Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Project Soul
Release Date: November 20, 2007
Remember it? That's right, it's Nintendo's Wii promises, all smooshed into a single two-minute video. Everything from inventive party games, to real-world applications of the games with which the core game demographic grew up. The Wii was to be the second coming of virtual reality, and as the Dual Shock was starting to look a little long in the tooth (it has been the gaming tool of choice for over a decade, mind you), many people welcomed it with open arms, long before its actual release.
They say that hindsight is 20/20, but the Wii seems to be the lone exception to this rule. After an entire year on the market, many people are still wondering just what went wrong. E3 2006 was the day Nintendo's world domination began, but not in the way everyone was expecting. Promises of immersive worlds via hand gestures as shown in the Twilight Princess on-stage demo have since given way to dozens upon dozens of "party" games and bad control experiments, written by seeming first-year programmers and pumped out at the average rate of two every week (I work in game retail, so I get to see them). Meanwhile, a small smattering of games with actual substance sits as a small, clustered minority, clutched tightly by longtime Nintendo fans and core gamers who have comparatively been left out in the cold. It was the ultimate bait-and-switch, but who could blame the big N? The economy has spoken: fluff sells.
I'll dial back the New Games Journalism now, because I'm finally reaching the point. What makes things worse is that only four parties seem to be able to put the Wiimote to consistently good use: Nintendo, Capcom, Sega and Ubisoft. Back to that video mentioned above. Look at it again, and then think about how many games have been released that weren't quite up to the standards of what people envisioned. The Wii has only managed to make half of those theoretical situations possible with its "jack of all trades, master of none" Wiimote, and out of those, there are very few that don't feel like pale imitations of the actual activity. The worst-case scenario, however, comes from the activity at the end of the video. The Wii's only been host to a few sword-based games, and it utterly pains me to say that SoulCalibur Legends is officially the best one the system's got.
Legends follows the tale of series poster boy Siegfried Schtauffen as he fights for emperor and country using the Soul Edge, in a gigantic retcon of the series' overall plot. This plot manages to intertwine six characters from the game series (none of which I care about, what are the odds) and a plop-in from a Tales RPG that Project Soul didn't even handle for no reason whatsoever except to move more copies. (What would have been the problem with swordsgirl Chloe Valens, one may ask? Oh, right, only one person bought and liked Tales of Legendia — me!)
Once the game truly gets going, you'll be able to switch off between two characters via a tag-team mechanism to fight against hordes of monsters, or occasionally one-on-one against a boss. Unfortunately, the advertised "co-op" is relegated to a party mode that doesn't involve fighting through the main story. Another fine bait-and-switch at work.
Even without true co-op, Legends is Namco's visibly earnest attempt to get swordfighting to work on the Wii. On paper, they did everything right. They used their premier swordfighting franchise as the base, and then proceeded to attempt to adapt everything they could from that series to every single one of the Wii's motion-sensing capabilities. You can slash in different directions using the Wiimote, with your on-screen avatar mimicking your directional movements. You can swing the Nunchuk to the side to dodge, and forward while holding the block button to do parries and Guard Impacts, which leaves the enemy open to attack.
There's even a sensitivity setting, and it helps. The best way to play this game is to set that sensitivity to high and use timed swings instead of flailing around. As for targeting enemies, there are two ways to do so. Some people will want toggle-based targeting so that they can run around freely. Others will want the targeting to always be on, so that they can concentrate on slicing stuff up. (Either way, though, the camera is horrible and will get in the way of your fighting no matter what path you choose.) Thanks to all of this tweaking and option setting, for the most part, the game actually works as advertised. There are none of the massive control failures inherent in, say, Cooking Mama: Cook Off.
What could get in the way of this game being sword-swinging nirvana, then? Lots of things. They're all little, but they all add up. Even on the highest sensitivity, the Wiimote is still imprecise. More times than I can count, I've have side-swings misinterpreted as forward thrusts, or vertical swings misinterpreted as side-swings. The hardware just isn't up to the task, though goodness knows Project Soul did everything they could to bring the blasted thing under its power.
Speaking of underpowered, don't expect those fancy 480p graphics to show up anywhere but on the character models. The rest of the game's taken straight out original PSX middleware, especially the ugly, ugly environments, and said character models are sub-Dreamcast quality. SoulCalibur II on the GameCube makes this game cry for its mommy in terms of visuals.
The music is well done and suitably SoulCalibur, but the problem here is that there's not very much of it. Even with the varied stages, you'll be hearing the same songs over again, which is a shame, because it's easily the highest point of the game. The voice acting, either in English of Japanese, leaves much to be desired.
Finally, the game is short. You can beat the main game in about five to six hours if you're good, or at least immune to wrist cramps. Now, there's nothing wrong with short games, but with ones as wholly average as this, it still sticks out. I suppose, then, that its short length would be considered an asset in this case.
This all adds up to the main problem, really. SoulCalibur Legends is proof that the Wii just isn't precise (or in some cases, powerful) enough to handle certain types of gaming — mainly anything that doesn't involve wild swinging, slow tilting or pointing at the screen. I don't think even Nintendo could have made this work the way the developers and eager gamers had intended. What the real rub is, however, is that were it not for the Wiimote, there would be absolutely no reason to play this game at all. It's a vicious Catch-22.
SoulCalibur Legends is a rental on its best day, and there are certainly several other games that have come along this year that should be rented before it. It's got little to offer for SoulCalibur fans, little to offer for hack-and-slash fans, and little to offer in the realm of gameplay substance. Like the Wiimote itself, this title tries lots of things, but comes up with mediocrity in nearly every one of its attempts. Still, you can't blame Project Soul for trying. They really did here, and the host hardware, as much as I love it, is as much to blame for the game's shortcomings as the bland design.
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