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June 2023

Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown

Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: SEGA
Release Date: June 1, 2021


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PS4 Review - 'Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown'

by Cody Medellin on June 18, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown re-envisions the visceral fighting experience of the original with gorgeous HD graphics, new online features, and all the bone-crunching, martial arts combat of its renowned predecessor.

Back in Sept. 2020, Sega released a trailer announcing that it was working on a Virtua Fighter title. It wasn't explicitly called a new title, but it was touted as something that would merge their groundbreaking 3D fighting game series with the world of esports. There was plenty of speculation on what it was, but there was no other news about it from Sega since that trailer. That changed with the announcement of Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown, an exclusive for the PlayStation 4 that was also confirmed to be part of June's PlayStation Plus lineup.

For those who haven't played any of the games in the series, this is a 3D fighting game that hits very differently compared to its contemporaries. The physics are mostly realistic, so even though you can jump impossibly high in the air, you aren't able to bounce opponents off the ground or catch them in juggle combos. Special moves aren't here, so you aren't going to keep enemies at a distance, and the lack of a special meter means you can't turn things around with a flashy automatic combo. What you do get is a fighting game that's more steeped in realism and strategy, where pulling off a natural combo is just as important as setting yourself up to dodge an incoming hit. Despite having a simple three-button system — one for blocking, one for kicking, and one for punching — the system is deep. Each fighter has a plethora of moves that can be initiated with proper button timing and slight directional changes. The system is deep enough to reward players who take the time to learn its nuances, but it is still accessible enough for newcomers to jump in and be formidable.

This entry isn't necessarily a new game but a port of Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown that came out on both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 4 in 2012. The character lineup is the same as before, with your choice of 19 characters ranging from the originals like Akira and Pai Chan to newcomers like Jean Kujo. Almost all of the environments are the same, so you won't get any levels that only appeared on the original Virtua Fighter 5. Those who did shell out for the costume DLC back then will see those components make a return (free of charge), but the customization still feels limited since the pieces run on a point system to prevent you from going to town with the designs. In short, if you've played Final Showdown in the past, you'll know exactly what to expect here.

There are some changes in Ultimate Showdown, though. There are a few small ones, such as the fact that every character has the option to use the original Virtua Fighter polygon styles for both players. If you were a fan of importing back then, you may have seen this when Sega put out a 10th anniversary edition of Virtua Fighter for the PS2, so it's a nice bonus to see the same thing for PS4 fans. The same goes for the inclusion of the original Virtua Fighter stage in the rotation and a change to Dural's level that looks much better compared to the bleakness of her old coliseum level.

The bigger change comes graphically, as every aspect of the game received some tinkering by the studio behind the Yakuza series. The stages have had their lighting changed, and the result varies greatly per level. Some stages, such as the base in the snowy mountains, look exactly the same as before; others, like the cathedral, go from a nighttime to a daytime setting, giving the place a whole new feel. All of the characters have been redone, eschewing the classic look of what the series had since Virtua Fighter 2 and moving toward the style sported by the Yakuza series. Like the stages, the changes vary wildly between characters. Some, like Vanessa, look a little off and Brad looks mostly the same. Others, like Akira, look completely upgraded to the point where you could transform him into Kazuma Kiryu with the right hairstyle.

The graphical change that will stun most fans comes from the hits. Since the series's inception, the only indicators that you've hit someone are the flinch on an opponent's body and the sound of impact. Now, the game takes some inspiration from Tekken, where each hit produces a spray of fine mist and colored lights to indicate the strength of the impact. While purists might scoff at this, others will see it as a game-changer since they now have extra help in determining if hits go through, and it doesn't hurt to add a little flash to what is usually a Spartan presentation.

When it comes to game modes, the focus is on online play, as evidenced by Ranked play being the first highlighted mode. It has adopted some of the things that newer fighting games have for online play, such as making you choose a character beforehand to save time. You also have the chance to practice against a training dummy, so you aren't just staring at a loading screen while waiting for a match to pop up. Based on the matches we had, the latency is rather good, and it never felt like the opponent was warping around or that you lost inputs during a fight. Keep in mind that this was only with a few other journalists online at the time, so the online mileage may vary once those servers start to get populated. There's also word that the netcode being used is the same as Final Showdown instead of something newer, which might hurt things, but only time will tell.

Beyond Ranked mode, there's Room play, where you can set up a room of up to 16 players to battle it out without affecting your official win/loss record. A Tournament is also here, but it only seems to be available when sponsored events are up; it was closed off during our review period. One thing that is missing is a proper Player mode for those who don't want the stress of Ranked play but don't want to fight against a small crowd of other fighters. In place of that is an alternative to VF.TV. Placed in the main menu, it constantly broadcasts replays of previous fights. The option is nice for those who want to relax and watch others spar; as with the Xbox 360 version of Virtua Fighter 5, there doesn't seem to be a way to tag specific players so you can watch all of their specific replays.

Unfortunately, the focus on making this primarily an online game means that the offline game is weaker than in past entries. Training mode is still available with its myriad of sub-modes, and offline versus play remains untouched. However, the only single-player mode is Arcade mode. It's still enjoyable with different difficulties and other options that can be tweaked, but the removal of license tests and a score attack mode makes this feel like a step down from Final Showdown.

Your enjoyment of Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown is going to depend on a few factors. If you're more of a competitive online fighter, then you'll appreciate the focus on that scene. With the game's inclusion on PS Plus and PS Now, there's an even better chance for the online community to last for some time, since so many people will have access to the game. Those who enjoy local versus play won't find any mechanical differences, but at least they don't have to worry about wearing out their PS3 system or controllers every time they want to sneak in a few rounds. Single-player fighting game enthusiasts will feel the sting the most, since Ultimate Showdown takes away a few modes. Overall, the game is just as solid as it was back in the PS3/Xbox 360 era, and the hope is that this title will go multiplatform and spark enough interest that the publisher will start looking at doing a proper sixth game in the series.

Score: 8.0/10

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