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Soul Calibur 2

Soul Calibur 2 (Namco)
Exclusive import review by Doug Trueman, contributing editor

Check out our preview of Soul Calibur 2

Soul Calibur 2Soul Calibur 2. It's been in development for years. The original Soul Calibur for the Dreamcast turned heads at E3 1999. It drove sales of Sega's moribund console and made household names out of characters like Mitsirugi and Kilik. After four years of waiting, we at UGO finally got our grubby little hands on two of the Japanese versions: The PS2 and the Xbox. The GameCube version remains out of our grasp (for now), but the Cube's tiny digital control pad might make playing it difficult, anyway (or at least, that's how we sleep at night).

With a game of this, er, caliber, it's difficult to know where to start. We can't honestly review the Japanese versions because things might change between now and the North American release, but if the Japanese versions are anything to go on...hoo, baby.

[Editor's note: almost all of the beneath review applies to both the PS2 and Xbox versions. Unless our eyes and ears deceive us, the only noticeable difference is the controller.]

Simply put, there has never been a better looking fighting game on a console. Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution is very close behind, but Soul Calibur is in the lead. Some might argue that Soul Calibur 2 is the best looking game ever on the PS2, and that would be a difficult point to dispute. Character animations are smooth and hyper-realistic (except for obviously impossible techniques), the colors are deep, the shading is flawless, and the lightsaber-style trails of the weapons have never looked better. Inferno sets a new standard for flame-based characters. Astaroth's heart beats through his chest, Mitsirugi's hair ruffles, and, er, Taki's breasts bounce and have nipples. The girls from Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball have got nothing on Namco's resident ninja.

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Soul Calibur 2The game's backgrounds are gorgeous. Water flows from fountains, the sky is bright and clear, caverns are dark and gloomy and the library has more books in it than in Congress. Water illuminates stone pillars, candles flicker, leaves blow in the wind.

The core of the gameplay remains unchanged. Characters have vertical, horizontal and circular strikes and kicks. Players can run in eight directions, and throw when they get in close. If you've played the original Soul Calibur, you know the routine. All of the characters have their original moves (some have been changed slightly), as well as scores of new ones. Kilik now has a short game to complement the range of his staff and Astaroth is slightly faster.

Both versions features twenty characters. Returning to the fray are Mitsurugi, Taki, Kilik, Maxi, Xianghua, Yoshimitsu, Nightmare, Ivy, Cervantes, Sophitia, Astaroth, Voldo and Seung Mina. New to the game are Necrid, Talim, Cassandra, Yungsung, Raphael, and Charade. Lizardman makes a cameo, and while Inferno is probably a playable character as well, we've been too busy playing to unlock him. The Xbox version features Todd McFarlane's Spawn, while the PS2 version features Heihachi from Tekken. Heihachi's lack of a weapon makes him stick out like a sore thumb, but the Xbox version rounds out Spawn by turning his cape into a giant axe, though his chains are nowhere to be seen [We'd much prefer the cape over the axe - Ed.]

Soul Calibur 2Heihachi can fight with the rest of the characters, he remains deeply rooted in the Tekken style of play. But while Heihachi remains unarmed, most of the new characters add something spectacular to the Soul Calibur pantheon. Necrid fights with a psionic ghost weapon that imitates the weapons of the other characters and must be seen to be believed; Tailm carries two bladed tonfa (police nightsticks), Cassandra wields a short sword and shield like her sister Sophitia, Yungsung is armed with a Chinese sword, Raphael is a fencing master, and Charade changes weapons between rounds. Mastering every technique will make your head spin.

Unlike those of the previous game, some of the stages are completely enclosed, while others have areas with no protection. It's therefore possible to throw opponents out of some rings, while being forced to fight a là Thunderdome in others. Fighters who are juggled into the air and collide with walls will slide down them in a sort of Wile E. Coyote fashion, allowing for free hits and combos.

For players who get bored with the Arcade mode, there is also a Vs. mode, Time Attack, Extra Time Attack (Standard, Alternative and Extreme), Survival, Team Battle, Vs. Team Battle, and a detailed Practice Mode. Unfortunately, the Practice Mode lists moves on one screen which must be then cleared away by pressing pause. Had the move list been available for players to see while they practice (like Virtua Fighter 4 and Dead or Alive 3), the game would be flawless. The game's damn close to perfection as it is.

Soul Calibur 2Weapon Master is the game's quest mode, which lets players fight opponents in a variety of ways (invincible, invisible weapons, wind pushing around, quicksand miring them, etc). The game ranks players' performances and awards titles as well as gold. Gold can be spent in a shop to buy weapons, levels, and hidden characters. There's even a specific level where players are awarded gold for each blow they strike.

There's not much else to say without torturing our readers who don't have one of the Japanese systems. The graphics are beautiful, the series' orchestral score returns, and the gameplay couldn't be tighter. The game will be released on this side of the ocean in 2003, and if you want to be the best in your neighborhood, go scrape up a Dreamcast and start practicing. We'll have a detailed review (trust us) once the game hits North America.

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