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Soul Calibur IV

Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Games America, Inc.
Developer: BANDAI NAMCO Games America, Inc.
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2, 2 (Online)
Genre: Fighting/ Arcade/ Editor

Graphics & Sound:

Soul Calibur. On the 360. That should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect, visually, if you're familiar with the graphical capabilities of the Xbox 360 or the detailed and interestingly designed characters of the Soul Calibur series.

For those of you who aren't familiar with one or the other, Soul Calibur is known for its "colorful" armed warriors with differing strengths and styles, from the intimidating Ivy, with her trademark segmented serpent sword, to the undying Cervantes or the mind - and back - bending fighting style of Voldo, a warrior that can best be described as martial artist/contortionist meets Edward Scissorhands. The latest rendition of Soul Calibur, the aptly-named Soul Calibur IV, looks great on the 360, brings these characters to life in vivid color, with break-away armor on several beautiful and destructible environments. This, combined with the Character Creation mode that lets you create fighters that look pretty much however you want them to, and you end up with some awesome, and at times amusing, visuals.

Your ears are not totally neglected, however, as Soul Calibur IV has some very orchestral music that helps set the tone for the battles, as well as "flavor text" for each of the included characters. The sound's not bad, but it does take a backseat to the graphics.


If you're into fighting games, Soul Calibur IV is not a bad fighting game to be into. The good thing about Soul Calibur IV, as well as the bad thing about Soul Calibur IV, is that it is based on the previous games in the series. Soul Calibur IV comes with a great pedigree and builds on the previous games in the series, hence the good thing. Unfortunately, the control scheme is what we programmers call "legacy" - it is the way it is because it's been that way forever, without good reason or rhyme. Specifically, when the game refers to buttons, it uses the names from the original arcade game. The instruction manual provides a mapping from the original arcade buttons to the Xbox 360 controller buttons. Unfortunately, the moves are labeled with more than just the arcade buttons, and with the number of moves available and the complexity of those moves, I find I've been reduced to primarily button-mashing my way through Soul Calibur IV.

There are several ways to play Soul Calibur IV; there are four Single Player modes as well as Versus modes (local multiplayer) and Xbox Live (online multiplayer) games. Single player game styles include: Story, Arcade, Training and "Tower of Lost Souls." Story follows the storyline of your selected character, Arcade gives you arcade-style action, Training lets you practice your moves, while the Tower of Lost Souls provides challenging gameplay to even more experienced players, by offering specific challenges (if you are ascending the tower) or throwing an endless horde against you (if you are descending the tower).

The Character Creation mode in Soul Calibur IV is also quite a bit of fun and is where a lot of gamers are likely to spend their time. Some may chastise it as being tantamount to playing "dress-up", the costume choices actually contribute to attribute levels in the game, which, in turn, directly determine what skills a character can have. So, while it might be really cool to try to make your character look like Ronald McDonald or He-Man, the clothing options can be used to make your character better equipped for fighting in specific ways that you desire to enhance them.

One thing that I found highly amusing was the "Random" option in the Character Select menu. Once I had unlocked several characers, I figured I'd let the computer choose one for me. That's not what "Random" does. I was very suprised to find that instead of randomly selecting a character from the available roster, I actually played as a character that was completely randomly created when I chose "Random." While this character looked a bit funny, she wasn't half bad.


The upside of button-mashing in Soul Calibur IV is that, quite frankly, it's a perfectly valid strategy that will get you quite a ways. You'll need to button-mash your way into a couple of good moves or so and work on your strategy with those. At least, in the Easy difficulty level, this can be enough to get you through several Story modes and you can do pretty darn good in Arcade. The Hard difficulty level, on the other hand, will provide a bit more of a challenge, requiring that you at least have gained some familiarity with the character you're playing and some different strategies.

The characters in Soul Calibur IV play a big part in the difficulty of the game, although, arguably, each player's playing style also factors in to the equation. However, when you play an over-powered character such as Yoda, its easy to see that character selection affects the difficulty level; I played through the story level on Standard difficulty level without losing a match, and primarily button-mashing. This would probably be more impressive if there were more than a handful of matches in the Story mode, but some of the matches pit you against up to four opponents in the same match.

For the other end of the spectrum, if you have mad skillz and find that Soul Calibur IV doesn't provide enough of a challenge with the Story mode or Arcade mode, there is the Tower of Souls mode, in which you can either ascend through the tower to try your hand at a series of trials where your are challenged to pull off certain win conditions or descend through the tower to face limitless opponents in a "survival" mode, of sorts.

I feel safe in saying that given the different factors that can affect the difficulty level, from game mode to character selected to handicapping available in the multiplayer modes, players should be able to find the specific level of challenge they are looking for with a bit of adjustment.

Game Mechanics:

Soul Calibur IV is a highly-playable game that I, for one, found enjoyable and addictive. It is, however, screaming for an arcade stick. Since Soul Calibur IV gains so much from its arcade ancestry, it's akward at times to try to play with the Xbox 360 controls, which may be a contributing factor to my tendency to button-mash on it.

The Character Creation mode is very appealing to the "tweaker" type of gamer out there, not only allowing gamers to create characters with the specific look and strengths that they want, but also allowing for some fairly impressive celebrity impersonation of existing characers from other games and movies. I've seen a very good looking Dr. Doom online, as well as a pretty good Iron Man, and I've personally made a customized Ivy who was the spitting image of Lara Croft, although I couldn't find shorts for her, so she's in a bikini bottom. The point is that even without a detail layer system (such as the vinyl system in Forza 2), players are doing some amazing things with the Character Creation mode.

As for the Star Wars stuff, all you can do is sort of try to ignore it or just enjoy it for what it is. The story that ties it in to the Soul Calibur storyline is laughably weak and the characters are obviously overpowered for the game, but at the same time, lightsabers don't cut through, well, anything like butter, but instead behave just like a normal sword. If they were as powerful as they are supposed to be, the Star Wars characters would be that much more overpowered, though, so I can see why they went this direction. Additionally, the Star Wars characters have a "Force" meter that they can draw on for certain force-based or force-enhanced moves.

Soul Calibur IV is not going to be a game for everyone, but if you're a tweaker and you enjoy fighter games, and especially if you're a fan of the Soul Calibur series, I would highly recommend Soul Calibur IV. I can safely say it's going to keep me busy for a while.

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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