pits you against one opponent after another, with your health from the previous fight carried over. Mission mode is much like the challenge mode in Super Smash Brothers Melee or the quest mode in the Soul Calibur in that you have to meet specific tasks during the fight in order to win. Tasks may include something such as not jumping, and the timer for the fight is usually shorter then usual. Story mode provides background information about your character revealed through a story that continues between fights. Stories also branch in different paths depending on your performance in a fight. As you can see, as fighting games go, it pretty much has everything you'd want. There's also a Gallery with artwork to unlock, so there's always something to work for. If that wasn't enough, Guilty Gear X2 #Reload is also supported with Xbox Live play. Lobbies are kept very simple (much like the ones found in Capcom's recent online games) but the actual netcode cannot be faulted as I've yet to experience any lag whatsoever. Admittedly things may get a little messy if you're playing someone outside of your own country, but if you stick with people in your own region you're pretty much guaranteed a silky smooth game.
Upon putting the game into the machine, you will be immediately floored by the visuals of GGX2#R. While other developers are content with their use of standard resolution when crafting graphics, Sammy have brought the future of gaming to the present by utilizing high-res sprites, totally eradicating the blockyness you get with low-res pixels. As such, the twenty playable characters (four new) and lush backgrounds bounce with superbly smooth color schemes which, when factored with the brilliant animation and heavily Japanese art style, transforms GGX2 into an interactive anime. It's by far the best looking sprite game ive ever played. The animation, while good, isn't on far with the incredibly fluid Streetfighter 3, but it does it's job well. That said, some of the less conventional fighters special move's are very inventive causing all sorts of special effects and screenfilling displays. Backgrounds are nice and varied too ranging from a 'Little Red Riding Hood' forest to majestic castles and flying battleships. While some lack a certain crispness others have they are mostly of high quality. Audio wise, Guilty Gear X2 #Reload provides an interesting change with each fight is adorned with a crunchy heavy metal soundtrack. After looking at a few of the cast's character names (Testament, Slayer, Eddie, Axl Low), you'll find the source of inspiration for the 80s/90s inspired soundtrack that, while not as good as the original material, still gives players something different than what you get with say Street Fighter, Soul Calibur or Tekken. I was also pleased that the Japanese voice acting remains intact with English subtitles. Anyone who heard the English dubbing of Soul Calibur 2 will see this as blessing. The voice acting and the sound effects do sound a bit muffled, but are fine overall.
GGXX#R really pushes some boundaries visually but it's now much more a game now than a visual showpiece that the series has so far been known for. The gameplay itself is a nice continuation of the Guilty Gear series, with certain things like damage and speed increased making for a faster, and less drawn out game (the fights in GGX would last a fair while). The Characters are what a fighting game relies on most and thankfully GGXX#R exceeds in this respect. With over 20 fighters there will always be someone who is right for you. People who prefer more traditional fighters have the likes of Sol, Chipp and Ky who are the closest thing to a Ryu or a Ken you'll find. Those who prefer more unconventional fighters will have a great time getting to grips with the likes of Dizzy, Eddie and Zappa. The game does have a few problems with balance issues. While no-one is really overpowered, there are a few fighters that could have done with a little beefing up. The sound quality isn't too hot either. While the music is nothing to complain about, the sound effects do take of a layer of polish the game should have had. But with a huge amount of characters and game modes, combined with online-play, this is a must have for anyone with 2D fighter interests. Guilty Gear X2 #Reload shows that there is room in the 2D fighting market beyond Capcom and SNK, and although its' flat 2D-ness may put off a lot of newer, 3D-loving gamers, any fighting fans who are looking for something a little different need look no further than this for a good few months' solid entertainment.